Today in the United States there are more televisions then there are people, there are more credit cards then all the people in China and so on. In short we Americans live in a world of induced hyper-consumerism, now this should not be confused with capitalism as if we check in with Merriam Webster we will find that “capitalism” is actually: “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market “.
What’s clear is this is only a “system”, it doesn’t say that one needs a TV for every microbial life form on the face of the earth. So why do we do it, why do we feel so compelled to buy things we really don’t need that we go out on the line and even spend other people’s money (credit cards) to full fill our fix? Well since you asked there are four reasons, or let’s better say “four forces” which shape our perceptions and therefore our habits, so let’s take a look at them;
The first is the Power of Persuasion, as this taps into our most primal aspects to feel good, powerful and sexy (as we all know sex sells). By assembling a message around this triad we have what Walter Bernays termed “engineering of consent” where the sellers of a product connected to the buyers “desire” rather than their “need” as the prior is a far stronger driver than the later.
The next is Buy Now, Pay Later in lets use someone else’s money to buy things, however the important fact here is by doing this we separated the purchase from the payment. Think about it this way, when you go out for a nice dinner after eating for a while you become full and stop eating. While it might come sooner or later for all of us, the feeling does come. However the use of open ended payment systems is akin to eating till you explode. If you need a visual, Monte Pythons “Meaning of Life” is a good example.
Then comes The Law of Life Cycles, where does anyone need to say anything other than “cell phone” as an example? However it is better put by Charles Kettering in his 1929 quote which says “the key to economic prosperity is the organized creation of dissatisfaction” where choreographed “cosmetic upgrades” are introduced into a products life cycle. Note the key is cosmetic and not functional so the annual grill and body skin changes of the automakers is the perfect example.
The final force we must contend with is the constant drive for Just One More, as to steal from an old potato chip commercial “you can’t eat just one” has blossomed into a popular culture moniker of its own. As today many families cannot have just one of something, as when I grew up in the sixties we as a family had just one TV set for a family of four. Now my wife and I have one for every room (including the master bath). To combat the saturation of markets, Madison Avenue took a literal interpretation of Vance Packard’s quote which said, “the way to end glut is to create gluttons” and out came slogans and jingles as mentioned above “you can’t eat just one”* which feeds (pardon the pun) into the first force the Power of Persuasion’s driver of “desire” rather than need. As you don’t “need” to eat that bag of potato chips, however you desire to**.
In summary, these four forces when combined together form the causal system of purchasing at the hyper-consumerism level and adjusting various aspects drive the viral nature or speed of progression…
*Note: This is only 5 words long and you notice all major catchy phrases are short as our “short term memory” can only deal with 5 to 7 items tops.
**Note: The mid to end boomer generations where the first generations which were “trained” to place desire a head of need.