Marketing 3.0 as Mass Psychotherapy

“Marketing 3.0″/”holistic branding”/”spiritual marketing”, or by whatever name it goes by, is positioning itself as a form of mass psychotherapy. I suppose that is inevitable when drawing upon the models of psychiatric technique and clinical psychology — Freud, Jung, Adler or Maslow, etc. If Nietzsche held that “man is the sick animal”, and sick because of loss of wholeness (which is Jean Gebser’s “deficiency” or Charles Taylor’s “the malaise of modernity“, and also Buddhist sociologist David Loy’s interpretations of the sense of “lack”), brand advertising now pretends that it can be therapeutic, and that consumerism can be the royal road to personal and collective fulfillment — as self-realisation. This seems to be one of the most important (perhaps even the most important) aspect of “technocratic shamanism”.

The implicit promise of “holistic branding”, revealed in its very name in fact, is the promise of wholeness restored, the promise of well-being. However, if you spend long enough in the literature about this supposed new wave in advertising and social communications, it becomes pretty clear that “well-being” means “well-adjusted”. The new “managers of meaning” (as defined by Margaret Mark & Carol Pearson in their book on “archetypal branding” called The Hero and the Outlaw) are, in effect, psychotherapists, guiding the consuming masses toward “self-actualization”. Shopping becomes ceremonial performance and consumption becomes psychodrama. The well-adjusted are those become contented and comfortable with the contemporary social milieu and its arrangements despite the malaise. The model and ideal of the well-adjusted is, of course, the Adam and Eve of the new Adverse, “average Joe and average Josephine“.

Average Joe and average Josephine are, in effect, the spitting image of Nietzsche’s “Last Man” (or “Ultimate Man”) described in the opening pages of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Unfortunately, “well-being” and “well-adjusted” aren’t the same thing. They can even be completely contradictory states and conditions (and usually are). This is exemplified in what has happened to the meaning of the word “comfort” (con-fort meaning “with strength”). “Comfort is a feeling of strength within”, as an aboriginal friend once said. A sense of well-being and confidence comes from living from “the vital centre”, which is within. The notion of well-adjusted dislocates the vital centre and the centre of gravity to something external, and “comfort” becomes displaced as well — into objects of consumption as “projections” and self-alienation. The therapeutic aspect of holistic branding is presented, then, as accumulating these alienated bits of self in the form of “brand meanings” and assembling them into a resemblance of integrated being through consumption.

(Remarkably, one advocate of “marketing 3.0” even denounced those who refused to play the game of self-alienation and adjustment as being “selfish” because he considered consumerism a form of selflessness and self-sacrifice that sustained the social and economic system of production and consumption! In a remarkable inversion of values, failure to support consumer capitalism — and a lucrative career in advertising, of course — was redefined as “selfish”!)

There is certainly a strong element of this in books on marketing 3.0 — that the purpose of this “technocratic shamanism” (or technocratic Hermeticism) is to make people comfortable with, and well-adjusted to, the world of technocratic shamanism itself.

The first thing to note about marketing 3.0, though, is that it presumes to be a form of mass psychotherapy. I hope to further unwrap the implications of that in future posts.


9 responses to “Marketing 3.0 as Mass Psychotherapy”

  1. Scott Preston says :

    One of the extraordinary claims made by “managers of meaning” that bears on this psychotherapeutic aspect of marketing 3.0 is the presumption that edgy advertissements “grant permission” to the consumer to express and act out urges or impulses that might be inhibited for various reasons — culturally or socially tabu or unacceptable — and to channel these impulses into “harmless” acts of ritual consumption, ie, as “branded behaviours”. This, then, becomes the meaning of “self-realisation” or “self-actualisation” in adspeak — acting up and acting out.

    It’s a remarkable claim that advertising grants social “permission”. That is effectively a claim to governance.

  2. Dwig says :

    Not related to psychotherapy, but the “selfish” label reminds me of a lament by an economist in 2007 at a time when the mid-2000s bubble was deflating. He claimed it was caused by a “glut of savings”, and complained that consumers were in effect failing in their duty to be spending their money rather than saving it (this at a time when wages were flat and unemployment was fast rising).

    It was the clearest statement I’ve heard of a belief in an “inversion of responsibility”: people exist to serve and grow the economy; the economy has no particular duty to them. Given that kind of mindset, it makes sense to transform citizens into consumers (never mind where they’re supposed to get the money to fund their consumption).

    • Scott Preston says :

      The wet-dream of advertisers is how to get inside your dreams, and manipulate your dreams. They’ve already “penetrated” (they like to use that term) into your private spaces (with telephone soliciting, television, radio) but they’ld love to get more intimate. They haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet, though.

      There’s a B-line, nonetheless, from the use of Jungian archetypal psychology, “the collective unconscious” and dream analysis to Rolf Jensen’s notion of The Dream Society, ie, shifting from “Information Society” to “Imagination”, as he deems it. They’ve almost figured it out there — to completely erase the boundary between the internal and the external or subject and object, et voila — problem solved. The “Dream Society” is, as the author notes, a return to tribalism in that sense — the collective projection of the dreaming — the brand manager can then manipulate the dreaming directly then, without figuring out how to get around the mental blocks and shields that protect the inner core of the self from violation. The idea, then, is to make the Jungian “collective unconscious” explicit and manifest, albeit as “collective consciousness”.

