Conspicuously Inconspicuous Consumption

”But these advertisements, most of them, are something else, too. They are treasures. For one, they are important artifacts in our culture. Woe betide future anthropologists and historians who try to trace the American experience without pondering what, exactly, it is that her hairdresser knows for sure.

And that’s because the greatest advertising isn’t great for moving merchandise any more than the greatest literature is great for compelling plots. Somehow — in the service of carmakers and brassiere manufacturers and car rental agencies — these campaigns have discovered our humanity. They have touched us, understood us, reflected our lives and often enough enriched them.” ( from Advertising Age: The Top 100 Advertising Campaigns )bernbach-200

William Bernbach redefined advertising in the 1950′s with his ”creative manifesto” which held that good taste, good art and good writing can be good selling.So, no, contrary to all existing thought on the subject, Mr. Bernbach’s creative revolution was not the overturning of ’50s-era “motivational” manipulation. It was simply the most agreeable and effective expression of it. It is still anchored in the port of Edward Bernays. John D. Rockefeller was a mentor for Edward Bernays. Edward Bernays is the father of propaganda and modern Madison Ave advertising technique. In other words, public opinion manipulation. Bernays was Sigmund Freud’s nephew and exploited Freuds despair concerning human nature in Civilization and its Discontents. He developed a marketing model that explicitly  articulated the tension and the connection between the mass mind and the id. It was the finessing of public opinion using the subconscious. It was also referred to as the ” science of ballyhoo” and Bernays marketed himself as a psychoanalyst to troubled corporations.

Hopefully, Edward Bernays( 1881-1995 ) is only partially correct in his idea that humans are totally ruled by irrational impulses, which can be manipulated.Though people can  convinced by logical argument it is a path of least resistance to prey on negative emotions like fear, selfishness and greed.

”The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism in society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.” ( Propaganda, by Edward Bernays, Chapter 1, Organizing Chaos )

It is the same dynamic in Bill Bernbach touting an ugly ”bug” automobile , originated by Hitler as propaganda for the Third Reich under their ”Strength Through Joy” program before World War two, also called the Type 82E Staff car of which 500 were produced for elite Nazis; or the consumption of brand name water, which in actuality should be a democratic right in advanced societies, countries worthy of that label, and not a re-packaging of tap water into luxury commodity filled into plastic leaching, possibly carcinogenic containers which present an environmental contagion in itself.

Regarding Bernbach’s iconic Beetle campaigns:” The car that presented itself as the antidote to conspicuous consumption was itself the badge product for those who fancied themselves a cut above, or at least invulnerable to, the tacky blandishments of the hidden persuaders. “Think small” was thinking quite big, actually. The rounded fenders were, in effect, the biggest tail fins of all, for what Volkswagen sold with its seductive, disarming candor was nothing more lofty than conspicuously inconspicuous consumption. Beetle ownership allowed you to show off that you didn’t need to show off.”( Ad Age )

Volkswagen, 1969, DDB

Volkswagen, 1969, DDB



John Caples in 1926, was one of the initiators of the Freudian approach to copy with his 1926 advertising headlines, ”They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano But When I Started to Play”.He debunked humorous advertising copy, saying that ”only half the people in this country have a sense of humor, and clever ads seldom sell anything.” He also advised copywriters to ”use words you would expect to find in a fifth-grade reader” because &

1;the average American is approximately 13 years old mentally.”bernbach-500

The final word should be given to Bernays and his quote underlines the role of art in serving as a counterweight to these tendencies to control and repress, or most plausibly, to sadistically toy with shreds of the truth; at the same time underscoring the necessity and importance of art:

” In theory, everybody buys the best and cheapest commodities offered on the market. In practice, if everyone went around pricing, and chemically tasting before purchasing, the dozens of soaps, or fabrics, or brand of soap which are for sale, economic life would be hopelessly jammed. To avoid such confusion, society consents to have its choice narrowed to ideas and objects brought to its attention through propaganda of all kinds. There is consequently a vast and continuous effort to capture our minds in the interest of some policy or commodity or idea.”

”Some of the phenomenon of this process are criticized- the manipulation of news, the inflation of personality, and the general ballyhoo by which politicians and commercial product and social ideas are brought to the consciousness of the masses. The instruments by which public opinion is organized and focused may be misused, but such organization and focusing are necessary to orderly life.”( Propaganda, Edward Bernays. p.39 )

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One Response to Conspicuously Inconspicuous Consumption

  1. Dave says:

    Not that crazy about commies and pinkos

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