Materialism, Loneliness and the Problem with Capitalism

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As a wise person once said, shopping is cheaper than a therapist. Is that statement actually truthful though? Every year thousands, maybe even millions, of Americans fall into the dangerous cycle of materialism due to loneliness. Buying unnecessary and trivial products hoping that they will make their life just a little bit better. Later on, they realize the purchase of those items only gives a short, fleeting feeling of satisfaction. As the high they experience from the purchase dies down, they inevitably repeat the cycle. Rinse and repeat. It wasn’t always as bad as it is now, and we can describe what doomed the American people to the lonely life of materialism. Materialism is inarguably linked to loneliness, and American society only amplifies it by contributing to it. They have big companies that are dedicated to creating targeted advertisements that encourage a life of consumerism, as well as having an immense capitalistic culture that promotes never being satisfied with what one has.

The United States has perfected the science that is advertising. This plays a vital role in how materialism is viewed by the public as something to strive for. According to Holly Petrovich in ‘Advertising and Consumerism. Yay or Nay?’, “Advertising is a vital part of an individual business success and the modern economy as a whole, but consumers need to be aware of the incentive that exists behind it”. Petrovich is not wrong. There is an estimated 229 billion dollars in profit that the advertising industry makes yearly by specifically targeting ads to certain people. For example, a seventeen one year old male is more likely to be into video games than the average person and the advertising industry is more likely to push those kinds of ads on him to make a profit. In other words, advertisers have an incentive to hook the targeted audience to their product, and keep generating profits from it. This is harmful because it can lead to unnecessary purchases and a materialistic outlook when purchasing items. Rhianne Segger said this best in her article ‘Advertising as a Central Form of Ideology in Capitalist Society’, where she noted: “Consumer products were now not about their usefulness. Instead, the commodity becomes a symbol to represent another's identity or uniqueness”. These advertisers are smart and know the public doesn't buy products for their practicality, as much as the way they present it in their ads.

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Advertising plays a considerable role in dictating how a person perceives a product. This goes to extreme levels where now the public finds comfort and tends to buy products as a means to fill a void. Tine Faseur, Verolien Cauberghe and Liselot Hudders say this in their article ‘Social Threat Appeals in Commercial Advertising’, where they state: “...Adopting alternative advertising techniques such as threat appeals. In particular, commercial marketers try to evoke fear by emphasizing the risk or loss of opportunity of not using their product or service”. These ‘social threats’ can be anything from being scared of smelling bad because one is not using deodorant to missing out on a child's graduation because the family car wasn’t fast enough. These social threats can be convincing enough to the general public to buy their products. Many times, the item could be used for good use, other times advertisements manipulate the use of the product. According to Rhianne Segger, her article ‘Advertising as a Central Form of Ideology in Capitalist Society’ states that “consumers were told that to increase on the social ladder they needed to buy more than just ‘regular’ products”. This occurred with Grey Goose vodka, where they made adverts making the vodka look as elegant and high class as possible, yet in a taste test, most of the subjects couldn't tell the difference between the fifty-dollar vodka and a fifteen-dollar vodka. So why did Gray Goose become such a successful vodka brand? They feed off of the people's insecurities and sell them something ‘guaranteed’ to make them feel more elegant.

The feeling of happiness and elegance doesn't last long though, if anything the cycle only leads to a life of loneliness. It's almost like an addiction where if one is unsatisfied with their life, buying these redundant products give us a weird sense of accomplishment. Especially in an era where loneliness is rising at an unprecedented and incredible rate, materialism only festers further. Rhianne Segger also said in ‘Advertising as a Central Form of Ideology in Capitalist Society’: “However, we are merely imitating the ideas and lifestyles from someone else, hence, why we are vulnerable to manipulation”. Segger is essentially saying that materialism is an appealing way to show off one's individuality, but buying endlessly hoping to find some sort of ‘own self’ through it is a grave mistake. Consumerism is advertised to us in an alluring way, as a way to be self-expressive, yet problems come to us when in the long run we only feel worse. This can be seen through ‘Social Threat Appeals in Commercial Advertising’, an article written by Tine Faseur, Veroline Cauberghe and Liselot Hudders, where they mention: “Previous studies have shown that especially low self-esteem individuals pay more attention to social threat appeals and are more vulnerable to social rejection”, fundamentally saying those who are less social are more likely to be affected by advertisements encouraging consumerism.

The United States has also a marriage to the economic ideology that is capitalism, where the freer the market the freer the people. This sounds good in theory, in practice it's harder to tell. Capitalism although known to many as the idea of the free world, is known to exploit anything to make a profit. As stated by Segger in ‘Advertising as a Central Form of Ideology in Capitalist Society’, she says: “It is clear that our capitalist society is shaping our culture, and identity, as there is no aspect of our lives that isn't being used in the theatre of the brand”. In our society, capitalism doesn't care how it belittles self-esteem, personhood, or individuality. As long as there are profits to be made, capitalistic power houses will make that profit. There's also a fault on the public of falling for these Ideas, the fault though being incredibly minor. Capitalism conditions persons to fall more into the vicious cycle of materialism by use of exploitation by the companies who are at the top. Companies are like vultures who prey on those who are insecure and looking for easy solutions in their life. It was best said in the article ‘Social Threat Appeals in Commercial Advertising’, written by Tine Faseur, Veroline Cauberghe and Liselot Hudder, where they report: “In today’s cluttered advertising environment commercial marketers are constantly searching for ways to attract consumers’ attention”. These ads tug at the self-esteem of the viewer which is exactly why the advertisements are so successful. The insecurity of the population plus well-targeted ads do not mix, but that's the issue with capitalism as well where anything is a free game.

The answer is yes, materialism and loneliness are two peas in a pod and undoubtedly linked together, only fueled by targeted advertisements and a harsh capitalistic system. If we let materialism continue to make its way into our culture in more obvious manners, there is no doubt that this problem will only get worse. We can only solve the problem together, by being self-aware and rejecting materialism.

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Materialism, Loneliness and the Problem with Capitalism. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 16, 2024, from
“Materialism, Loneliness and the Problem with Capitalism.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023,
Materialism, Loneliness and the Problem with Capitalism. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 Jul. 2024].
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