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the role of design in our distracted consumerist nation.

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Proceed to

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the role of design in our distracted consumerist nation.


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Ta b l e o f contents

Introduction................... $ 06.00 Obsession....................... $ 08.00 Green Enough................... $ 20.00 Sex Sells....................... $ 36.00 Conclusion...................... $ 50.00 Conference Overview.......... $ 58.00

T O T A L .......................

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$➥ welcome. please check your life before s h o pp i n g . T h a n k y o u .


consumerism encour ages, t h e n e x p l o i t s , d i s s at i s f a c t i o n w i t h e v e r y d ay r e a l i t y.

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I n t r o d u c t i o n

We—those graphic designers, those advertisers, the journalists and designers as a whole—have been raised in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have truly persistently been presented to us as most lucrative, effect- ive and desirable use of our talents. Many

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design teachers and mentors pro m ote this belief; the market rewards it; a tide of books and publications reinforeces it. Encouraged in this direction, designers then apply their skill and imagination to sell dog biscuits, designer coffees, gross diamonds, detergents, gels, cigarettes, credit cards, sneakers, butt toners, light beer and heavy- duty recreational vehicles. Commerical work has always paid the bills, but many graphic designers have now let it become, in large measure, what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is how the world perceives design. The profession’s time and energy is used up manufacturing demands for things that are inessential at best. Many of us have grown increasingly uncomfortable with this view of design. Designers who devote their efforts primarily to advertising, marketing and brand develop m ent are supporting, and implicitly endorsing, the mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen consumers speak, think, feel, respond and interact. To

some extent we are all helping draft a reductive and immeasurably harmful code of public discourse. There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented e nviro n m e ntal, social a n d cultural crises demand our attention. Many of our cultural interventions, marketting campaigns, books, m agazines, exhibitions, educational tools, television programs, films, charitable causes, and other such information design projects urgently requires expertise and help. We propose a reversal of priorities in favor of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication, true mindshifts away from product m arketing & toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning. The scope of debate is too shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism's running uncontested; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual lang- uage and resouraces of design. In 1964, 22 visual communicators signed the original call for out skills to be put to worthwhile use. With a true explosive growth of global commercial culture their message only grown more urgent. Today, we renew their manifesto in expectation that no more decades will pass before it's truly taken to heart. Join us in Washington to listen to those who long taken this issue of rampant consumerism compulsion to heart. Listen to lectures and participated in workshops that explore how designers can change the way they work with consumerism.

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Our consumption of products is a function of our culture. Only by m aking and selling things and services does capitalism in its present form work, and the more that is produced and the more that is purchased the more we have progress and properity. Even the single most important measure economic growth is, after all, that gross national product (GNP), that sum total of goods and services produced by a given society in any given year. It is a measure of the success of the consumer soc- iety, obviously, to consume. However, the production, processing, and consumption, of commodities requires the extraction and use of all natural resources (wood, ore, fossil fuels, and water); requires the creation of factories and of factory co m plexes whose operation creates toxic byproducts, while the use of the commodities themselves (e.g. automobiles) creates pollutants & waste. Yet of the three factors environmentalists often point to as responsible for environmental pollution—population, technology, and consu- mption—consumption seems to get the least attention. One reason, no doubt, is that it m ay just be that m ost difficult to change; our consumption patterns are so much a part of our livess that to change them would so require a m assive cultural overhaul, not to mention severe economic dislocation. A drop in demand for products, as economists note,

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brings on economic recession or even depres- sion, along with massive unemployment. It is no exaggeration to say that designers are engaged in truly nothing less than the manufacture of contemporary reality. We live and breathe design. Few of the experiences we value at home, at leisure, in the city or the m all are free of its alchemical touch. We have absorbed design deeply into ourselves that we no longer recognize the myriad ways in which it prompts, cajoles, disturbs, and excites us. It is completely natural. It is just the way things are. We imagine that we engage directly with the “content” of the magazine, the TV commercial, the pasta sauce, or perfu m e, but these contents are always mediated by design & it’s design that helps direct how we perceive it and how it makes us feel. The brand-meisters and marketing gurus understand this only too well. The product may be little different in real terms from its rivals. What seduces us is its “image.” This image reaches us firsst as a visual entity­­— shape, color, picture, type. But if it’s to work its effect on us it must become an idea: NIKE! This is the tremendous power of design. “Design is truly not neutral value-free process,” argues the American design educator Katherine McCoy, who contends that corporate work of even the most innocuous content is never devoid of political bias. The vast maj- ority of design projects-certainly the most lavishly funded and the widely disseminated-


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In modern society, we have learned to distrust our direct experiences, and require a commentator—an authority—to interpret our experiences for us. This is why Americans believe nothing is real until it has been on television. Television is the package, as well as a vehicle for the ultimate comment on all contemporary reality—and that is advertising.

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In the end, that m odern person today is influenced by advertisments and the visual world around us more than we are aware of. And these means are effective because they prey on the notion that what they offer is absolitely more desireable than anything in our lives. We envy that which we do not have. And advertisers know this better than anyone.

