It Starts with Us: Personal Responsibility
Let’s begin with some concessions. The author of this article concedes the following: Advertising and marketing behaviors are in fact based on tested and effective psychological and sociological methods. Taste, smell and other sensory perceptions and preferences can, in fact, scientifically be found in concentration, in select demographics and communities of interest. These concessions are made in deference to any person or persons who might be unaware of the constancy with which business and personal interests are manipulating their perceptions of choice. In acknowledging these concessions, it is the author’s hope that readers might concede the following: that the routine manipulations produced through the psychological and sociological use of the routine advertising and marketing of consumer products and services is a well known and documented occurrence, and that, as such, should be stipulated as common knowledge.
The studies into the precise nature of marketing and advertising psychological effects from passive to more aggressive techniques such as those researched in the mid 20th century into subliminal techniques are well known common knowledge.
With these stipulations in place, we can begin an honest discussion about the personal responsibilities of individuals to use sound decision-making strategies to navigate the complexities of daily life as both consumers and citizens.
In recent years several health and behavioral epidemics have been identified and targeted for their negative impacts on the general health and welfare of human beings and society. A few of these include the detrimental effects of obesity, nicotine addiction, consumer credit use and more. All of these represent a clear and present threat to the beneficial health and well being of both individuals and society as a whole. In a society, however, where manufactures, advertisers, and distributors of consumer goods are often held to account for the impacts of their products on the populace, the question remains as to what the obligations of consumers might be with regard to their own decisions and decisions made by them that might have impacts on others.
To begin, we will look at the obesity epidemic that has been identified, in particular, in western or U.S. society. Obesity is a dangerous threat to public health and welfare. Obesity can lead to several severe health problems, including heart disease, hypertension, joint and muscle debilitation and more. It is particularly important that we look at obesity, as it resultant of specific behaviors, not organic or hormonal conditions.
The ongoing battle against obesity has taken many shapes. Public or government initiatives to promote healthy consumption habits, as well as broad reaching regulatory mandates, are tools employed to combat this problem. One of the most often recourses for individuals has increasingly become litigation between the purported victims of this epidemic and those who knowingly manufacture, distribute or market products that have an apparent connection to or seem outwardly to contribute to, poor health habits with regard to weight gain. Law suits with fast food companies, grocery producers and even scientific endeavors working in the farming of crops and livestock have been targeted if the resulting products appear to contribute in any way to obesity or related behavioral disorders.
The question remains, as to the culpability of each individual for deciding to consume these products once it is known that said products are being marketed to a susceptible population. It is a foregone conclusion that once a product is brought to market, it should in fact be marketed directly to those most likely to purchase them. If an individual fits this demographic, then it can be assumed that that individual is most likely targeted for distribution. Once we know this, is it now left to this individual to make the final and accountable decision to consume or not, any such product? It can be, as above, stipulated that advertisements for such products will endeavor to produce a specific behavior, based on a targeted psychological appeal. However, the question remains, is the targeted demographic group or individual still the arbiter of the final resultant decision?
Nicotine “vaping” is one of the most recent epidemics among young people through out the country. In much the same way fast food, consumer soft drinks, and other non-essential products and services are marketed, demographic studies are engaged, psychological profiles are established, and market research directed toward identifying successful methods for manipulating consumer behaviors that are undertaken. Advertising methods are then put into practice and consumption begins. The question now bears repeating. Is the consumer or targeted demographic group or individual still reasonably responsible for the deliberate purchase and use of a product?
If we fully stipulate that we as a populace is aware of and knowable of the fact that our behaviors are the target of specific manipulation by advertising and marketing standard practices used by any and all consumer services, then we must accept that said knowledge is, at the least, a first step toward the deliberations needed to be a smart and informed consumer. If this is true, then it is derivative that the ultimate decision to act to purchase, use or consume any product is exclusively that of the individual, and that the individual assumes at the point of purchase, the sole responsibility for their own actions.
For this to be the case, any and all information about the product must be disclosed. In much the same way U.S. regulations require a surgeon general’s warning on cigarette packages, nutritional facts be published on food staples or behavioral dangers be printed on irons or other appliances, any health or welfare risks must be disclosed, so that the ultimate decision of the individual can be considered an informed and deliberate one.
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING:
To serve the above stated purposes, full disclosure and a more informed consumer population, fairness and truth in advertising regulations have been established throughout history. Efforts to reduce these restrictions in favor of the so-called “free-market” have met with limited but important success. While general health and welfare concerns are often still requisite, they can be psychologically countered by hyperbolic claims about the salutary benefits or effects of products. Many regulations have been utilized to limit these, often disingenuous, claims, but few have survived the overwhelming pressures of the “free-market” to allow manufactures and distributors to profit from their endeavors. This makes the struggle to produce a truly informed consumer public a difficult one.
In the 21st century, the seemingly unrelenting growth of social media and other internet-based information platforms has made it even more difficult to become a truly informed consumer. It is easy for providers, distributors and manufacturers to produce their own media content and influence the targeted consumer market. For this reason, the fully independent press-media market must be protected. This presents a growing difficulty as media companies struggle to diversify and become embedded in the consumer marketplace. Ownership of press-media providers by consumer goods manufacturers and distributors is increasingly prevalent, making the independent media more difficult to find. There are few regulations with regard to the ownership and influence of the presumed 4th estate, and many have been stricken as intrusive to the “free-market.” This means that it is more incumbent on media consumers to vary and critically analyze media that is directed toward them.
These trends also have salutary effects. Independent media was throughout much of the 20th century, controlled by a limited number of companies and individuals. Understanding that these have merged, diversified and reduced in numbers, while access to the Internet and social media has increased, means that there are opportunities for entrepreneurs with a genuine interest in an independent media structure. The single responsibility of consumers with regard to media today, is to be vigilant in seeking unbiased, disconnected and critically neutral media in a growing sea of choices. It is also incumbent upon consumers to know and be able to distinguish media that caters to opinion-based or paid editorializing. A general rule to apply to any editorial content that is aimed at providing information, is to analyze the content to determine if it is designed to reinforce or challenge one’s world view. If an article purports to bolster your opinions, or unduly challenges them from a distinct point of view, the content is not informative, it is designated as influential and at its best, is editorializing, and at its most extreme, advertising or ad vocation.
THIS ARTICLE (For Example) IS EDITORIAL CONTENT and is NOT Journalistically NUETRAL.
The sole and single most vital ability of a consumer or citizen is to make unilateral and arbitrary decisions. It is the right, and this article argues the sole right, and responsibility of each individual to inform themselves, form and reinforce critically considered opinions, and ultimately determine through thoughtful and deliberate consideration, to act or behave in accordance with or opposition to, the conditioned and solicited manipulations of consumer goods and services providers, distributors and manufacturers. In short, each of us must decide, knowing that we are being solicited to act in certain ways and purchase certain things, whether or not to do so.
ONLY, when we each as individuals, make deliberate choices and accept that we are in fact still the arbiters of the rewards and consequences of these decisions, can we free ourselves to consumer, citizen or to become provider, manufacturer or distributors of information, goods or services and in effect, take vital control over our economic, societal and individual health and well-being.
These are, as always, the rambling thoughts of a guy who is no smarter than any of you, and these opinions are submitted to each reader for consideration, nothing more.