Recession Journal V: Mind, The GAP

Ours is a society of self-actualization, both real and imagined. There are best-selling books and rich-to-death gurus who peddle “secrets,” visualizations and the fostering and eliciting of new mind sets for individual transformation.

Some self-improvers go so far as to cut pictures out of a magazine and put them on a cork or “vision board,” so that they can attain the perfect house, husband, life career position, amount of money and bliss.

There something to this even for the sharpest of cynics. So much of how we perceive what we read, see and hear everyday about market fundamentals and economic determinants is based on sentiment.

This begs the question: can we think our way out of this recession as corporate citizens and collective consumers?

Recently, on a late-night, three-episode bender, watching a new network show via the Internet — I don’t own a television and thus am saving some wise friggin’ bread with no cable bill every month — I noticed that many of the advertisements had common themes: either compassion, nostalgia for affordable quality or upbeat sentiments.

Saturn for instance, knows it’s hard out there. Northwest Mutual Insurance says anyone can be strong once but can you be strong over the long haul, or something to that effect, after which it brags on its investment track record. Charles Schwab offers more “bang for less buck.” Chucky you naughty, frugal boy.

Apropos of this pattern, a couple days later, I noticed this story in the New York Times about the rose-colored specs of advertisers. Apparently Bank of America, despite the fact that its CEO just quit, says in a new ad that “America is growing stronger everyday.” General Electric, itching to offload its media properties to focus on industry and having made job cuts, according to the report, has an ad showing GE workers who still have jobs, working. Levi Strauss & Company has hearkened back to its frontier-era roots and is biting Walt Whitman’s funky rhyme style to sell us jeans with a pioneer theme.

The power of suggestion is at play here as it always is but people forget that advertising is media too, the most powerful media some would argue. After seeing images of recession over and over and over again, after hearing about the weakness of the dollar and the rise of China and India, perhaps seeing a well done skit about new loans at Bank of America, a heart string pulling story about manifest destiny or an everyman’s journey to financial freedom will change…our minds.

The study of the mind, psychology, is a more exact science in determining out attitudes toward money than say economics or even the behavioral and environment-driven discipline of sociology.

True enough, our everyday spending decisions are based on the economics of our lives and our given realities and also based on our social strata, but ultimately attitude, mind state, is what makes us put those dollars down.

I’m hungry for that particular thing. That’s a cute sweater that I can only get here. I think I need a new TV. When I get some money I think I’m going to buy that. If I had the money I think I’d buy that. Or, you know, I think I feel good about this purchase. I think this is great.

These are thoughts that go through billions of consumers heads in some variation or another every single day and in more advanced or to use a more apt term, commercial societies, these thoughts are tapped into by advertisers almost non-stop.

So if advertisers reflect good times, promise good times or keep bombarding us with promises of good times to come or regale us with thin and thick veiled slices of Americana, perhaps things will turn around.

I know with Christmas coming up, nothing makes one feel better like buying a good gift, feeling worth something, seeing a smile on their child or love one’s face. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see if there was, despite a downward forecast from the National Retail Federation, some kind of yuletide shopping rally that shocked everyone and got everyone back into the malls.

This is not likely to happen and there would be no real lesson for us if a turnaround led to a return to consumerism that made banks, apparel companies and industrial firms even happier than their ads, but the mind is a powerful emitter of hope, creator of purpose. But the mind can also, in the words of Rick James for what he said about cocaine, be a “helluva” drug when thoughts based on delusion and forced euphoria — the kind that tells us these shoes will make us feel better.

Think once, think twice, think about this.

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Guest's picture
Ken O

What we have is a lot of toxic loans sitting on banks' books, that the Fed has brought in house to the government (public's) balance sheet.

ALl those bad loans and debts need to be cleared out, and housing prices lowered, to SOLVE our collective economic problems.

Too much debt > need to pay off and clear out these debts, not pile more on with endless buyouts, bailouts and stimulae

Guest's picture
Ken O

what banks are doing now is "extend and pretend" for various loans, residential and commercial

Guest's picture

The banking industry has enjoyed steady growth year over year over year for decades. The question really is how many checking accounts and loans do people need? Isn't there a saturation point?

Just before the recession, I believe that the banking industry had some very loose requirements for getting loans. In fact, my neighbor pointed out that he and his wife were able to secure their home without either one of them having a job! Now, however, the pendulum has swung so much to the other side that people are struggling to preserve the lines of credit they thought they had.

Many of my friends and acquaintances feel as though the banks are Indian givers when interest rates rise to ridiculous amounts or shut down their credit cards altogether.

It will take years to recover from this recession but sometimes it's important to break something down to build it back up. I'm optimistic that we'll recover, but I just hope consumers are more mindful to live within their means and corporations become more mindful of feeding consumers fluff.

As far as advertising is concerned, it may not be a bad approach for corporations to send the message of cautious optimism.

Guest's picture
that guy sitting next to you

It will be a painful realization for people that follow the media BS of a recovery. When the other shoe drops on the credit card default sleeping giant, the escalating mortgage tsunami and ACTUAL unemployment rate, there will be hell to pay. And it will be payed by Joe Consumer (you & me).

Spend wisely my friends. Good Luck.