"Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of Consumer Culture"

Stuart Ewen, Mc-Graw-Hill, 1976

The Creation of the "Consumer Culture"

  • Demands of an expanding industrial system in the early days of the 20th Century
  • The technology of communication
  • The need to reshape the mentality of the heterogeneous cultural segments of U.S. society
  1. Working class resistance
  2. Self-sufficiency
  • "...advertising was to develop as a tool of social order whose self-espoused purpose was the 'nullification' of the 'customs of ages; [to]...break down the barriers of individual habits.' It defined itself as 'at once the destroyer and creator in the process of the ever-evolving new..."
  • "The development of an ideology of consumption responded both to the issue of social control and the need for goods distribution."
  • "Shorter hours and higher wages were seen as a first step in a broader offensive against the notions of thrift and an attempt to habituate a national population to the exigencies of mass productions...Now priorities demanded that the worker spend his wages and leisure time on the consumer market."
  • "While agreeing that 'human nature is more difficult to control than material culture.' ad men spoke in specific terms of 'human instincts' which if properly understood could induce people 'to buy a given product if it was scientifically presented. If advertising copy could appeal to the right instincts, the urge to buy would surely be excited.'"
  • "...'advertising helps keep the masses dissatisfied with their mode of life, discontented with ugly things around them. Satisfied customers are not as profitable as discontented ones.'"

This is not a "conspiracy" theory, but an analysis of the "natural" development of a mode of thinking- dominant ideology- which represented the interests of the new, emerging dominant class of industrialists. The advertising industry saw itself as providing a necessary and vital integrative function that would propel America into the 20th Century.

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