Many adverts encourage us to feel that their product will help us ‘discover a new you’. Some do it explicitly, others by showing us the joyful, rewarding lives we could have if only we switched to their tampon brand, their skin cream, their shampoo. If you are feeling lost and dissatisfied, purchasing your identity can be persuasive. Buy this coffee to have a kitchen full of attractive friends. Buy this soft drink so your kid will have a social life.
This diet. This brand of clothing. This holiday destination. This credit card… Of course when we buy them, they do not magically transform us into beautiful, successful, satisfied human beings with shiny kitchens. Unsatisfied by ourselves, we remain open to the next suggestion about the trainers, deodorant, make of car that can save us from ourselves.
Alongside this, we are persuaded to buy things for the kind of person we want to be, or want other people to believe we are. We buy the yoga clothes and the pilates ball. The frozen smoothies, the exercise bike, the DIY stuff, the cookery books for fancy dinner parties we will never host. The massive table for the fantastic dinner parties we will never host… And the things we buy do not transform us into a domestic goddess, or a sleek athlete, or anything else.
We keep consuming. We keep buying things we do not need, and that do not make us happy. We keep buying the idea that we could become the people we wish to be through our purchasing. Alongside this, we buy into the idea that our brand choices are a good expression of identity. If we wear a designer label, it means something about who we are. If we pick tango over pepsi, it’s an identity statement. Adverts are loaded with messages about how your buying choices represent you, and give signals to other people about who you are. The most basic social needs we have for love and friendship will be answered by purchasing the products that draw the right people to us.
The more unhappy we are, the more vulnerable we are to these cynical manipulations. The more energy and resources we put into trying to buy a sense of self, the less we are investing in growing something on the inside that might answer all these needs. The more obsessed we are with purchased surfaces, the less able we are to look past them and see the human beings around us.