Advertising changed forever in the early 1920s when Edward Bernayse began using people’s emotions to convince them they needed to buy something. It was a move away from the “buy this now it’s great and its green” to “buy this now, you will feel great, look great and be well respected”, the style of advertising exploited so endlessly today and one that makes having low self confidence exploitable and costly.
It is not the first time I mention Edward Bernayse here and I doubt it will be the last, but he is not the real subject of today’s post. Today I want to talk about the high price of low self confidence.
There is no real denying that the first world is quite a materialistic one. Ads are everywhere, people buy allot of things, we own more stuff than ever before and we routinely buy things we don’t need for both ourselves and others. Purchases of material items have become the norm for many gifts, to show appreciation and sadly for some, a search for happiness and self acceptance.
This is no real accident and has been designed carefully and nurtured over time and continuously nudged in the right direction by some very smart and influential people. We today are constantly bombarded by billboards and banners and adverts to buy more. These are highly targeted to a specific market for each item, but regardless of the items, advertisers often use the same methods to encourage sales, they pray on your emotional state.
Have you ever felt the need to go shopping when you feel down? Or eat more when you have had a bad day? The human mind is a delicate item and if it is upset it seeks delight. Delight can come in the form of a chemical and that chemical delight can be triggered by food, shopping, gambling, TV shows etc. It releases dopamine to the brain making you feel a little better in the short term, but it is not a solution for long term use.
I’ll explain a bit more. We all know someone, maybe even you or I who, at times buy the best, the biggest and the latest – and get great pleasure in letting the world know we have done so by use of selfies, pictures and posts across a host of social media sites. It is as though we become a sales representative for the item. What a coincidence. “Look at my new car, it cost a fortune but it’s worth it! It gets great mileage, and has heated mirrors, Bluetooth integration, oh and it’s safer as well – definitely worth it, yea, did I show you the heated mirrors?” The worst part is we are fooling ourselves into believing the marketing tactics, and we then in turn become a promoter and endorser for the item, saying the same lines in order to avoid buyer’s remorse. But why do some feel the need to show it off? Is it that the object is actually useless as an object but valuable for the status of having the object possesses?
This problem of looking for a long term emotional benefits from a physical object is worsened by the snobs of the world, and this is how I think that those with a lower level of self confidence may end up falling into an unnecessary spending trap. The shoe critics and dress connoisseurs of the world all serve a purpose when directed correctly but what happens when it is not? People fear being judged for being a loser or being stupid and cheap, so they make up for it with STUFF. They use stuff to try cover up their feelings of inadequacy and lack of confidence in who they really are. The use stuff to show they are not cheap. But the irony is, is there anything cheaper than that? Using an item to prove your true self?
Imagine, early one Monday morning you walk out of your offices kitchen after making a drink and the office snob glides past you and smirks whilst saying “it’s not casual Friday yet you know…”, what the hell did that mean and you ponder the remark further, you start to question your clothes and look at your work attire and begin to get self conscious, was it your shoes? Your trousers are too worn out or too casual? Should I be wearing Heels and not Flats? You become self conscious and uncomfortable but you know what to do. You are going to ask that snob what they meant, wait no, even better! You are going to buy some new shit! So that weekend you go to the shop, believing it, uttering it “it’s about time i get some new work clothes anyway, what a coincidence“. 6 hours, a lunch out, 12 trips to the changing rooms and -£300 later you have some new gear, you are ready for Monday morning.
Monday comes, you wear your new gear into the office with renewed confidence but, nothing is different, no-one comments. The office snob doesn’t look at you this time and the world keeps turning. But you have needlessly spent £300 and replaced some perfectly good work attire off the back of a remark from someone else. Wasting your time, your money and contributing to global waste and having an even bigger and more stressful collection of material items in your tiny overpriced accommodation. You are back to square one if not a step backwards.
The same situation can happens in many other ways; you arrive to a hotel wedding reception in your very trusty but rusty old car and are embarrassed to park next to all the big new cars, so you take out a loan, scrap the old one and buy the latest motor on monthly repayments.
You’re in your favourite and most flattering dress that you may have wore to the Christmas Party last year, someone comments. Didn’t you wear that one last year; don’t you have any more dresses?
Whatever the situation, it can have a devastating effect on someone’s self esteem due to no fault of their own, and it can indirectly drive us to spend money we do not have or have for a better purpose. It drives whole communities to try and one up each other, spending more money on things which really, are superficial. And this is the problem. When you hear someone saying, “Yea its Chanel, it cost like £1100”. Do you think that that is just information sharing for the sake of information sharing? Or maybe, deep in the depths of this persons mind they feel the need to express that they have money, style and class and thus are important. The more money you spend the more important you are right?
The saddest thing about this is that somehow in the world we live, people think and try to buy superiority and fulfilment; they try and buy confidence, self esteem and worth. These are things which you would STILL HAVE (or not have) should you be stripped naked, relieved of all your possessions and be placed on a remote part of the planet all alone. It is a feeling and a belief in yourself and not something created by a material item you bought.
(sorry Dan Bilzerian, but I think you’re disgusting)
If we take a step back and ask, who is benefiting from this the most is it me or the economy? Yes you feel like you are benefiting, and that in itself may have a placebo effect of actually doing so. But long term you are back to where you started again because the new mink coat is just an air freshener to a smelly problem. But you have worked for money, spent that money on something which kept someone else in work, you paid taxes on your wages purchases and the world keeps turning.
I don’t want to point the finger at some master puppeteer who has created this scenario deliberately as it may just be by pure chance. But ultimately it is a problem. Not enough emphasis is placed on ACTUALLY making people feel better, doing things which may help them. Because being comfortable in oneself cannot be sold/bought with material items and that is a huge problem to the money collectors in the world. How can you sell new jackets and gold rings to someone who is happy as Larry in his functional gear? You can’t. You can’t make them FEEL like this jacket will make them be like the successful guy because he already feels like a successful guy, and not because of his expensive watch, but because of something inside that was never bought.
Imagine the two people below, both men sell fish and make a killing doing so.
Fish salesman A: Spends his evenings counting his money and planning how he can increase sales. He continues to tell his customers how difficult catching fish is, increases prices and starts to monopolise the market becoming a billionaire in the process.
Fish salesman B: He stays awake at night feeling like a fraud, knowing that in the long run he could do more to help his customers. So one day he tells them, to rent a fishing rod from him and he will teach them to fish, that they could easily catch their own fish and save themselves money in the long run. His career migrates from the selling of fish to rental and selling fishing rods and tackle. He makes a modest income and now sleeps far better at night.
The world we work and live in is much closer to the scenario in the Fish salesman A story and far less like the one in the Fish salesman B story. Remember that.
So who is at fault? Well, that is tricky. Is it the education system who fails to instil in people at a young age that confidence and self value which cannot be purchased? Is it the world of fashion that project images of successful people in the latest fashion materials; feeding you bullshit that you could be the same if you only had the same shoes? Or is it just a sad grey area where we sometimes find ourselves? I think it is all of the above in some way but pointing the finger is of little use. The only way out of this is first becoming aware of the situation and taking steps to iron out the underlying insecurities instilled in us all.