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address corporate needs, an over-emphasis on the commercial sector of society that consumes most of graphic designers’ time, skills and creativity. As McCoy points out, this is the decisive vote on economic considerations over other potential concerns including society’s social, educational, cultural, spiritual, and political needs. In other words, it’s a political statement in support of the status quo. To put this in another way, the modern adverting spends vast sums trying to make the buying public aware of products that it also portrays as a necessity of life—an obvious contradiction. After all, how could our loyal consumer have survived to the present moment without this crucial product, so as to be in the position to witness its advertising? The truth is, by the time the advertisement fills a tim e slot on your television set, or plays on the radio, or appears in print in your newspaper, chances are you already have all that you needs to live comfortably. The global pur- pose of modern advertising is to m ake you forget this fact. Advertising accomplishes this two ways: By creating an atmosphere of no satisfaction on everything not purchasable, or already purchased. It also does so by telling lies, appealing lies, lies that nearly everyone wants to hear. All the little lies support a big lie—that no product is so valuable that advertising has no purpose.

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All advertising conveys the same simple message: my life will be richer, more fulfi- lling once I make the next crucial purchase. Adverts persuade with their images of others who have apparently been transformed and are, as a result, enviable. The purpose is to make me marginally dissatisfied with my life­— not with the life of society, but just with my individual life. I am then to imagine myself transformed after the purchase into an object of envy for others—an envy which will then give me back all my love of myself. The prevalence of this gross social envy is the necessary condition if advertising has the hold on us whatsoever. Only if we have got

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into the habit of comparing ourselves with others and finding ourselves lacking, will we fall prey to the gross power of advertising. While fanning the flames of our envy advertising keeps us preoccupied with ourselves, our houses, our cars, our holidays and the endless line of new electronic gadgets that suddenly seem indispensable. Tensions in society and problems in the rest of the world quickly fade into the background. They are certainly nothing to get particularly worked up about. After all, there can’t be any winners without losers. Furthermore, together with the holy rituals of shopping, advertising is one of the way in which we are quietly persuaded that our society is the best of all possible worlds (or at least so good that it’s not worth campaigning for any fundamental changes). There are lots of criticisms that could be m ade of m odern democracies, but no one is going to pay much attention to them if they are more inter- ested in becoming happy shoppers. In this world of advertising, nothing speaks to consumers more strongly than the visual message imparted by the advertisers and the designers. The quickest way to catch one’s attention are through these means, and as the designers, we bear that responsibility of this role an d p o wer. That ‘stuff’ that we choose to design for and the way that ‘stuff’ effects a society as a whole is our fault, as much as it is the fault of the bussiness man, the buyer and of course you.


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Words, colors, simple a esthetics are all used to warp perception. Wa rp your mind. // K e e p ... e r h a / ; w a t c h i n g .. t h i .s / ; :m e s s a g e . i s o v e r.

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Tra n s m i s s i o n r e c e iv e d . O w n i n g more shows no correlation w i t h h a p p i n e s s . I n fa c t , t h e r e s u l t s m a y b e n e g a t i ... s . s s h . / / a t t r a ;; t r a n s m . l o s t .

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t h e c u l p r i t s

A person that is unaware of adv- ertising’s claim on him or her is precisely the one most defenseless against adwriter’s attack. Advertisers delight in an audience which believes ads to be harmless nonsense, for such an audience is rendered defenseless by its belief that there is no attack taking place. Ads can be studied to detect their psychological hooks, they can be used to gauge values and hidden desires of the common person, be studied for their use of symbols, color, and imagery. But perhaps the simplest and most direct way to study ads is through an analysis of the language of the advertising claim. That said “claim” is the verbal or print part of ad that makes some claim of superiority for the product being advertised. A few of these very claims are downright lies, some just honest statements about a truly superior product, but most fit into the category of neither bold lies nor helpful consumer information. They balance on the narrow line between the truth and falsehood by a careful choice of words. The reason so many ad claims fall into this category of pseudo-information is that they are applied to parity products, products in which all or most of the brands available are nearly identical. Since no one superior product exists, advertising creates illusion of superiority. So, the largest advertising budgets are devoted to the parity products such as gasoline, cigarettes, beer and soft

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drinks, soaps, and the various headache and cold remedies. The first rule of parity so involves the Alice-in-Wonderlandish use of the words “better” and “best.” “Better” means “best” and “best” means “equal to.” If all the brands are identical, they must all be equally good, the legal minds have deci- ded. So thus, “best” means that the product is as good as the other superior products in its category. When Bing Crosby declares Minute Maid Orange Juice “the best there is” he means it is as good as the other orange juices you can buy. The second rule of advertising claims is simply that if any product is truly superior, the ad will say so very clearly and will offer some kind of convincing evidence of the superiority. If an ad hedges the least bit about a product’s advantage over the competition you can strongly suspect it is not superior­— may be


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e qual to but not better. You will never hear The “We’re different and unique” claim is a gasoline company say they “will give you popular, in which the viewer is suppose to four miles per gallon more in your care than interpret that uniqueness as superiority, any other brand.” They would love to make the which is not necessarily true. We also have claim, but it wouldn’t be true. Gasoline is the “Water is wet” claim in which ads claim a parity product and noone has yet claimed something about the product that is true one brand of gasoline better than any of for any brand within that product category. the other brands. To create that very The “So what” claim is the kind of claim to necessary illusion of superiority, adverti- which the careful reader will react by saying sers usually resort to one or more of the “So What?” A claim is made which is true but following ten basic techniques. Each can be which gives no real advantage to the product. common and easy to identify. The weasel There is a long list of tactics that claim: a modifier that practically negates advertisers and businessmen use to manupu- the claim that follows, such as “Only half late the average civilian, tactics that have the price of many color sets,” where the been psychologically crafted to sway them. world ‘many’ is the weasel. Then there is But without creative individuals, the tricks the unfinished claim, in which the ad claims are rendered useless. Now then ask yourself the product is better, that it has more of this: are you willing to feed to this way something, but doesn't finish the comparison. of life? Or are you ready for it to change? “Magnavox gives you more,” but more of what? As a designer and consumer, ready for change?

