On a recent Saturday afternoon, I watched Noam Chomsky’s Netflix documentary Requiem For The American Dream, in which the famed thinker dove into his “10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power” in America. As someone who has spent most of my career in the brand/advertising/marketing space, I was particularly struck by Principle #9: Manufacture Consent.
The basic idea put forward here is that consumption is a mechanism of control. By creating a culture where consumption is equated with good, people get sucked into the cycle of making money to spend money. The point of life becomes to acquire things, which makes people more controllable. And how do you keep people stuck in this cycle? By fabricating wants, so there are always more things to strive to buy. Advertising, in many ways, is the profession of manufacturing consent. The goal is to make people want (or think they need) whatever product you are selling, and to make your particular brand of product more desirable than that of competitors.
Mass media enables these “buy buy buy” messages to bombard us. A few decades ago, the primary channel was television, although now it is joined by the internet. It is through these channels that we see what a successful, enviable life looks like and watch ads that prompt us to spend time and effort gaining things we may not want nor need.
This is a pretty dark and sinister view of the role of marketing and advertising, but there is certainly some truth to it. It got me thinking in a different way about how to accomplish brand goals. Is there a way to get the word out about a product without the “manufacture of consent”?
I think one way is through value-first advertising, an approach that aims to give consumers something—education or entertainment—as opposed to a straight sale. It initiates an exchange rather than a transaction, and I think will be a significant trend in advertising’s ongoing evolution.