Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

I Am Not What I Drive: Looking at the Psychology of Conspicuous Consumption

The glitzy cars with the winged doors, the heavy gold watches and the over-the-top- priced sunglasses can’t build solid self-esteem.

The advertising genius, David Ogilvy, understood human behavior and human frailty related to merchandising. He is quoted as having said, “Consumers still buy products whose advertising promises them value for money, beauty, nutrition, relief from suffering, social status and so on. All over the world.” Value, I will bet, in terms of money, beauty, and social status are way up there in the merchandising hierarchy.

If social status weren’t so important, why would once exclusive brand merchandise see traditional plaid linings turned outward into everything from socks to umbrellas? Showing off is absolutely mandatory. The glitz on the outside is intended to heal the hurt of emptiness on the inside, and playing the part of something or someone you’re not, garners attention for you. If the selective attention effect is what you want, you know how to get it.

Ergo, if you have to go into extreme debt to fake it, do as those in Silicon Valley do; fake it till you make it. We saw how that worked for the woman CEO in charge of Theranos. It probably worked well for those at Enron and DeLorean for a time, as well as for The Billionaire Boys Club.

And Mark Zuckerberg knows how to fit into a system that affords you great wealth, despite not being a coding genius. You need good social engineering skills. Kevin Mitnick told us, in his books, how valuable that is in terms of computer security. And it works very well in your people skills arsenal.

Need another example of social engineering at its best? Look at the Netflix video of “Inventing Anna” and realize how she used her fake German heiress act to swindle the rich and famous out of millions. The woman understood the weaknesses in people who held incredible wealth and positions of prominence in society, and she used it to great effect for herself and her wish to be “somebody.” I’m always reminded of Marlon Brando’s line from “On the Waterfront” when I use that “somebody” line.

The drive for healthy self-esteem and social status, real or ersatz, depends on several things. One factor is our culture’s status relative to us; there is a scale of acceptance derived by cultural bias.

Some of us are born with an expectation of acceptance, and early experiences play a major role in our mental development. Constantly having our thoughts questioned, our age and education seen as over-riding issues and how the media portrays us all have potent effects. Self-esteem can be damaged and social status may become a raging quest.

Viewed through that lens of seeking perceptual acceptance, there is nothing that can be permitted to stand in the way of our cloaking ourselves in that high-status position. Here, subtle criminality may arise, and self-soothing is one way to find it permissible. Pull on that cashmere sweater and slip into those hand-made shoes and you feel soothed but in debt.

Merchandising products heavily depends on pushing social status, and it’s not hard to see the hidden messages they spew. Who receives a luxury vehicle with a huge bow on top of it for Christmas? I don’t know anyone. What about costly perfumes, not toilet water but perfumes? Do you really need lavender diamonds? Is a car’s interior truly a “cabin,” and what does that mean?

Alcoholic products are another area where status can be bought at the corner liquor store. Even these products have a range of “quality” within a brand, and the “best” (aka most expensive) is the only one acceptable.

For each product we buy, should we be asking if it’s what we need and want or something we’ve been pushed to believe we “need?” When a country undergoes crushing inflation, the effect on merchandising is felt, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in any country. How will self-esteem and social status be affected when sneakers at $4,500 can’t be bought on our current income?

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Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

DR PATRICIA FARRELL

Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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