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t h e g r e e n l e a f

So greenwashing affects 98% of products, including toys, baby prodcuts and cosmetics. There are more products claiming to be green on those shelves of stores these days, however the ‘all-natural’ and ‘organic’ products are likely committing at least one of the ‘Seven Sins of Greenwashing’ by not telling the complete truth. Between 2007 and 2009, the instore availability of so-called ‘green’ products increased between 40% and 176%, with 98% of the products surveyed still committing at least one Sin of Greenwashing, according to the report on the Seven Sins of Greenwashing released by the Terra Choice Environmental Marketing. Greenwashing the act of misleading consumers regarding those environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or that service. “Well the good news is that the growing availability of green products shows that consumers are demanding more environ- mentally responsible choices, and marketers and manufacturers are listening”, said Scot Case, the Vice President of TerraChoice. “The bad news is that a survey of 2,219 consumer products in the U.S. and Canada shows that 98% committed at least one Sin of Greenwashing and that some marketers are exploiting consu m ers’ dem ands for so m e certification by creating fake labels or false suggestions of third-party endorsement. So, despite the number of legitimate eco-labels out there,


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green is the new bl ack. how to greenwash your image: add the color green. add trees, le aves, or the recycle symbol. add e c o o r t h e w o r d g r e e n t o y o u r p r o d u c t.

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If the box says so, then it must be true.

consumers will still have to remain vigilant in their green purchasing decisions”. Keep an eye out for these Seven Sins of Greeen washing: Those Sin of the Hidden Trade Off occurs when one environmental issue is emphasized at the expense of a potentially more serious concern. In other words, when marketing hides a trade-off between envir- onmental issues. The Sin of No Proof happens when environmental assertions aren’t backed up by evidence or third-party certification. One common example is facial tissue products that claim various percentages of postcon- sumer recycled contents without providing any supporting details. The Sin of Vague ness occurs when marketing claims are so lacking in specifics as to be meaningless. ‘All-natural’ is one exa m ple of this Sin. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring, and poisonous. “All natural” isn’t necessarily ‘green’. The next sin if that Sin of Worshiping a False Labels is marketers create those untrue suggestions or certification-like image to mislead the consumers into thinking that the product(s) has been through legitimate green certification processes or some legally verifiable. One example of this Sin can be a brand of aluminum foil with certification -like images showing the names of the com- pany’s very own and in-house environmental

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program for which there is no explanation. The fifth—Sin of Irrelevance—arises when an environ m ental issue that is unrelated to the product is emphasized. An example is the claim that the product is ‘CFC-free’, since CFCs are banned by laws. The sixth Sin of Lesser of Two Evils occurs when an environm ental claim m akes consu m ers feel ‘green’ about the product category that is itself lacking in environmental benefits. Organic cigarettes are an example of this Sin. The Sin of Fibbing is when environmental claims are outright false. A common example of this is products falsely claiming to be Energy Star certified. Com mon consumers tend to fall prey to these Seven Sins despite being aware of the practices and tricks of these companies. But we tends to overlook and underestim ate those powers of design, how we can use a color or shape and simply circumvent the logic. We design to de the truth. We ultimately lie to our consumers. Truly not surprising, with the green movem- ent catching so pace, companies, trade group and government organizations are keen to get a piece of the quiche. Whereas this means that they further can be recycled, but there is no surety that the consumer will find a handy facility for recycling them. In the recent

Greenwashing — designed deceit in pack aging


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o n ot f act recession. No wonder companies who earlier were least interested are rushing to portray themselves and their products as green just to m ake a profit. Greenwashing is certainly a pervasive genre of food packaging designed to m ake sure those m anufacturers grab their slices of the $25 billion that American shoppers spend each year on natural or organic foods. As the design form of shorthand, it makes subtle use of specific colors, images, typefaces and the promise of what marketers call “an authentic narrative” to sell foods. Especially in recent years, greenwashing has spilled out well past the organic section of a grocery store. Even the snack aisle at the gas station isn’t im mune. This is where designers are fully in the same blame boat as the businessmen and advertisters. We offer the greatest tool to fool the masses. We offer them a no-brainer.

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years, there has been substantial growth in environmental awareness in a wide range of industries, including technology, architect- ure and consumer products. The major car manufacturers around the world seem to be constantly struggling so as to maintain the competitive edges in a growing green market. Although it’s a profitable venture for the companies, there is no complete eco-friendly solutions that currently exists, thus that manufacturers are left with no choice. They can’t shut their facilities in the name of growing green, lose their consumer base just to save themselves from “green sins.” Hence, manufacturers are forced to take up any one of the recycled, recyclable or biodegradable materials end up with less packagings. None of those above seems to be viable solution. “For every positive action in nature, there is an equal negative reaction”— quite an appropriate aphorism to describe our so- called green movement. While the awareness factor surges, adoption rates seem to lag as the packaging businesses slowly incorporate sustainable practices into their business strategies. This is the evil not so easily recognized, as it is dressed in a friendly green garb and it comes with the promise of transparency & environmentals benefits. The amount of money being spent each year on green products and services is increasing at a rapid pace. The movement is continuing despite the slowdowns that are caused by the

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gr t h e r e a l i t y o f a l l n a t u r a l

