One of the unmistakable draws of any town or city centre is shopping, and it heavily controls how we use these public spaces (as we discovered in this previous blog post). People sometimes shop out of necessity but more interestingly people shop for pleasure. But what is at the root of this pleasure? What needs in us are being met by purchasing sometimes unnecessary objects?
I decided to look at the techniques used by advertisers to convince us to buy their products. I figured that the answers might lie in the needs they have identified and pander to, and are very successful in exploiting. I found Packard’s ‘eight compelling needs’.
• Emotional Security
• Reassurance of Worth
• Ego Gratification
• Creative Outlets
• Love Objects
• Sense of Power
Vance Packard was the author of the 50s shock exposé of advertising and social control ‘The Hidden Persuaders’ and in it he identified eight needs that we all have. According to Packard these needs are so strong that people are compelled to buy products to satisfy them.
I then looked at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. This is a very famous theory of human motivation and is highly regarded in the fields of psychology and sociology. I decided to combine the two theories together and see what happened.
I arranged Packard’s observations around Maslow’s pyramid and then pointed them to where I thought they belonged. It soon became clear that half of the needs Packard had identified related to the ‘Esteem’ tier of the pyramid. It seemed that advertisers are zoning in on this particular area, which led me to question the importance of self esteem and the consequences of high and low levels of it.
Low self esteem can lead some one to be withdrawn/shy/quiet, insecure, underachieving, negative, unhappy, socially inept, angry/hostile, unmotivated, depressed, dependent, have poor self-image, be a non-risk-taker, lack self-confidence, poor at communication and prone to acting out. In short, it has massive consequences for the life of the sufferer.
Unfortunately, advertisers recognise our desire to avoid all of this, and promote the need to fulfil these needs in a perpetual cycle, while never actually offering genuine fulfilment. Take this advert for instance.
What is being sold here is friendship, connection, leisure, relaxation, togetherness, nature, history, pleasure, freedom, confidence. It is impossible to think that anyone in this picture is suffering from the consequences of low self esteem. They are so comfortable with each other and themselves that they have arranged themselves in this funny way. They have each other and they’re ‘squeezing the best’ out of it. What this poster is actually offering is a drink.
Can a city have low self esteem?
I began to wonder whether low or high self esteem could befall a city. As I spoken about in previous posts, Stoke-on-Trent has taken it’s fair share of knocks to the confidence in the past 20-30 years, having gone from the pinnacle of industrial Britain to a place of high unemployment, poor health and low socioeconomic status. I turned to a personal hero of mine, Alain De Botton for answers. Alain has been described as a ‘philosopher of everyday life’ and is responsible for many of my inspirations over the course of this project (and over the past 8 years that I have been following his work). I discovered an old Channel 4 series he made in 2000 called Philosophy- A Guide to Happiness in which he talks about how philosophy can guide us to have better self esteem. I decided to message him directly on facebook and ask him what he thought about my idea. He replied…
Surprised and delighted by his response I realised that I was beginning to get to the root of my research. All along my question has been What can art provide in the public realm that is not currently being provided? The answer might be genuine need fulfilment.
While purchasing objects can rarely fulfil our need for connection, friendship, freedom, discovery, confidence and self esteem, this is exactly what art can genuinely facilitate. I spoke about the power of the network in a previous blog post, about how enriching the physical network can be. Art is a powerful tool to make these connections, and this is where you can grow real self esteem, confidence and respect for & from others.
So art’s role in the public realm could be twofold, firstly to disrupt the normal, passive patterns of shoppers and to then provide a genuine source of what is really being sought.