As I walk across campus, I am surrounded by people wearing basically everything I have in my online shopping carts or on random wish lists I’ve sporadically curated on my Notes app over the years. On my way to Mason Hall, the perfect embodiment of the “clean girl aesthetic” passes me by. In class, I encounter a fellow student wearing a soft combination of pastel colors complimented by floral patterns, bringing the “cottage core aesthetic” to life. Once I’m making my way over to my next class in the Modern Languages Building, someone effortlessly sports the quintessential “thrifted” look, covered from head-to-toe in unique vintage clothing. My mind is instantly consumed by the urge to hit the “checkout” button on my online shopping cart, as I simultaneously push away thoughts of the low balance alert that awaits me once I open the PNC Bank mobile app on my phone and the lack of space for new clothes in my dorm room.
A few weeks later, I look at everything I ordered online as the boxes clutter my room’s floor and I struggle to properly close my drawers given the overflow of garments I now possess. In an attempt to revamp my wardrobe and fit into the week’s newest obsession with a specific aesthetic, I am left feeling unsatisfied, owning copious amounts of new clothes but failing to effect the change I sought to in my personal style. Despite this, I know I will commit the same error a week from now. Why is this? The answer lies in consumer addiction, and the aesthetics that plague our social media platforms only serve to aggravate this problem.
The root of American consumerism lies in our desperate societal need to keep up, never mind how expensive the objects of desire may be. Is every girl around you wearing high top platform converse on a daily basis? Not to worry, you’ll be on the Converse website tomorrow ordering your own pair. Is the notorious Michigan winter dawning upon you and everyone is starting to bring their Canada Goose parkas out of hibernation? You’re in luck, the high-end State Street store Bivouac sells them in a vat. Are all these material artifacts necessary for survival? No. Do I, and many other college students for that matter, still buy into them? In some ways, yes. Does this contribute to a toxic, and oftentimes elitist, consumer culture? Absolutely.
One of the main promoters of modern-day consumerism is marketing. The marketing industry has gotten to know society’s consumers on a socioeconomic as well as an emotional level. One of the ways in which marketing impacts consumer decisions is by crafting campaigns that will encourage emotional responses from clients, also known as emotional marketing. A great example of this are recurrent Coca-Cola marketing campaigns. I don’t know about you, but whenever I go to the movies with my mom and a Coca-Cola ad comes on during commercials, she cries. Every. Single. Time. A specific example is the 2015 Coca-Cola “Choose Happiness” campaign. Its motivational script paired with inspirational scenes stimulate audiences to feel driven to create happiness for themselves. The fact that a Coca-Cola ad inspired them to do so might incline them to invest in a Coke time and again and boom, there you have it. The mystery behind why so many people buy and drink Coca-Cola is solved. But why do people recurrently buy into these types of advertisements? It’s a very important aspect within marketing known as trust.
We all know that building a trustworthy relationship with someone is something that takes lots of time and effort. The same goes for trust-based marketing, an approach that seeks to create relationships of trust with consumers beyond the appeal that other types of marketing already exploit. Trust-based marketing is nothing without its trustworthy sidekick: social media. This has developed the perfect balance between authority, intimacy and the drive to be helpful and supportive for audiences, making it trust-based marketing royalty and crowning influencers the minions that help propel this process forward.
I am by no means saying that influencers are not genuine. I largely depend on influencers, specifically on TikTok, for advice on how to navigate the trials and tribulations of early adulthood. However, the emergence and resulting desirability of these aforementioned aesthetics begins with influencers. Viewers pick them up because of promotions done by influencers, whether it be directly or indirectly, in favor of the specific aesthetic. And since we trust these influencers so much, we are easily inclined to take every piece of advice they offer and copy their every move. Herein lies the key to trust-based marketing and, as a result, why consumer addiction is such a big problem today.
Out of the many TikTok influencers that come to mind, I think of Addison Rae. While she isn’t the type of influencer I personally follow, she is a big media personality at the moment, and her aesthetic has gone through many stages, reaching a point now where people think she’s genuinely “cool.” Nevertheless, people loved to hate her for a very long time, which may be the reason for such drastic changes in her personal style and overall look in such a short period of time.
She went from being a cute blonde girl from Louisiana to fully revamping her brand and becoming the poster child for the “Y2K cool girl aesthetic.” The physical changes she underwent, such as dyeing her hair dark brown and trading in her old closet for an edgier style, all serve as a marketing ploy for her recently-dropped makeup and doll lines. The fact that she was able to fully transform her look from Southern sweetheart to Y2K baddie is undeniably appealing to Gen Z audiences, and her engagement with that transition online added a lot to the attention this switch garnered.
For instance, when she launched her makeup line ITEM, she started a trend on TikTok that consisted of holding a lip gloss tube between her teeth while grasping the applicator with one hand to apply the gloss onto her lips, all while holding her phone with the other. She would specifically use “Lip Quips” from her new makeup brand and specify the shade in the caption. This led many to buy Addison’s $18 lip oils, even though you can probably find a lip oil with the same effect for half the price at your nearest drug store. Although some recognized that the trend was clearly a marketing ploy, her line has done wonders for her net worth, which amounts to a grand total of $15 million in 2022.
The appeal these marketing ploys have on modern audiences indicates that the way consumer addiction dominates our society isn’t going to waver anytime soon. As someone who buys into this consumer culture, I must admit that although I have written 1,200 words condemning it, I will probably submit this column and open my Urban Outfitters shopping cart to finish shopping, using the upcoming holiday season as an excuse.
Graciela Batlle Cestero is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.