Picking up that innocent box of granola bars or a bottle of iced tea and you’re hit with health claims—from less fat to made with real sugar. In fact, a USDA study has shown that 43% of productss introduced in 2010 splashed nutrition ads their packaging. But despite their promises, you could be eating more fats, calories, salt and sugar than you'd think. Cholesterol is only within animal products, but yet the cholesterol-free stamps are frequently used on plant-based foods that would never con- tain it. Also, the great deal of junk food is naturally cholesterol-free (think Red Vines and Doritos), which does not make them heart- healthy. “Besides, the research does show that dietary cholesterol doesn’t affect the blood cholesterol levels the way we thought it did decades ago,” says Darya Pino Rose, PhD. What does a green label really mean? Nothing. Green is a found-in-nature color, so we tend to associate that with health even when we shouldn’t. One study in the journal Health Communication found that consumers are more likely to think a candy bar with green label is healthier than those with white or red labels—even if they have identical calorie counts. Designers are even responsible for the messages, ‘reduced sodium’, but what does that really mean? The food contains less h i g h l e v e l s o f // > : p e s ticides, cholesterol, f a t . . . / >> . . . . f o r g o o d h e a l t h f o r y o u r fa m i l y // ... >


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The living conditions of the animals are the same an non-organic and sometimes even worse. Made with sugar or a natural sweetener doesn’t mean that the product is necessarily healthy either. It means it’s got a lot of sugar. Even sodas are getting in on the hate because you’re more likely to buy ones that contain more natural sugar. Still, eating too much sugar in any form contributes to excess calories that cause weight gain. Check the ingredients list, and know that corn syrup, beet sugar, dextrose, can juice, fruit juice concentrate and malt syrup (and more!) are all sugars. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 100 cal- ories (or six teaspoons) a day. Avoid food with sugar in one of the first three ingredients; those are basically desserts. There is no denying that t h i n k >> o f t h e _ . . . power of your power of written :: d e s i g n a n d s k i l l s words carry, and ? $$ you are t h e t h i n g s y o u >> in the hands of d e s i g n ..... / @ * % / all us designers they can scream for attention, making deci- sions easy for consumers; so easy consumers won’t even have to think. And therein lies the problem. Without thought, you can sell lies easily. So, businessmen and advertisers know this and use it to their advantage. But we know it, too, now. And the question is, will be use it to our personal gain or will we seek to change this spread of lies?

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sodium than other original products. Other versions of that phrase sound the same but mean different things: low in sodium or less sodium (at least 25% less than the original), light in sodium (50% less than the original) and low sodiu m (140 mg or less of sodiu m per serving). These forms of tricks are persisstent and really, truly com municated visually, and consumers believes that those products have more benefits that they actually do. When any read “with added vitamins” we believe we are getting the nutritional equivalent of the serving of fruit or serving of vegetables. In reality, Vitamins A, C, E and the Bs are added to cereal, fruit snacks and even to Girl Scout cookies. But, “science shows that separating vitamins and minerals from one food and putting them in another doesn’t offer those same disease-fighting benefits.” “Hormone-Free Chicken” makes us believe that dinners will be healthy and eco-friendly. This is not the case. Hormones aren’t approved for use in chicken or pork, so packages labeled hormone-free are true, but those animals would not have been given hormones regardless. Also, the worst health offenders for meats is high cholesterol and fat, which are still found in hormone-free animals. The alternative is to buy organic, but even this label can be deceiving. We believe that this means that the animals have been well treated, when in fact, it doesn’t.

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As weilders of great power we can begin to be vigilant with our choice of client by becoming informed. We can start with Monsanto. If there exists only one evil corporation operating on this planet that supersedes every other, it undoubtedly is Monsanto Corporation. This company, which was a forerunner in those developments of genetically modified seeds farm cropps, has managed within just the few short years to pollute the world’s natural seed stock with genetically altered and sterile products. Monsanto has since branched out to the genetic manipulation of animals. The comp- any has created and marketed a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone known as rBGH. It increases milk production in dairy cattle. The hormone has since been found to be the possible carcinogen and so its use is banned most other countries. It remains on shelves in stores in the United States. Monsanto has patented a breeding technique used for pigs, and it is claiming ownership of any pigs born through these techniques and their related herds. Researchers are simply now discovering that Monsanto’s experiments in linking genetic varieties of corn and beans to herbicides and insectic- ides is having a disastrous impact on both the environment and animals which consume thefood. Not only are those altered foods showing to be possible carcinogen, rats fed

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a diet of Monsanto GMO corn are now showing kidney and liver failure. The widespread use of this seed is resulting in new varieties of super weeds and of insects resistant to chemical treatment. This corn is making its way inside a broad range of processed foods that may easily be finding their way into a world-wide market. Many foods and especially soft drinks are sweetened with high fructosse corn syrup which alone is linked to increased obesity and the associa- ted health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. M onsanto have expanded its GMO seeds production to include numerous other crops including canola, and soy beans, grains and cotton. The co m pany awaiting FDA approval from its latest gross invention, genetically modified soybeans that produce omega-3 fats. Monsanto expects this modified soy oil to soon be used in a wide variety of processed foods sold in our grocery stores. They could include breakfast cereals, cheeses, pastas, gravies and sauces, fruit juice, snack foods, soup candy and frozen dairy products. The chemicals and the genetically modified organisms inside of Monsanto’s products are found to be having an impact on not only the farming community, but on the general quality and safety of the foods being produced and subsequently on the health of the consumers. Marie-Monique Robin, author of book The World According to Monsanto, warns that the

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company has not only gained the control of the world seed market, but it has created a serious dilemma within the world food supply. Robin writes “GMOs and Roundup are amongst the most dangerous products of modern times, joining a list that is heavily populated by other Monsanto products such as polychlori- nated biphenyls (PCBs), and dioxin and bovine growth hormones. In all cases, Monsanto has been fully aware of their harmfulness yet has lied about their dangers using an impunity conferred by the gross collusion between the company and public health and environmental authorities of successive U.S. governments.” Another horror aspect to the Monsanto story is that the corporation has become so powerful it’s financing a bank of lawyers to impose its produce on farms not only in the United States but all over the world. Mons- anto has managed to win patent infringement lawsuits against farmers after it was proven that Monsanto’s GMO corns cross-pollinated with non-GMO crops in close fields. Thus they stopped non-GMO farmers from both selling or using their own seed. This is the very information that readily available. Products of Monsanto are plenty, and if as a designer you have worked on packaging, there is quite the high chance you worked on one of these. Therefore, there is a high chance that you have fed a family potentially carcinogenic foods. Can you claim responsibilty? Can you continue to ignore your role as a designer?

