This episode was originally published as an essay on my blog on May 3, 2022. Read the full text transcript of America, The Land of the Free? Do You Really Buy That?
Whether you've been in business for 10 years or 10 minutes — and even if you're not — you know that "freedom" is a term used to sell most anything. From online courses to laundry detergent to...the United States of America.
There is a history here.
When America shifted from an agrarian economy to one based around mass production, the capitalists who owned the factories churning out mass produced goods needed all hands on deck, not just on the factory floor, but at the cash register.
Many people believe that worker rights were won solely by dedicated activists but this is not entirely true.
Decades before labor laws were passed, many forward thinking factory owners and CEOs started scaling back work weeks and increasing employee pay. Not because they had big hearts, but because they had big inventory to move. And they knew that a mass public too tired and broke to part with the few dollars they earned would spell catastrophe for their sales.
So, companies increased wages and decreased hours so that people had just enough time and money to buy the widgets they were producing.
And they rolled out widespread advertising campaigns to help people feel more comfortable spending their hard earned money.
Edward Filene deemed this "The School of Freedom," where the public was "trained" in being constant consumers.
Freedom — the same selling point behind The Constitution — was now seen as the freedom to participate in the economy and buy whatever we wanted, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, or credo.
Today, we no longer need "training" in "The School of Freedom."
We see buying as self-care.
Our liberties may be shrinking, but the amount of products fighting for the honor of helping us "treat" ourselves is consistently growing.
In this episode of Marketing Muckraking, we dive into the history of how advertisers helped create a mass buying public and what "freedom" means as it pertains to reproductive rights.
I am publishing this on Mother's Day weekend because this year, parenthood looks different for many people, which is why I'm choosing now to share my story of choice and my own complicated relationship with motherhood.
In the spirit of this episode on consumer culture, I urge you to consume more history.
If you're going to buy, buy more books.
Learn about this nation's history and traditions.
I recommend A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. This was the first book I read about American history that didn't present our founders as flawless heroes. Start here and then keep reading...
Sources for this episode include:
- Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of Consumer Culture by Stuart Ewen
- Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture by William Leach
- Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of an American Mass Market by Susan Strasser
- The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and The State by Friedrich Engels
- Self Care by Leigh Stein
About the Marketing Muckraking podcast
Welcome to Marketing Muckraking, the show that asks not simply what brand culture can do for us, but what it’s doing to us — with your host, creative director, brand strategist gone wild, and the court jester of online business, Rachael Kay Albers — making fun of business and making business fun.
This is the show for rebels, revolutionaries, and renegades who run businesses that burn the rulebook. If you’re sick of business podcasts with all the answers — I’ve got nothing but questions.
Where we swap B School for FREE SCHOOL, easy for honest, and goal digging for marketing in pursuit of meaning.
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