How Marketing creates culture

In his book ‘Spent’, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller argues that Marketing is now the dominant force creating human culture.

We live in ‘the Age of Marketing’.

But like fish unaware of water, we don’t realise it.

What we call ‘consumer needs’ are simply human needs, satisfied by products and services.

And brands.

We evolved as social primates, competing for mates, friends, family support and status.

We haven’t changed much in a mere 30,000 years.

We just invented money, manufacturing and shopping.



From an evolutionary standpoint, our ‘human nature’ still drives everything.

Our instincts to survive and reproduce drive our motivations and behaviours.

We are programmed to signal to others that we have ‘desirable traits’.

“I am intelligent / aggressive / successful / diligent / outgoing / collaborative, etc…”

The underlying message: “mate with me”; “let me join your tribe”; “make me your leader”.

As Miller puts it: ‘Narcissism is the evolutionary norm’.

How’s that working for you, Donald Trump?



So what are desirable traits?

Survival-enhancing qualities that can be passed on by genes.

The Peacock’s tail is a conspicuous waste of energy that signals physical fitness (to Peahens).

Humans have taken the concept to another level.

We can signal physical health, mental health, intelligence, even personality.

We do this through our looks, our clothes, our make-up, our conversation, our ideas, our attitudes.

Easy to notice and decode in a tribal village.

Not so easy in the global village.



So we’ve evolved a political and economic system to help out.

Consumer capitalism. Buying stuff.

Brands are its genetic code.

They hack our pre-disposition to display.

Advertising’s implicit promise is that people will notice our purchases.

So we can display our wealth, our rank and our ‘good taste’.

But we’re judged for our kindness, intelligence, stability and creativity.

No wonder we don’t know what to buy.



Geoffrey Miller sees ‘the marketing orientation’ as a powerful force for good.

The only revolution to shift power from institutions to individuals.

Can we handle all this power?

All this choice?

It’s been fun to use our freedom to try out runaway consumerism.

Now it’s time for more sustainable ways to flaunt our fitness.

That’s why two of us have signed up to this course.

Maybe see you there?