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Not so far from drugs have been brought to market in recent Monsanto’s lies years, and they were honestly mostly based we find the lies and tricks of the world of on taxpayer-funded research within academic pharm aceuticals, also known as Big Pharm a. institutions, small biotechnology companies, In the recent years, Big Pharma has pushed or the National Institutes of Health(NIH). The its way into the traditional doctor/patient great majority of “new” drugs are not new at relationship, finding new ways to increase all but merely variations of the older drugs sales by targeting the patients directly and already on the markets. These are so called independently, frequently through television “me-too” drugs. The idea is to grab a share of advertising. Between the year 1996 and 2004, established & lucrative market by producing industry spending on the direct-to-consumer something quites b i g p h a r m a .. / i s a business. / advertising (or DTC) rose to over 500 percent. similars to most which means that > ... t h e y While companies claim that increase in of a top selling are not interested in y o u r h ea lt h / : prices is mostly due to a nead for funding drug. For example : t h e y a r e m ot ivate d research and development (R&D), the expend- we now have six s o l e y b y p r o f i t .> iture on this is a relatively small part of statins (we have the budgets of big drug companies— dwarfed Mevacor, Lipitors, Zocors, Pravachols, Lescol, by the giant expenditures on marketing and & Crestor) on the market to lower cholesterol, administration, and quite smaller even than all variants of the first. The way to look at profits. In fact, year after year, for over this situation: If I’m a manufacturer and I two decades, this industry has been far and can change just one molecule to get another away the most profitable within the United twenty years of patent rights, and convince States. (In 2003 for the first time ever the p hysicians to prescrib e an d consu m ers to industry fell from its first-place position, demand the next form of Prilosec, or weekly co ming in third, behind mining, crude oil Prozac instead of daily Prozac, just as my production, and the com mercial banks.) The patent expires, then why would I be spending prices drug co m p anies charge have little money on considerably less certain endeavor, relationship to the costs of making those which is looking for brand-new drugs? drugs and could be cut dramatically without Just as with Monsanto, pharmaceutical prod- coming anywhere close to threatening R&D. cts are everywhere, and when designers work Second, the pharmaceutical industry is on these, they are responsible for the lies not especially innovative. As hard as it is to and the consequences. They take the lives of believe, only a handful of truly important the consumers and families in their hands. k e e p ... $ // t a k i n g m e d i c i n e ... >, get va ccinated t o d a y ! ... before the flu ca n g e t y o u ! >>


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These are quite the enthralling days for behav- ioural research. Every week seems to yield a new discovery about how bad people are at making decisions. Humans, it turns out, are impressionable, emotional and irrational. We buy things we don’t need, often at arbitrary prices and for silly reasons. Studies show that when stores play soothing music, shopp- ers will linger longer and often spend more. If customers are in a good mood, they are more susceptible to persuasion. We believe price tends to indicate the value of things, not the other way around. And m any people will squander valuable time to get something free. The sudden ubiquity of this research renders Homo economicus straw men. Yet such observations are not new. Analysts have been researching modern man’s dumb instincts for ages. Sigmund Freud argued that people are governed by irrational and unconscious urges over a century ago. In 1930s America another Viennese psychologist named Ernest Dichter spun this gross insight into a million-dollar business. His very genius was in seeing the opportunity that irrational buying made for smart selling. “You would be shocked to discover just how often we mislead ourselves, regardless of how smart we may think we are, when we attempt to explain the why we are behaving the way we do,” Dichter observed in 1960, in his book “The Strategy of Desire”.

He held that marketplace decisions are driven by emotions and subconscious whims and fears, and often have little to do with the product itself. Trained as the psychoanalyst, Dichter saw human motivation as an “iceberg”, with two-thirds hidden from view, even to the decision-maker. “What people actually spend their money on in most instances are psych- ological differences, illusory brand images,” he explained. At the time when national companies were quite aggressively jockeying for the positions among Americans—suddenly cash-happy, buying bunch—Dichter promised a way to influence the consumers’ brains. If shopping was the emotional minefield, then strategic marketing could be a gold mine for companies. Between the late 1930s and 1960s Dichter became famous for transforming the fates of businesses such as Procter & Gamble, Exxon, Chrysler, General Mills and DuPont. His insight changed the way hundreds of products were sold, from cars to cake mix. He pioneered research techniques such as the focus group, and he understood the power of word-mouth persuasions & earned startling fees for his theories. By the late 1950s his global business reached an annual turnover of $1m ($8 m today), and he enjoyed the reputation as Freud of the super-market age. Dichter’s radical approach to goading shoppers, called motivational research, was considered so successful that he was even accused of threatening A m erica’s national


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well-being. Americans have become “the most manipulated people outside the Iron Curtain,” complained Vance Packard, a sociologist and virulent critic, in his 1957 book “The Hidden Persuaders”. We can see this work here: To elevate the typewriter sales, they were modelled after feminine body, “making those keyboards more receptive, and more concave”. Also, people smoke because it is the sign of virility and legitimate excuse to interrupt the day for moment of pleasure, like sucking at the nipples of a gigantic world breast.

