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.