      They are explicitly using the language of clinical psychotherapy to rationalise this. And also very frank in stating that their “truth” does not have to conform to, or be beholden to, scientific standards of truth (although what standard of truth they are beholden to they don’t say or fully articulate — it amounts to “anything that works” to achieve any desired outcome — in this case the creation of “branded behaviours”.

      Jensen’s “Dream Society” is interesting, because it is the ideal of the fully realised society of technocratic shamanism, which, apropos Fukuyama, Jensen believes to be historically the “final form of human society”

      What is so strange here is that there are in Jensen’s book (and “holistic branding” more generally) echoes of that “integral consciousness” that Gebser anticipates, but appearing in such demented and deranged form that it becomes almost unrecognisable because of its domination by will to power. — unbalanced situation that betrays a totalitarian will — the old problem I’ve discussed repeatedly in the past, and which Gebser addressed, — the fateful confusion of the meaning of “whole” with “total”, for as Gebser points out, the one refers to life, the other to death (German “tot”). That fateful confusion must have played heavy on his mind in anticipating, in consequence — a “global catastrophe” in the making.

      • Dwig says :

        That raises the specter of going directly from the deficient mental-rational consciousness structure to the deficient integral (the dis-integral?).

        • Scott Preston says :

          Yes. And I think Gebser anticipated that in some ways, especially in speaking of the distinction between the “whole” and the “totality” he was making precisely that point. In fact, Nietzsche also makes precisely that point in his saying that “the will to a system is a lack of integrity”. Right there is, I think, the distinction between the whole and the totality. It’s why I’m concerned about the intentions for “marketing 3.0”.

          And just as “whole” and “totality” become confused in people’s minds (actually, this is the work of McGilchrist’s “emissary” or Goethe’s “sorcerer’s apprentice” as discussed previously) so too ideals of universality become confused with uniformity and standardisation (resulting in “average Joe and Jospehine” as ideal types, the human archetypes of the branded universe).

          I’m just putting together another post about this trend to “market religion” as expressly competing with authentic enlightenment. This is expressly so in Jensen’s The Dream Society where enlightenment values and ideals are expressly disavowed and devalued. Jensen’s society is, indeed, the spitting image of Stivers’ “triumph of the irrational”. It’s certainly not Gebser’s “arational-aperspectival” consciousness.

  3. dadaharm says :


    It is very reassuring to know that the authorities and experts care so much about the common people that they spend a lot of their time and money on a form of mass psychotherapy. Just to make sure that everybody in society is happy and has a meaningful life.

    However, holistic branding could well be the wrong kind of mass psychotherapy. To me it looks more like an attempt to perform a collective lobotomy. The meaning provided by consumption is a rather unimaginative (and even a standardised) form of meaning.

    I do think humanity could use some form of mass psychotherapy. But it should be one that empowers and liberates the individual, instead of one that increases human dependency on institutions and corporations. That is not a form of therapy that marketing 3.0 can provide. Marketing 3.0 only knows how to better adjust individuals to society, not how to empower individuals to change and improve society.

  4. Scott Preston says :

    Revenge of the Money-Changers — their revenge on Jesus was to rebrand Jesus as the greatest “salesman” and “mass marketer” the world has ever known. That’s been going on at least since adman Bruce Barton wrote his soporific book The Man Nobody Knows. And, of course, by reflected glory that places the salesman and mass marketer in the role of “doing God’s work”, as the Goldman Sachs CEO Blankfein put it. But it also means that the “salesman” and adman now deems himself or herself to be a spiritual teacher — like Jesus. Hence “spiritual marketing”.

    Of course, keeping their eye on trends as they do, they’ve probably noticed the popularity and popular quest for gurus, mystics, shamans, living Buddhas, priests, spiritual leaders of all sorts, and not only want a piece of the action and a share of the market, but seemingly they want all of it. So, now they position themselves as spiritual guides and spiritual teachers and psychotherapists to the masses.

    It’s really kind of revolting.

    • Dwig says :

      “… seemingly they want all of it.” Less than All cannot satisfy Ad-Man!

      An unnatural religion; revolting indeed.

  5. Charles says :

    Such irony. “Unfortunately, “well-being” and “well-adjusted” aren’t the same thing.” I guess that what happens when a human being is thought to be without a soul. Erich Kahler is one those writers like Gebser that I call meta-historian. His The Tower and the Abyss (though written years ago) is subtitled An Inquiry into the Transformation of Man. He articulates the growth of collectives, as compared to communities, which he writes results in the “gradual disruption of the human self, the individual’s growing alienation from his world and intimately from himself.” This trend has gone unabated unfortunately and leads to the situation where the image of the human being of a well-adjusted machine. Gebser echoed this when he wrote

    The current situation manifests on the one hand an egocentric individualism exaggerated to extremes and desirous of possessing everything, while on the other it manifests an equally extreme collectivism that promises the total fulfillment of man’s being. In the latter instance we find the utter abnegation of the individual valued merely as an object in the human aggregate; in the former a hyper-valuation of the individual who, despite his limitations, is permitted everything. P. 3 Gebser

    The hope is an a transformed human being living in a human community.

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