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birth. So mixes that require the cook to add only water are threatening to women; these days, nearly all those mixes involve adding eggs, the sym bol of fertility. Brands had become a substitute for nobility and a family tree. People seek out products that correspond within their group they want to associate with. All objects then has meaning one that often relates to sex, insecurity or a desire for prestige. Consumers are being used, and one of the easiest tricks grabbing a hold of them is absolutely primitive: sex.

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Today, the gross tricks, as especially related to sex & desire, are found everywhere. Some of the biggest offenders are obvious: Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie and Fitch and Hollister, & Sephora. The list goes on. But sex is found in unlikely places as well. One of the most notable is in advertisements for Perrier water, where half naked and popular burlesque women sell simple, bottled water. Where do the tricks end? Where do we draw the line for making the decisions for buyers?

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A phallic shape to lipstick increased sales by the way it offered a subconscious invitation to fellatio. Prunes had an image problem, seen as a symbol of old age. So they were branded California Wonderfruit and featured fresh, supple plums on the packaging. They have been marketed using images of the younger selves ever since. Baking can suffer from these tricks aswell. It is an expression of femin- inity, so when a woman pulls a cake or loaf out of the oven, in a sense it’s like giving

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Female’s bodies are being used to market every- thing fro m brassieries to m onkey wrenches. One effect of the gross ads is to give women unrealistic notions of what they should look like. Instilling an anxiety and insecurity in women, the ads then say that buying consumer products can correct practically any defect, real or imagined. Further, women’s magazines that could be telling the truth about such marketplace frauds are largely co-opted by the very advertisers. Men are not even immune from exploitation. As idealized male bodies appear in ads, men may begin to understand what upsets women about ways that they are depicted in ads. In addition to reinfo- rcing sexist notions about ideal woman and manhood, ads also exploit sexuality. So many products are pitched with explicit sexual imagery that border on pornography. Not only do these ubiquitous images encourage us to think of sex as a com modity, but they often reinforce the stereotypes about women as sex objects and may indeed add to the violence against women. Everywhere that we turn, advertisement tell us what it means to be a desireable man or a woman. For most men, that message is manifold: he has to be powerful, rich, confident, and athletic. For a woman, the messages all share a common theme: She must be “beautiful.” Advertising did not invent to notion that women should be valued


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graph you see for a national advertiser these days has been worked on by some retoucher to some degree... Fundamentally, their job is to correct a basic deficiencies in the original photograph or, in effect, to improve upon the appearance of reality.” By inviting women to compare their unimproved reality with that of the Iron Maiden’s airbrushed perfection, advertising erodes self-esteem, then offers to sell it back for a price. The price is high. It includes the staggering sum we spend each year to change our appearance: the $33 billion on weight loss; $7 billion on cosme- tics; and $300 million on cosmetic surgery. It includes women’s lives and health, which are lost to the self-imposed starvation and complication from their breast implant. And it includes the impossible-to-measure cost of lost self-regard and of limited personal horizons. In essence, sex in advertising teaches both men & women to hate themselves. It tears away at our very realities to offer impossible alternatives, and falsehoods then lead us to self-loathing and sometimes worse. Like with any product, the leading sellers are the designers and the ‘genius’ minds of the advertisers. So in the end when a young woman dies from anorexia, or when millions of girls hide their constant shame, or when a boy drives himself crazy at the gym & with steriods, the person to bla m e is that one that sold a pretty picture of flawlessness. The person to blame is none other than you.

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as ornaments; women have really always been measured against cultural ideals of beauty. But advertisment joined forces with sexism to make images of beauty ideals more perva- sive and more unattainable than ever before. In her book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf compares the contemporary ideal of beauty to the Iron Maiden, a gross medieval torture device that enclosed all its victims within a spike-lined box painted a woman’s image. Like the Iron Maiden, the beauty ideal enforces conformity to the single, rigid shape. And both cause sufferings and sometimes death in their victim. The current Iron Maiden smiles at us from within the pages of Vogue magazines. She is but a seventeen-year old professional model, weighing 115 pounds on a willowy 5’10” frame. She has no wrinkles, blemishes, or even pores. As a media critic Jean Kilbourne observes in Still Killing Us Softly, her groundbreaking film exploring images of women in advertising, “The ideal cannot be achieved; it is not human in its flawlessness. And it is the only standard of beauty and worth for women in this culture.” The flawlessness of that Iron Maiden is in reality an illusion created by makeup artists, fasion photographers, and by photo retouchers. Each one painstainkingly worked over: Teeth and eyeballs are bleached white; blemishes, wrinkles, and any stray hairs are airbrushed away. According to Loius Grubb, a top New York retoucher, “Almost every photo-

