Are brands (and brand writing) responsible for over-consumption? If so, what should be done about it?
Unquestionably there are plenty of brands who fuel over-consumption, waste and materialism. But to criticise is easy, and you risk getting trapped in a binary pro-or-anti-consumerism argument. What’s more interesting to me are the brands (in various sectors, Howies, E.on and others) who reward a different kind of consumption, one based on making smart, sustainable choices.
We can all use our powers for good or evil. Most of the time we’re carefully crafting some words to make something happen, invoicing the client and making ends meet. Sometimes that means that we’re encouraging people to buy a load of tripe they don’t need, or to take out a secured personal loan to consolidate their debts. Do we stop to consider the consequences and refuse the work for ethical reasons? Maybe. But if we don’t fulfil the demand, someone else will. That’s what arms manufacturers say too. Is it their fault people shoot each other? Yes, partly.
Sweet Jesus, not this again. Didn’t we go through this with No Logo a few years back? Brands don’t kill people, people do. Brands are amoral, they’re neither good or bad, they just are. The business practices that drive and sustain them, now that’s another story. And what about personal responsibility? If I’m a fat bastard, is it KFC’s fault or my own? Did Col. Saunders come round and ram his family bucket down my throat? No he did not. People over-consume *because they want to* – any other explanation is patronising and inaccurate. The answer to over-consumption is simple: stop consuming so much. Not much fun I agree but there it is.
A brand won’t make me buy more toothpaste. It will just help me distinguish between the bland (Colgate) and the odd, strong pink one (Euthymol) that I inexplicably love. It’s a bit of a loaded question, to be fair, and I don’t think brands deserved to be bashed over the head and accused of turning us all into rabid consumers.
Various dubious sources are claiming the ground that affluence makes us unhappy; that we are victims of evil brands turning us into retail junkies; that to ban advertising would be spiritually uplifting; that children’s’ minds are warped by unethical targeting. Bollocks. Living (life is a bitch and then you die) on a tiny planet floating around in an ever-exploding universe is completely bonkers. Civilisation and socialisation – education, career path, hierarchy, urban infrastructure, morality, rational thought et cetera – is designed to suppress the madness of it and render us exploitable. One of the ways human beings have coped across the centuries is to CONSUME – food, stimulants, possessions, entertainment, drama, relationships and so on – and to MOAN about their lot. The writers of the Compass Report should look to their history books. Brands are simply placebos offering salvation-for-sale-or-rent, and they spout the same disingenuous mumbo-jumbo as priests, politicians and potentates have always done. We are not stupid. We have very sophisticated bullshit filters. Let’s celebrate our insatiable appetite for the unattainable. Everything bad for us is good for us.
Sadly the answer is ‘yes’. Though you could argue that the whole point of a brand is to choose one bar of soap (phone, TV, pair of jeans, or whatever) over another, rather than simply buy more. Even if you decided to jack it all in and write novels, you wouldn’t escape. You’d still be under pressure to shift more units. That’s just the nature of capitalism.