Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Rationality of Irrationality

In part one of Adam Curtis' The Century of the Self, Adam Curtis investigates how the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud were exploited in by Edward Burnays -- a nephew of Freud's -- to develop marketing techniques that exploited people's emotions to make them believe that emotionally-driven decisions were being made rationally.

What Burnays kick-started has over decades grown into marketing techniques whereby products are no longer sold, but rather the idea of a lifestyle.

As Benjamin Barber points out, sometimes the lifestyles being marketed are at odds with the products themselves. During the average sports telecast, for example, one will encounter ads for sporting goods such as Nike and Reebok. The idea is that one will buy the idea that by buying these goods they'll be able to emulate their sporting heroes.

During the same telecast, however, one will also encounter ads for fastfood restaurants and alcohol. This lifestyle message is at direct odds with those offered by the producers of sporting goods.

After all, few professional athletes are frequent visitors to McDonald's restaurants. Those who over-indulge in Budweiser and Smirnoff vodka will certainly not enjoy long-term success.

The fast food and alcohol advertisements are much more in tune with the lifestyle choices of the average sports spectator. As Barber notes, the lifestyle promoted through these telecasts is not one of actually playing hockey, football or basketball, but rather of being a spectator.

A lifestyle of watching, not one of doing.

Without the work of people like Edward Burnays, such things would never have been possible.

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