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Ads still instruct us to assume a self- concious perspective; to view our physicality through censorous eyes of others. To those of us who have grown in this consumer culture, intense self-scrutiny has surely become the automatic reflex. But it is not natural; it is the product of endless decades of deliberate marketing efforts. Since birth of the modern advertising industry in the 1920s, marketers have sought for insecurities in consumers. An advertiser, writing in the trade journal Printers Ink in 1926, noted that effective ads must “make [the viewer] selfconcious about things such as enlarged nose pores & bad breath.” Another commented that “advertising helps to keep the masses dissatisfied with their mode of life, dis- contented with the ugly things around them. Satisfied customers are not as profitable as the discontented.” Advertisers in the 1920s did everything in their power so as to make the profitably disonctented customers. Their ads would fasten on a part of one’s anatomy and deliver the negative judgement. “The The Eyes of Women judge Your Loveliness Every Day,” warned an ad for Camay soap. “You can hardly glance out the window, much less walk into town but that some inquiring eye searches you and your skin. This is the Beauty Contest of Life.” For wo m en participation in contest was compulsory. In the 1920s, and in our modern times, sexual discontent

fuels the engines of a consumer culture. The ideal bodies presented in various ads invite comparison to ourselves and our mates, and in the likely event that those comparisons are unfavorable to us, the ads suggest we attain the ideal by buying another product. Consumer culture is then best supporrted by m arkets made of sexual clones, men who want objects and of women who want to be those objects.” Women come in such endless arrays of shape and of size, but you’d never know it from looking at ads. In all the generations, advertisers issue a new paradigm of the female perfection. The very rigidity of that ideal guarantees that most women will fall outside of it, creating a gap between what women are and what they learn and should be. This gap is very lucrative for the purveyors of commercialized beauty. In the portrayal of women’s bodies, that gap has never been wider. The slender reigning ideal provides a stark contrast to the rou- nder curves of most women’s bodies. As an adaptation to the truly physical demands of childbearing, women’s bodies typically have a fat content co ming in at 25 p ercent, as opposed to 15 percent in m en. For m uch of our human history, this characteristic was admired, sought after, and celebrated in the arts. But the twentieth century has seen the steady chipping away at the fem ale figure.

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will die of a disease caused by the smoking. In a scientific study, the researchers found that women’s magazines contained ten times as many advertisements and articles promot- ing weight loss as men’s magazines did—which corresponded exactly to that ratio of eating disorders in women versus men. And in recent studies have suggested that it may sometimes be healthier to be overweight than it is to repeatedly gain and lose weight though yo-yo dieting. Surrounded by ads that depict the Iron Maiden as a stick figure, few women can eat in peace. On any given day, 25 percent of American women are dieting while another 50 percent are finishing, breaking, or star- ting diets. The Glamour survery found that 50 percent of respondents used diet pills, 27 percent used liquid formula diets, 18 percent used diuretics, 45 percent fasted, 18 percent used laxatives, and 15 percent engaged in the selfinduced vomiting. Women have purged and staved themselves, and the diet industry has grown quite fat. It is no shock. The gross distorted lie has spun enourm ously out of control, and w e a r e s o l d // > a d r e a m it continues // a fa n t a s y o f a prede: termined idea l to spin this > that m a k e s /. . . . . u s f e e l way with aid i n f e r i o r, u n w o r of advertis- t h y ! * s o l d a l i e * * / ers and also photographers, and designers. So ask yourself: when you work with the lie, can you have the responsibility of self-loathing Americans?

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A generation ago, according to Naomi Wolf, a typical model weighed in 8 percent less than the average women; more recently she weighs in 23 percent less. Most of models are now thinner than 95 percent of the female popu- lation. In the early 1990s, the fashion industry promoted a super thing “waif look,” epitomized by designer Calvin Klein’s young super-model Kate Moss. At 5’7” and merely 100 pounds, “Moss looks as the blast from a blow dryer would waft her away.” Marcelle d’Argy, editor of the British Cosm opolitan, called fashion photos of Moss “hideous and tragic.” As the gaps between ideal and reality widened women’s self-esteem has fallen into the void. A 1984 Glamour magazine survey of 33,000 women found that a gross 75 percent of respondents eighteen to thirty-five thought they were fat, although only 25 percent were medically overweight. Even 45 percent of the underweight wo m en believed they were fat. Weight was virtually an obsession for many of the Glamour respondents, who chose “losing 10-15 pounds” as their most cherished goal in life. Another study in Boston found that fifth, sixth, and ninth graders were m uch more critical of their body shape after loo- king at fashion advertising. Although a glorification of slenderness is sometimes defended in the interest of health, for most women it is anything but healthy. Almost 40 percet of women who smoke say they do so to maintain their weight; one-quarter of those

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One of the most common forms of selling through sex is found in clothing ads, most notably in those of the fa m ous Abercro m bie and Fitch. While A&F says their target audience is the 18 to 22 year old market, younger kids are flock- ing to their stores, buying online, ordering from the catalog and wearing the A&F brand name in high schools and middle schools all over North America. And what exactly is this look? The models showcasing the clothing are more often than not ironically not wearing much clothing. Covering their ads, shopping bags, and even in store, the models usually appear shirtless, with unzipped pants and near indecent exposure. To argue against showing such blatant sexuality to youths & even adults can be open to varied opinions. The real problem is that these models that drape enticingly on A&F’s collateral repre- sent the very idealized and the impossible physical traits that are causing so many of our youths to suffer from eating disorders and low self-esteem. To ad to this, the advertisements prey on youths who glorify sex as the unknown, and the company is well aware of this. They are not selling quality or clothing. They are selling an idea. And that is specifically the very problem with modern consumerism. Buyers aren't purchasing things because they need them. No. They are buying ideas sold to be better than their reality.

