BBC2's amazing series are a must watch for anyone in PR and marketing, especially if you are starting out. The Men Who Made Us Spend is a brilliant trip through our consumer behaviour with presenter Jacques Peretti. You might expect marketing to be obvious, to be big yellow signs that say '2 for 1' or a glittering sign saying 'buy buy buy' but the truth of the matter is that marketing is present in every industry, even the medical profession.
I love how this series relates to the present day. This is as much as a crash course of marketing history to a critique of the modern day. They reference one of my favourite films Fight Club, featuring the scene of Edward Norton and his apartment which mirrors the IKEA catalogue (clip below) but I actually prefer Tyler Durden's speech. If you haven't seen Fight Club, violence aside, there's some cracking marketing messages in there on consumerism, so watch it if you can.
'Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.' Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) Fight Club 1999
You'll need three hours to watch this, and I promise you'll come out of the other side a better, more knowledgable person, a little wiser to the age old tactics that make you part with your cash. The programmes say it better than I can, but I will give a little overview of each one. As much as I would love to embed the BBC videos, I can't as they are not available anymore, so I hope you can view these.
Episode 1 is an eye-opener revealing the phrase planned obsolescence (how fabulous is that phrase!!!) This means that some products have an in-built shelf life. Interestingly this started with light bulbs back in 1924 where the Phoebus cartel aimed to control the manufacturing industry by changing the life of the average light bulb so that the consumer would need to change them more frequently. This only ceased when the War started in 1939. Think that sounds crazy? Still happening today. why do you think your iPhone dies after two years, and why they can only be opened up to repair by Apple?
Episode 2 - One of the most interesting things is the driving force of fear in all of our decisions, the fear of being behind on fashion, of not having white teeth, of being fat, ugly, dirty. That germs are coming to get us. Fear sells products, papers, makes us click on stories. Fear makes us buy insurance, take preventitive medicines, protect our homes and buy the safest car on the market. It would be nice to have a week without any social media, any newspapers, any online. Think we might be happier for it?
Episode 3 - now then, we started advertising to kids, and THAT worked, then we used the knowledge from that to pull adults in creating gamification. Jeez, we really just keep learning and growing hey? Think of the ideas explored in the film BIG with Tom Hanks, the marketing industry exploited our love of games and the science that makes us enjoying winning.
The most difficult thing to realise? That all our childhood TV shows that we loved were just massive adverts to get us to buy into the wider franchise - Star Wars, He-Man, Transformers. You name it, those figures, lunch boxes, drinks and snacks with their friendly nature were really cynical sales tactics. Makes me a little sad for my Thundercats figures - how I loved Liono and Cheetarah! So if you think about it..isn't X Factor just a giant advert for his acts? An hour repeated Ghost by Ella Henderson songs, One Direction classics...oh wait, aren't they signed to Simon Cowell's labels? That would be why I downloaded Cheryl Cole's single on Monday. Take a look at my article -I've Got the X Factor Get Me Out of Here for more on the marketing behind reality TV.
It is a wake up call to our consumer spending, but just as you're deciding you'll never buy an iPhone ever again, consider what would happen if products lasted forever, limitless light bulbs, microwaves that never blow up, then our spending would grind to a halt. What would that do to the economy and past that, what would it do to advancing technology? We just wouldn't need it, we'd make do? Maybe that would be better, maybe not. Either way, you're not going to get your google glass with this kind of thinking.