The Situationist

Mass Marketing

Posted by Adam Benforado on May 14, 2009

A student in my Business Organizations course just sent me a link to an interesting four-part BBC series, “The Century of the Self,” that was made in 2002 and is likely to be of interest to Situationist readers, particularly in the wake of the recent economic troubles.  The set of films considers the emergence of a mass-consumer society in the U.S. and U.K. during the last century using the Freud dynasty as a focus for the investigation.  The first installment, “Happiness Machines,” explores the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his nephew, Edward Bernays, who invented the field of public relations.  As the film’s website summarizes, Bernays

showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.

Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar.

His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.

It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.

Although there are points and characterizations to contest in the first part of the series, the filmmakers present a provocative theory.

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2 Responses to “Mass Marketing”

  1. Something else to blame on Freud?

  2. Hans said

    Is mass marketing dead? or mass marketing is still a viable way to build a profitable brand?

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