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consum erism— s o c i a l d i s e a s e

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The normative values of a given culture matter. Regulation is needed when any culture fails, but it cannot alone serve as mainstay of good conduct. But what kind of transforma- tion in our normative culture is called for? What truly needs to be eradicated, or at least be tempered? Consumerism: obsession with acquisitions that has truly become the organizing principles of Americans. It is not the same thing as capitalism, nor is it the same thing as consumption. To explains the difference, it is useful to draw on Abraham Maslow hierarchy of the human needs. At the bottom of this hierarchy are basic creature comforts; once all of these are sated, more satisfaction is from affection, self-esteem and, finally, self-actualization. As long as consumption is focused the satisfying basic human needs—safety, shelter, food, clothing, health care, education—it’s not consumerism. But when, on attempts to satisfy the higher needs through a simple acquisition of goods and services, consumption turns into consum- erism—and it becomes a social disease. The link to that economic crisis is obvious. A culture where the urge to consume dominates the psychology of its citizens is a culture in which people will do almost anything to acquire the means to consume—working slavish hours, behaving rapaciously in their business pursuits, and even bending the rules so as to maximize their earnings. They will also buy homes beyond their means and think nothing

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Some people buy some inflatable Santa Clauses & they put them on the rooftop. You ask if they really need that, they chuckle and say “no, no, of course not.” But, when you ask them about flatscreen TVs, they do not chuckle anymore. People feel unco mfortable. That truth is, we really have limited true needs. Many of the debates about how to deal with the economic crisis have focused one single word: regulation. And it’s easy to understand why. The bad behavior by a variety of businesses landed all into this mess—so it seems quite obvious that a way to avoid future economic meltdowns is to create, and then vigorously enforce, new rules proscribing such behavior. But the truth is quite bit more complicated. The world economy consists of a billions of transactions every day. There can‘t really be enough inspectors, and accountants, customs officers and police to ensure that all or even most of these transactions are properly carried out. Further, those that are charged with enforcing regulations are themselves not im mune to corruptions, and hence, they too must be supervised and held accountable to others—and so on. You can see how regula- tion cannot by itself resolve the problem. What is needed instead is something far more sweeping: for people to truly internalize a different sense of how one ought to behave, and act on it because they believe it’s right.

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I need. I need a car, a home, a phone, those h e e l s , c a n d y, m o r e . . .


Use L of running up credit-card debt. It therefore seems safe to say that consumerism, as much as anything else, is responsible for current economic mess. There is strong evidence that when consumption is used to try address the higher needs—beyond those basic creature comforts—it is so ultimately Sissyphean. Several studies have shown that, across many nations with annual incomes above $20,000, no correlation between increased income and increased happ- iness exist. In the United States since World War II, per capita income has tripled, levels of life satisfaction remain about the same; while peoples of Japan, despite experiencing a large sixfold increase in income in 1958, have seen their levels of contenttment stay largely stagnant. Studies also indicate that many members of capitalists societies feel unsatisfied if not outright deprived however much they earned and consume, because others make and spend even more: so relative rather than absolute deprivation then counts here. This is a problem since, by definition, most people cannot consume more than most others. Consumerism so afflicts not merely the upper class in affluent societies but also the middle class and so many in the working class. Large numbers people across society believe that they work merely to make ends meet, but an examination of their shopping lists & closets reveals that they spend good

parts of their income on status goods such as brand-name clothing, the “right” car, and other assorted items that they don’t really need. This mentality may seem integral to American culture that resisting is doomed to futility. But we may chance to rediscover what matters. Communitari- anism refers to putting a tim e and energy into a relation with other, including family, friends & members of one community. The term also encompasses service to common good, such as volunteering, national service and politics. Communitarian life is not centered around an altruism but around mutuality, in that sense that deeper and thicker involvements with that other is rewarding to both the recipient and to giver. Numerous studies do show the com munitarian pursuits indeed breed a deep contentment. A study of 50 year old men show that those with friendships much less likely to experience heart disease. Another study shows that life satisfaction in older adults is higher for those who participate in community service. Transcendental pursuits refer to spiri- tual activities, including those religious, contemplative & artistic ones. The lifestyle of Chinese literati, centered around poetry, philosophy and brush painting, was a case in point. In modern society, the transcendental pursuits have are often been emphasized by

Losing sight of what mat ters


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bohemians, beginning artists and also others involved in a lifelong learning who consume modestly. Here again, however, these people m ake up only a sm all fraction of a society. Clearly, for a culture to buy out of consum- erism and moves to satisfying higher human needs with some transcendental projects, the option to participate within these pursuits must be available a much wider scale. Having a national conversation about this admittedly abstract question is only start, though. If a new and a shared understanding surrounding consumption will really evolve, education will have a crucial role to play. Schools, which often claim to focus solely on a academics, are actually major avenues through which change in societal values are fostered. Transcendental values are as well.

Certainly not one person expects that most people will move away from consumerist mindsets overnight. Some may keep a foot in the old value system even as they test the waters of the new one, just like those who wear a blazer with jeans. Still others m ay merely cut back on conspicuous consumption without the guilt or fear of social censure. Societies shift direction gradually, though. All that is needed is for more & more people to turn this current economic crisis into a liberation from the obsession with consumer goods and the uberwork it requires—and so, bit by bit, little by little, they begin to rethink their definitions of what it means to live a goo d life. We can play a pivotal role in helping reshape this definition into something more human, something beautiful.

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at ypi and adbusters

The Dead World of Things in 2014, a conference addresing the roles of graphic design, advertising, and the entirity of the world of design in creating the grossly over- saturated, blind and compulsive consumerist nation. Just how much responsibility do we have in assisting the spread of our buying cult- ure, and what can we do to help proliferate a movement away from the obsession? Join key speakers from both the design and advertising world, take part in workshops, and explore the psychology of a people who must buy to survive.

* 2 014 pay theprice.org

5 –7 a p r il


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