I wrote this post in 2016:

“I confess to sitting around feeling smug about Donald Trump. That could never happen here, I thought.

But now it has: have a look at the man in this picture: Boris Trump. And like many a clown, he has galvanised a seething discontent to serve his own self-interest – making people like him by appearing harmless. How likely do you think it is he will run as the next Conservative Leader (PM in waiting)? How about 100%?

“The thing that really riles people is the fact that, despite their struggling, the rich and powerful are doing better than ever before.  Despite the thousand year struggle to create a fairer society, one where the power and wealth and opportunities were shared out relatively equitably, we’re back where we started – a handful of people have it all and the rest have virtually nothing.  The average drone, if they’re lucky, might have a JOB.  And you know what J-O-B spells?  Just Over Broke.”

I’m quoting from a great blog by Jim O’Connor here. Jim lays out the part that marketing/advertising has played in creating inequality. I quote again:

“So what has this got to do with marketing?

Everything.

First of all, the marketing industry brainwashed us into buying stuff we didn’t need, with money we didn’t have, to impress people we didn’t even know.  This created and sustained the consumer demand which has been fuelling growth.  That growth, in turn, produced the wealth which the rich, the corporations and their political chums then skimmed off.

Previous generations had a clear focus on improving their lot in life.  They took to the streets, joined unions and went on strike for better working conditions, education, health, more rights and greater power.”

What have we been doing?  Cruising the aisles in Waitrose for the latest artisan breads, worrying about what lampshades to put in the guest room, bargain hunting for cut price brands at designer outlets, trying to decide whether we’re a Waitrose type or more Tesco, checking the latest prices on Easyjet for breaks in Rome, discussing the relative merits of Starbucks vs Caffe Nero, and then posting pictures on Facebook to illustrate the wonderful lifestyle we’ve created for ourselves.

Marketing has not only been the engine of demand – it has also replaced religion as the opium of the people, distracting, diverting, seducing and duping us while we are slowly being disempowered, over-worked and driven into debt.  Here is a snapshot of that indebtedness:

How much debt is the UK in?

  • £1.680 trillion is owed by individuals in the UK (January 2020)
  • On average every Brit spent £969 on interest alone last year – that’s a thousand pounds a head on servicing our debt.
  • 318 people are declared bankrupt every day in the UK (October to December 2019)
  • £31,845 is the average debt per adult in the UK (January 2020)
  • There is over £1.95 trillion public sector debt in the UK (May 2020)
  • This is equal to 100% of gross domestic product (GDP) – the first time that debt as a percentage of GDP has exceeded 100% since the financial year ending March 1963
  • If you add our public and personal debt together, we are bankrupt for sure.

Only now are people, beginning to feel the pinch at last, starting to realise “we’ve been robbed!” But this time the ‘thieves’ are hidden behind a huge display of ‘attractive’ objects and experiences and you may be distracted by a new ‘must have’ before you know it.

Donald Trump – made by Mad Men

Throughout history smart operators have exploited situations where a flood of rising expectations has produced feelings of mass discontent, frustration and resentment – Wat Tyler, Danton, Robespierre, Lenin, Mao and Hitler, to name a few.

That’s the situation the world finds itself in right now.  And this dissatisfaction is the reason we have a rash of populist leaders capitalising on it – Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen (France’s National Front), Beppe Grillo (Italy’s Five Star Movement), Norbert Hofer (Austrian Freedom Party), Geert Wilders (Dutch Party for Freedom).  In recent times Boris Johnson has become more stridently populist.

Donald Trump is not an isolated wild card, a joker.  He’s just the latest in a progression of demagogues who have hijacked history for their own ends, often with disastrous consequences for the rest of us.  And he’s smart.  As a star of reality TV, he understands how to play the media and the audience. But what are his goals? I suspect they have much more to do with developing the prestige of D Trump than anything else. There is no vision or plan for a greater society, but there is plenty of effort put into promoting Trump for another four year term.

If you don’t like him you need to understand why so many do.  That means gaining an awareness of the thousand year process that has shaped the society in which we live today.  What’s more, as consumers, we need to wise up about how marketing is creating conditions in which he, and those like him, thrive.  Essentially the answers lie in an understanding of celebrity culture, the fact that we are in thrall to the famous; many of whom are famous merely for being famous.

Finally, if you work in marketing, I suggest it’s time to ask what kind of a world we are helping to create – how much damage are we doing when we mess with the heads and hearts of our target audience, just to entice them into buying another lip gloss or burger? 

Instead of more consumer insights let’s add a bit of hindsight and foresight. Unless we are willing to look both backwards and forwards we will be unable to see why resisting that impulse to consume might be a good idea. This is especially relevant if you are obese, in debt, unqualified or disabled, when because of your difficulties, you might be more easily distracted and seduced.

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