Everything in Britain - and in much of the Western world, the United States especially – comes prepackaged. Everything is consumed after the consumption of one or another marketing gimmick. While this may be stating the obvious (how else will products, made predominantly by large companies, reach the consumer?), marketing’s virulence is now affecting commodities very different from anything that can be produced in a factory and put in a box. Our constitutions have become so used to its effects that it is now almost impossible to think and act independently of it: we need brands and logos and billboards to know what to like and even how to behave.
One such marketing tool is the opinion leader and an apt example of this is the celebrity chef. Jamie Oliver has got a whole generation of males into the kitchen and cooking, which is a marvelous thing. However, said males were only incited to do so after getting the go ahead from Jamie’s books and TV programs, despite probably having witnessed their mothers in the kitchen cooking every day of their lives. It is not just the 20-something male who falls privy to these phenomena: imagine the thousands who haven taken up an interest in cooking or ball room dancing after the success of TV shows such as Come Dine With me and Strictly Come Dancing.
Celebrities spotted in heat! et al., set off a myriad of trends from religions (Kabbalah) to despicable footwear (Ugg boots); from diets (too many to name here) to restaurants (remember the A to Z list-celebrity Wagamama craze of the mid-noughties?). Not only do these demi-gods create desires, but also become commodities and brands themselves: J-Lo, R-Pattz, Brangelina. We are so used to marketing speak from our incessant subjection to the insidious tactics of branded products that our vernacular and that of the media has also become affected. Clever marketing will also have us, not only paying, but happy to pay £20 for flip-flops originally worn by Brazil’s poorest.
The most glaring example of just how much brands and marketing have taken over life-as-we-know it in this country can be seen at mealtimes. The majority of restaurants – be they higher end or simply food-to-go – are chains and to find a continental-style eatery, free of fanfare and façade, is a challenge (i.e. may take a good ten minutes in Central London).
However, when it comes to eating habits, the trend for everything mass-produced may stem from the fact that the English lack a gastronomic identity: food is not as integral to socialising and culture as it is in most other nations around the globe. We borrow cuisine from all over the world and when asked, a Brit may have to think for several seconds when asked what traditional English food consists of. The only thing the English really do well is teatime fare: flapjacks, Lemon Drizzle, Scones, Victoria Sponge and the venerable Trifle. Interestingly, there has yet to emerge any chain tearooms.
Long gone are the days when food was always bought fresh, locally and meals made from scratch ourselves. Walk into any large chain supermarket of your choice and the array of fruit and veg stays constant all year round, the majority of which comes in cellophane wrapping with a sell by date and nutritional breakdown. We feel reassured by these arbitrary numbers and by sight of a well-known name of familiar colour and font on what we are to put in our mouths. Contrast this to Korea where there is a total overhaul of produce from one week to the next when the seasons change, bringing with it a change of both crop and menu.
So used have we grown to consuming only when fed with ready-packaged morsels, that even exercising needs to be done in a designated gym or during a designated exercise class of the latest trend, wearing appropriately branded sportswear. If it doesn’t fall within these parameters, then it is not regarded as “proper” exercise, e.g. walking or cycling everywhere, manual labour, taking the stairs.
The upshot of this marketing manipulation is not necessarily a bad thing. If more boyfriends and husbands end up treating their other halves to home cooked dinners and anyone carrying an extra few loses a stone or two as a result of an adulation for Kate Middleton and the Dukan Diet, so much the better for them and those around them. My only misgiving is that this dependence on marketing may reflect a small-mindedness and lack of initiative at an individual level. Or are we now powerless to overcome the herd-mentality having been drip-fed for the majority of our lives?
The force of a clever marketing machination can potentially be harnessed for tremendous good (see my Corporations With a Conscience post). If the Man can get us spending pounds on superfluous garbage, then maybe he can also persuade us to project pennies to places where it is really needed.