Commodity fetishism and globalization of media
This tendency still exists today and is worse than ever before in capitalist societies that thrive on a competitive market full of similar products trying to convince consumers f their product’s superiority by not focusing on the product at all. Commodities are turning into fetishes as big brand names are globalizing their media campaigns in order to appeal to people’s specific cultural identities, beliefs and values all around the world that have nothing to do with the product itself in an attempt to form loyal communities of people who value and identify with their logos more than their product.
Karl Marx addressed the issue of commodity fetishism in his book A Critique of Political Economy by saying: “A commodity appears at first sight an extremely bvious, trivial ng But ts analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. “2 Marx borrows the concept of fetishism in anthropology that refers to the primitive belief that godly powers can permanently exist in inanimate objects3.
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There has always been social value attached to commodities that serve both a physical and social purpose of the consumer.
Marx continues: “There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. “4 The wentieth century saw a boom in technological developments, resulting in an enormous growth of mass production. The western economy finally reached its ultimate goal of satisfying the material needs of a growing urban population. To achieve this goal, demand had to grow constantly as well. Hence, starting in the 1920s, corporations gradually shifted their attention and resources from the production of material goods to the production of consumer desires. The need to provoke emotions in order to sell mass-produced products became common wisdom. This is what led to the evolution of brands. Brands were the platforms employed to attach feelings and images to physical commodities. They were the primary means of establishing emotional bonds and loyalty relationships with consumers in a market saturated with goods. 6 By the 1980s new marketing concepts began to emerge. Marketing experts increasingly recognized that a brand should represent a consistent set of values and ideals, rather then vague emotions and associations.
Advertising executives started talking about the need to create a ‘brand identity,’ ‘brand personality,’ ‘brand character,’ ‘brand DNA,’ ‘brand equity,’ and most dramatically, ‘brand soul. Consumers incorporate brands into their lives as tools for shaping and expressing their own identities, and perceiving the identities of others. Some brands even serve as objects of cults and rituals, and their followers form ‘brand communities’. Apple Macintosh users, for example, regard brand community members who switch brands as betrayers.
Consumers start believing that the brand they support is a superior product as compared to its competitors even though its quality may not be at par. For example, Coca-Cola consistently fails in blind taste-tests when pitted against other soda rands, and yet its loyal customers persist in their belief that Coca-Cola tastes the best. In a research paper by SanJoy Ghose titled ‘Taste Tests: Impacts of Consumer Perceptions and Preferences on Brand Positioning Strategies”, Diet Pepsi was preferred by 51 per cent of the subjects while Diet Coke was preferred by 44 per cent in a blind taste test.
In contrast, a branded taste test resulted in Diet Pepsi being preferred by 23 per cent with Diet Coke being preferred by 65 per cent. 8 Big brands are increasingly targeting people’s emotions and desires by giving their roduct an imaginative image, which contains within it a sense of social power and false superiority. In the hit television series Mad Men, the first episode sheds light on the importance of advertising a product’s image versus the product itself. The advertising agency helps their client ‘Lucky Strike’, a cigarette company with their advertising campaign by telling them “we can say whatever we want”.
They tell the company, to use the slogan “It’s Toasted” to give themselves an edge from their competitors. The clients reply saying “but everyone else’s tobacco is toasted t hich the advertiser says, “No, everyone else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strike’s is toasted”. 9 This signifies that the brand must make its product seem more appealing than it actually is and in turn, fetishize the brand. As media is now globalized and brands are crossing borders and introducing their products to different cultures, they are targeting customers by making them identify their culture in the product instead of learning about the product itself.
In her book No Logo, author Naomi Klein talks about the globalization of commodity fetishism by aying, ” Usually, reports about this global web of logos and products are couched in the euphoric marketing rhetoric of the global village, an incredible place where tribespeople in remotest rain forests tap away on laptop computers, Sicilian grandmothers conduct E-business, and “global teens” share, to borrow a phrase from a Levi’s Web site, “a world-wide style culture. Everyone from Coke to McDonald’s to Motorola has tailored their marketing strategy around this post-national vision”10 Brands that originate in the west take their product to the east but while the product tself does not change at all, the brand changes the way in which the approach consumers in different cultures to have them identify with the brand. Coca-Cola has effectively been using this practice around the world by making people believe that the soda has social value. In Canada they recently released a campaign targeting the issue of obesity.
The narration for the commercial opens with “For over a hundred and twenty five years we’ve been bringing people together. Today we’d like people, to come together on something that concerns all of us – obesity. “1 1 Instantly onsumers are made to believe that this caffeinated and carbonated beverage has the power to impact a society and bring people together on a pressing issue in North America even though the product is simply meant to quench thirst. Coca-Cola is not solving the problem of obesity; it is simply putting the calorie value of the beverage on the front in at attempt to have people make informed choices.
Thus by not having to change their product and simply changing the way it appears in a society, the brand can convince people of its power. Therefore it can be established that the social power lies with the brand and not the product. In an equally recent commercial launched by Coca-Cola in India, they use data available in public domain over the last ten years and show images and list facts of issues of great importance in India such as environmental degradation, children’s education and community ties. The commercial ends with text that reads, “While some fght over petty issues, millions share a Coca-Cola everyday’. 2 While Coca-Cola plays no role in solving these national issues, it wants people to believe that the brand identifies with their national identity and almost makes it seem as if sharing a Coca-Cola will solve all hese problems by bringing people together, which can be seen as an attempt to control mass though and spreading propaganda. This advertising practice by brands is being strongly criticized as it plays with people’s emotions and makes people believe that the product is capable of much more than it actually is.
Douglas B Holt argues that identity brands compete in myth markets, not in product markets.. He suggests that to achieve an iconic status, the brand should be imbued with myths that play upon cultural tensions. 13 In his famous book The High Price of Materialism, Tim Kasser describes a comprehensive mpirical study on materialistic values, which shows that when personal interactions are based on materialistic values, less empathy and intimacy are present in relationships.
Kasser’s research also demonstrates that materialistic values undermine individuals’ physical well-being and psychological health. 14 The criticism, however, can be argued as consumers choose to participate in this name game. Commodities have branded themselves simply to fulfill people’s desires of wanting materialistic goods to feel empowered in society. Thus the fact that there is a global emand for fetishized commodities shows that both people and brands are involved in laying emphasis on materialistic importance.
Overall, it can be established that commodity fetishism has become such a strong capitalistic force that is being endorsed through globalization of media and in many instances, enabling brands to spread propaganda by controlling mass thought. However, people seek ways to assert social status within societies and need branded commodities as a way to do so. Consumers have the choice to purchase cheaper products by less established brand names and thus have the choice whether or not to give in to commodity fetishism.