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29 Juni 2009


Compulsive Market Disorders
1:07 AM PDT, May 20, 2007
“Do you feel overly preoccupied with shopping and spending?”
“Do you feel that your shopping behaviour is excessive, inappropriate or uncontrolled?”
“Have your shopping desires, urges, fantasies, or behaviours ever been overly time consuming, caused you to feel upset or guilty, or led to serious problems in your life such as financial or legal problems or the loss of a relationship?”
These are questions that Professor Donald Black suggests, in a recent paper in World Psychiatry, that psychiatrists ask people whom they suspect of having CBD â€" compulsive shopping.
If you answered yes to these questions, you may have CBD and be in need of treatment. It is a disease that tends to strike people in their late teens or early twenties â€" about when they get their first credit card.
Of course if you are preoccupied with shopping and spending and regularly let yourself go and shop excessively, buying inappropriate items, but you are wealthy, then you won’t feel so guilty about it and won’t land in debt or get in trouble with your significant other.
CBD is a supposed medical disorder that discriminates; it only strikes those who can’t afford to spend freely. When Elton John spends £40 million in two years he is not diagnosed as having CBD.
Reading of the latest proposed sale of government assets, I realised that our politicians are perhaps afflicted with a complementary disorder: Compulsive Selling Disorder (CSD). Here are some questions you might want to put to your local member:
“Do you feel overly anxious to sell off state assets?”
“Do voters feel that your selling behaviour is excessive, inappropriate or unwise?”
“Have your privatisation behaviours or goals ever been overly optimistic or led to serious problems such as rising or wildly fluctuating utility prices, unreliable public services, or the loss of environmental amenity?”
The difference between CBD and CSD of course, is that the individual and their family suffers the consequences of CBD whilst the wider community suffers the consequences of CSD. And whereas CBD is said to affect less than 6 percent of the population â€" many of them women, particularly around Christmas time â€" CSD affects the majority of elected politicians, their economic advisers, and senior bureaucrats.
Like CBD, CSD can negatively affect relationships, particularly the relationship between elected politicians and the people they represent. CSD affected politicians are likely to ignore public opinion and even go ahead with sales that will lose them elections and sales that will lose governments money.
The CSD impulse is so strong that politicians are often unable to delay their urge long enough for the appropriate research into possible consequences to be undertaken. They also tend to be in denial about the past experiences of other states or nations that have sold off similar assets before them.
Treatment for CBD ranges from the use of anti-depressants to cognitive-behavioural therapy, but there is little evidence that current treatments are effective. To date, the only treatment available for CSD is shock therapy at election time, but we really should come up with something better, because this is often too late and the damage has already been done.
There are currently self-help books available for CBD and if some bright spark â€" a recovered former politician, perhaps â€" could come up with the definitive self-help book for CSD-afflicted politicians we would all be better off.

(an excerpt from my new book Free Market Missionaries, Earthscan, London, 2006)

Throughout the 20th Century business associations and coalitions coordinated mass propaganda campaigns that combined sophisticated public relations techniques developed in 20th Century America with revitalised free market ideology originating in 18th Century Europe. The purpose of this propaganda onslaught has been to persuade a majority of people that it is in their interests to eschew their own power as workers and citizens, and forego their democratic right to restrain and regulate business activity. As a result the political agenda is now largely confined to policies aimed at furthering business interests.

Nowhere has more effort been put into creating a capitalist, free market hegemony than in the US, where advocates of free markets have sought to identify every major institution with free enterprise. The free market ‘remains the sacred cow of American politics and has become identified with America’s claim to be a model for a universal civilization.’

The weight of corporate propaganda has been augmented by the growth of business networks and coalitions aimed at shaping policy outcomes. Alex Carey, author of Taking the Risk out of Democracy, argued that the 20th Century has seen three related developments; ‘the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.’ However, viewed from a more recent perspective, it is clear that democratic power was progressively eclipsed by corporate power during the 20th Century. This was as the result of several factors: the growth of corporate influence; the public-relations orchestrated spread of free market ideology; and the proliferation of business networks and coalitions aimed at exerting political pressure. As a consequence corporations now completely dominate the political process.

The revolutionary shift that we are witnessing at the beginning of the 21st Century from democracy to corporate rule is as significant as the shift from monarchy to democracy, which ushered in the modern age of nation states. It represents a wholesale change in cultural values and aspirations. Despite the rhetoric of corporate accountability and shareholder or consumer democracy, corporations are not democratic organizations. There is no free flow of ideas or open debate about decisions within their hierarchies. The purpose of corporations is to make profits and thereby increase shareholder value, not to serve the public or national interest.

This eclipse of democratic values by corporate values is not a natural evolution but the consequence of a deliberate strategy employed by corporate executives who have combined their financial and political resources to spread free market ideology. Corporations, individually and in concert, have utilised all the major communication institutions of a modern society â€" including the media and education â€" to shape community beliefs, values and behaviour. This has enabled corporations ‘to enthral and becloud the understanding’ of large numbers of citizens so that it is commonly believed that large corporations are benevolent institutions that should be minimally regulated because what is good for them is good for society as a whole.

