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Skill 4 resisting ecologically damaging over-consumption: advertising awareness

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Most if not all of the modern advertising is the greatest driving force of ecologically and socially damaging over-consumption. In all types of media forms, advertisements persuade people to buy more and more things that promise to satisfy the deep-down-inside needs and desires they have. Convincing people to consume through advertisements has its beginnings with Edward Bernays during the time after World War 2. He understood that Sigmund Freud’s psychological theories, his uncle, can be applied to public relations and advertising. If human dangerous and irrational desires and instinctive biological drives can be harnessed and channeled into following an ideological cause, as the Nazis did, they could also be used for something “safer and more economically productive”, like consuming and producing. The historical context provided a population emotionally ready to live out their lives differently and with “a massive over-production capacity that needed to be met with increased consumption”.

We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of. Edward Bernays

Our current historical context once again provides an imminent need for a different type of lifestyle. However, modern advertising has perfected and increased its techniques and channels of manipulating deep human desires and needs to sell people unnecessary stuff. It engages people to reflect on the real ways of fulfilling their higher needs, like spending quality time with friends, enjoying nature, exercising, and engaging in philanthropy. Then, it distracts them away from those needs and redirects them towards unnecessary consumption.

A bathroom cleaner advertisement shows glorious imaging of nature and then suggests: Enjoy the freshness of the outdoors in the safety of your house.

Arran Stibbe calls this type of general approach in advertisement “pseudo-satisfier discourse”. Other advertising discourses he explores in the Advertising Awareness article in The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy, are dissatisfaction-manufacturing, convenience-constructing, and greenwash.

Pseudo-satisfier discourse: unrealistically representing a material product as a substitute for, or path towards gaining, something that will satisfy deep human needs.” Arran Stibbe

It is becoming more obvious that the modern advertisement discourses work. Billions of products are produced and consumed around the world. Most of them have immensely destructive consequences for our ecology, society and individual lives. Most are: made from non-renewable and unsustainably harvested resources, containing toxic substances, produced with polluting sources of energy and with slave-like labour, designed with planned obsolescence, non-recyclable, non-biodegradable and plain useless. The consumption and implicitly the production of these material products is unsustainable and needs to stop. The process involves cultivating the ability to engage with advertising discourses that promote unsustainable consumption and change them by: “Recognizing the patterns; Exposing the underlying models; Reflecting on the consequences of models for sustainability; and Taking action.”

If the understanding of the mental processes and social patterns of the masses can sell them products, how much more manipulation of the unseen mechanisms of society can be done by the relatively small number of people that posses that understanding?

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