40 Billion miles. That is the estimated distance travelled by those shipping containers all over the world. What do they carry? Well absolutely everything, bits of plastic to make bigger bits, clothes, cars, hospital equipment. Have a look around you now and almost everything you can see has been moved in one of those containers. Within arms reach everything has been transported in the back end of a lorry. There is nearly a quarter of a million lorries in the UK. If parked end to end, they will stretch almost two and a half thousand miles, or From ‘Lands end to John O’Groats and back again twice.
That number is being added to daily. Why? Well we are all to blame. We are now and have been for some time a consumer society. We want ‘stuff’ our economy is no longer based on what we produce here in the UK. The whole of our economy is based on what we spend in shops.
Selling is big business. I don’t mean the actual transaction, the figures of money spent in tills in the UK is mind boggling. What I mean buy ‘selling’ we also know as ‘advertising’. According to the ‘advertising association’ £100 billion is spent on advertising in the UK every year. For every £1 spent £6 is gained. It is now the middle of October and all the high street shops have started their Christmas lines. By the middle of November every shop will be packed full of Christmas goodies.
How much of these things do we really need or want. My wife and I enjoy a good coffee in one of the local branches of a nation wide coffee shop chain. After we finish we sometimes take a walk through the town back to our home and we will wander in and out of shops. Now we love charity, and second-hand shops. We have not decided to but into the up-cycle, reuse life style to amend for our capitalist ways. It’s just that we don’t have the money to spend on stuff full price. How ever we do also wander through the more upmarket nationwide branches. (Here in West Wales that’s Debenhams and the like). Everything about these shops silently scream buy me. But they don’t. They don’t just say buy me; selling an item is one sale, what many shops try to do is to get you to buy into a life style.
This is why celebrity endorsement is such a big business. If David Beckham, for example were to advertise a pair of trainers, the manufacturer could guarantee that they will sell thousands of pairs within a few weeks, because every seven year old boy interested in football would now be nagging their parents incessantly for a pair. Why because having those trainers would make you a little bit more like David Beckham and then you would be nearer playing for what ever team he plays for.
But brands want loyalty, next time you are in a shop predominantly selling clothing have a look at the walls, there are posters of happy people enjoying their lives in this clothing. These models are always perfect in stature, the clothing fits its always clean and more importantly they have friends exactly the same. If you buy that ‘hand chosen ethnically knitted top’ and of course you can justify the £89.99 price tag because you just know, that by wearing it you will have the same life as those people in the poster. Besides the shop you are buying it from only has eight jumpers on display in three sizes so there are not going to be that many people or more importantly your friends wearing the same top. So you have not only brought into the lie of life style change but also the lie of exclusivity.
And for a while you have that warm feeling mixed with excitement, it is a thrill to buy. But that thrill wears thin and next time it doesn’t last as long, so you buy more often. Of course we tell ourselves that we deserve this stuff , we work hard besides we didn’t have much as kids, well not as much as our friend did, they always had new stuff all the time.
And we are now back to the children, and Christmas is fast approaching (well according to the shops it is). I always enjoy listening to the conversations about how much people spend at Christmas. You have the one that says £500 per person is just going to have to be enough this year. Then there is always the one that says their year has been tough so they are going to push out the boat a little and pay it of next year. Of course there is the smug one that says they have finished their shopping already it’s all wrapped they only need to buy a few items for close friends. Then you have me. They all look at me expectantly awaiting my response, I normally shrug my shoulders say my children will get one or two things we never get too much anyway. But they start pushing for figures. They want actual numbers and why? Its so they can feel smug knowing that their kids are going to have a better Christmas than ours because they have spent ten tines the amount we have. Because Christmas is abut spending money, and the more you spend the better you have done it.
I once asked a cashier at my local Tesco store how much money they have taken, This was late morning two days before Christmas. I had a bottle of milk and chocolate bar. They said they tried to keep a mental note on the amount going through their till But gave up after £30,000. This is one till of twenty in one store out of hundreds. And that is just one shop chain.
So is this a post about Christmas, or Consumerism, or money, its not even about capitalism. But it is just a thought about the way advertising now dominates our lives. If every shop front was the same, and every item came in plain brown wrapping would we really prefer one shop over the other? Would we have the headache we always seem to acquire after a few hours of walking around the shops? But then I suppose we would not have an excuse to nip in and have a nice coffee before heading home, and well not having coffee shops would mean I wouldn’t have the chance to sit down and ponder over a nice cup of coffee!
Till next time.