After the sale and promotion of products came the sale of ideas, abstract concepts. And the ideas that make consumers most willing to part from their cash are fear and insecurity.
Enter insurance. First it was for simple things: to replace stolen items or a lost home or have a damaged car repaired. When the market was flooded with basic insurance, new insurable perils had to be developed. And they were.
Mortgage insurance, okay, but insurance on credit card debt? On the possibility that the washing machine will break down? It's a few years since Lloyds of London insured Betty Grable's legs for a million. A famous body part needing coverage today is the butt of Jennifer Lopez, rumoured to be insured for a billion. Now that's inflation.
Insecurity has sold a lot of cosmetics; deodorant comes immediately to mind. Today that same insecurity is supporting an epidemic of plastic surgeries designed to enhance appearance and minimize individual difference. Originally developed to correct scars following injuries, plastic surgery is now routinely used to "improve" people, and there are plenty of customers, now that we've been programmed to believe we aren't good enough.
The idea of self-protection fuels the security business, which has exploded in the last few years. Media focus on crime encourages us to fear becoming victims. That makes us sitting ducks for the sale of building alarms, car alarms, and surveillance cameras.
The ethos of consumerism, the belief that life is about getting more stuff, has spread to every corner of the globe. Cultures are homogenized through the forced arbitration of tastes by huge multinationals. The consumer view of life also runs counter to environmental responsibility and rational stewardship of resources.
We need to question this ethos. It's time consumers rebelled. One way to start would be to stop throwing away perfectly good stuff and replacing it by the latest version just because it's new.