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Micro-marketing: New opiate of the masses

By Rifqah Luzita Naidoo

The trends of consumer culture have most certainly evolved since the late 1940s, where critics considered people as being given superficial morals through the mass media. On the one hand technology has brought things closer; we have the world wide web, online shopping and an application for everything under the sun. However, in this modern age we now observe the rise of the “micro-celeb” or “influencers” who have gathered a few thousand followers on social media platforms and assume the role of “product-placers”.

The September issue of Marie-Claire SA raised the question “should we be wary of the rise of the micro-celeb, who is quickly becoming something like a human billboard? Or is micro-marketing just the latest form of product placement?” I’m sure Naomi Klein (author of the best-seller No Logo) would be inclined to agree that micro-marketing is more euphemism for human marketing and is just another way for big international companies to line their pockets from every available nook and cranny.

According to Marie-Claire’s article, the increase in micro-marketing is attributed to modern audience’s lack of interest in traditional forms of advertising, which has now led to the next generation of product-placers and endorsers — a new breed of modern persona: “micro-celebs” or “influencers”. These micro-celebs represent the everyday nobodies who are not actually famous for anything yet? But, in the virtual world (fashion/lifestyle blogging, online media, social media) their popularity is seen to correspond to that of Hollywood mainstream celebs due to their following.

What is important to realise is that not all companies provide freebies or pay for the advertising but when formal sponsorships are given they get to say exactly how their product is marketed, including when and where they are exhibited. In light of this, micro-celebs are seen as walking-talking-billboards who not only advertise the corporation but also pay for the privilege of doing so. But, if everything is for sale when will it stop?

By rallying support to boost the brand image of a certain corporation (luxurious labels) and consistently raising its profits, micro-celebs and consumers literally buy into their verbosity and grant consent to be exploited.

Micro-celebs/young creatives are the perfect candidates for the “job” since they are familiar and relatable, they have within them power to influence consumers. Sure it can be argued that lifestyle/fashion bloggers use online media as a form of expression but by expressing taste there is the potential to simultaneously manufacture it. According to Adorno and Horkheimer the cultural industry creates predetermined ideologies and messages through various mass mediums that socially control and condition the masses to obey the established social structure. Just as alcohol brands sell consumers a lifestyle — “Got a lil Captain in you?” — so do micro-celebs according to Marie-Claire’s article. “I’ll have what she’s having” but “how formalized the procedure is can be seen when the mechanically differentiated products prove to be all alike in the end” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1947:8). If micro-celebs have the power to influence? is it their social responsibility to help society realise the importance of diversity and alternatives to this downward spiral of reproduction?

Therefore, within the context of advanced consumer societies the role of advertising operates at a very perverse level, not only does it explicitly promote consumption it also “normalises” or “naturalises” consumption and acting on one’s impulsive desires. In terms of this, the culture industry suppresses one’s individuality. For example, in female cosmetic advertisements women are encouraged to spend money to paint their face “because you’re worth it, you deserve it”.

As such, it is important to see how the media represents consumerism as a “universal” or globally valorised mode of socio-economic practice, one that already plays a critical role in our daily lives. Thus the role of advertising in the era of advanced capitalism constantly creates a craving that can never be satisfied. The process of reproduction becomes a circular desire, infinite and continuous. What is more, by buying into this rhetoric society is no more innocent than these taste-makers, the need to “keep up” and live the dream allows one to be exploited and consequently become immersed in debt. Is it then surprising that people want to strike for an increased salary? Not only do things become expensive but people want luxury. The point then is not that taste is manufactured but the whole way of thinking is. If the culture industry works to suppress one’s consciousness and promoting this empty high life, we too need to take responsibility for our actions and assess our way of thinking.

Reluctant to categorise herself in an age of definitions. A writer, a wife, a freelancer of life. Rifqah Luzita Naidoo provides the antidotal voice for the generation defined by the hipster.

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