Why do we buy things we don’t need? A reflection about marketing as culture engineering

Let’s go back to Disney movies for a second: We all watched Aladdin - a poor boy discovers a magic lamp in a secret cave. He rubs the lamp and releases a terrifying but powerful genius - The Genie of the Lamp. This Genie grants Aladdin many wishes - rich food, embroidered clothes, fine horses, gold, etc. which were the variables Aladdin thought he needed to be happy according to the society he lived in. Exactly like Aladdin, we all wish for expensive cars, big beautiful houses and stylish watches - the synonyms of success in modern western societies.

But why does the most intelligent species have the need of acquiring so many expensive products even when their functional value and life expectancy is not compatible with their price?

According to common sense, we buy things because we think we’ll enjoy owing them, however, research shows that the pleasure of acquisition is short lived at best. So, why do we keep ourselves in the loop - working, buying, aspiring? Why do we have the need of buying so much stuff we don’t actually need?

Using Aladdin as an analogy for modern western societies - the Genie is the market and the three wishes are the markets products. The Genie mindset is the marketing mindset - he tries to understand what Aladdin’s wishes are, just like marketers try to understand our wishes through many cycles of market research, consumers feedback and economic competition in the market. But the key question is - where do these desires come from?

"In other words, marketing is central to culture, it’s culture engineering.

The market offers us a wide range products and services to fulfil all our wishes and desires. Some of them turn out to be desires we never even knew we had. So, the most interesting and ironic part is, as we live in this closed system, these desires and interests are intentionally created and disseminated by the same companies which are trying to understand our needs through advertising, branding and public relations.

In other words, marketing is central to culture, it’s culture engineering. It’s a closed loop ruled big conglomerate with billion dollar advertising campaigns which create and disseminate new cults and interests while they try to understand how to make us happy. It’s indeed a perpetuation of the delusion that products lead to fulfilment. It’s a vision of Gideon where for a moment we think we acquired the key to happiness until we get a new product to aspire to.

Marketing promotes social status, romance and lifestyle as product associations become more important than the actual physical qualities. Marketing is not about materialism or we will only have commodities. It’s about the symbolic dimensions and what we naively believe they can do for us.

"How lucky are we? Well, we can thank marketing for that - the most important invention of the past millennia.

Scientists and ecologists estimate that humans consume more than half of the planet’s “net productivity” - more than half the biomass grown each year on Earth. In other words, one species, out of 20 million, sucks up half of the biosphere’s annual output, and transforms it into work and entertainment activities. How lucky are we? Well, we can thank marketing for that - the most important invention of the past millennia. The only revolution that has succeeded in bringing power to people while it dominates human cultural trends. Since human culture dominates the matter and energy flows that constitute terrestrial life, it also dominates life on earth.

So, yes, we buy things we don’t need because we live in a society ruled by big conglomerates which are marketing oriented. They create our needs and the products we need to satisfy them. Marketing is awe-inspiring. However, we should be conscious about how the society we live in works and take a step back every time we are about to buy a product we don’t actually need.

1 comment


Good article, people need to wake up.

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