Corporate values emphasise mass conformity, subordination to authority, obedience and loyalty. Ironically, these values, which undermine individuality and freedom of expression, have been encouraged in the name of individuality and freedom. The market values of competition, salesmanship and deception have replaced the democratic ideals of truth and justice. Economic relationships have replaced social relationships. The power of the state has become subordinate to corporate interests. The realm of politics has increasingly narrowed as all major political parties are enrolled in the service of corporate interests.

The conflict between democratic values and corporate values is even more evident at a personal level. In the new global culture â€" where people are rewarded for their greed, their ruthlessness and their ambition to climb career ladders, their ability to deceive and manipulate others, their willingness to suck up and network with the right people and keep their personal opinions to themselves â€" increasingly there is little room for the expression of higher human values and qualities such as generosity, compassion, selflessness, willingness to seek out and expose the truth, courage to fight for justice.

(an excerpt from my new book Suiting Themselves, Earthscan, London, 2006)

Corporations have always had a certain amount of power through their ability to make decisions concerning production and employment. And as they have grown in size and number that economic power has become significant and has been used to exert political influence. Individual corporations frequently influence the political process on matters of immediate financial interest to themselves through donations and lobbying and the threat of transferring their activities abroad. They also play a major role in setting the political and the public agenda through their use of public relations, lobbying, and funding of third parties such as media, think tanks, and business organizations.

However, corporations have not been content with the degree of economic power and political influence they can wield individually. Since the mid-20th Century they have conspired to increase their power, consolidating their political influence to pressure governments to make decisions in their favour.

Since the 1970s corporate coalitions have moved from defending their economic freedom from the demands and interventions of labour unions and governments, to being far more aggressive in their goals. They now seek to expand their freedom, destroy unions, and take over key areas of government policy making and service provision. Their progressive accomplishment of this has meant that as time goes by democratic power is undermined and thwarted, whilst corporate power grows.

The political mobilization of business interests meant that corporations began to act as a class rather than a collection of competing companies with some common interests. The class consciousness of top corporate executives was facilitated by the growth of inter-corporate networks of ownership and interlocking directorates of large corporations, which gave rise to a growing number of corporate executives who occupied positions on the boards of several companies. These corporate executives became politically active on behalf of business in general rather than individual companies. They provided the leadership for business coalitions and associations and were employed at the top levels of the largest corporations.

This inner circle of corporate executives facilitated the formation of many business associations and coalitions that sought a more general political agenda than traditional trade associations; one that was not industry or region specific. The new associations present a united front for their corporate members and assert the power of large corporations in political forums. These associations cooperate with each other and ‘perform largely complementary tasks.’ They not only share members and even leaders, but associations and coalitions often join other associations and coalitions as members, or create new associations and coalitions for specific purposes. They have also created an array of front groups that achieve their political goals whilst appearing to be independent of the founding corporations or associations.

In this way a vast network of business coalitions and groups, supported by an array of well-funded think tanks and public relations firms, proliferated during the 1980s and 90s. Their purpose is not only to coordinate public relations campaigns as in earlier times but to exert collective pressure on policy makers to ensure that policies increase the power and autonomy of those corporations. And many of these coalitions are now global in their reach reflecting the transnational nature of the modern corporation, which seeks to pressure governments worldwide to implement corporate-friendly, open-access policies.

In the past large corporations have been more willing to accept shared power. This is no longer the case. Although the perceived threats to business of the 1970s have long since faded into history, the political mobilization by large corporations has gained a momentum of its own. Their success has ensured the triumph of free market ideology around the world and it seems that large corporations no longer fear that the exercise of raw power will cause them problems. They no longer accept labour unions, labour laws and government regulation as a necessary compromise. Today they are seeking to destroy these institutions.

My new book Suiting Themselves: How Corporations Drive the Global Agenda, seeks to explain and document the growth of corporate power by detailing the schemes and tactics that corporate interests have used to pressure government, persuade policy makers and propel globalization.

Sharon Beder, visiting professor at the University of Wollongong, Australia, is one of our favourite political analysts. Her book ‘Global Spin’ (Green Books, 1997), is a devastating exposé of corporate, including corporate media, manipulation of politics and culture. Like Mark Curtis’s ‘The Ambiguities of Power,’ it is a book that defies attempts to underline the interesting bits - it’s all interesting!

The title of Beder’s new book is self-explanatory: ‘This Little Kiddy Went To Market - The Corporate Capture Of Childhood.’ (Pluto Press, 2009) Once again, this is a must-read analysis explaining how people and planet are being systematically subordinated to profit. We were so impressed by the second chapter, ‘Turning Children Into Consumers,’ that even before finishing the book we wrote to Beder asking if we could use some of it in a guest media alert. She has very kindly agreed.

Sincere thanks to Sharon Beder and Pluto Press for letting us publish this tremendous material. We invite you to imagine a world in which Beder’s work was “on every school curriculum”, as John Pilger recommends. Imagine if children were provided with tools of intellectual self-defence to counter the relentless campaigns of corporate manipulation. It is simultaneously depressing and heartening to consider how much happier, healthier, more compassionate our society would be as a result.

David Edwards and David Cromwell
Media Lens


Sharon Beder

extracted from “This Little Kiddy Went to Market: The Corporate Capture of Childhood”, Pluto Press, London, 2009.

Children are naïve about advertising and can easily be manipulated and exploited by marketers to want and demand their products. Corporate marketers believe that over time they can be shaped into lifelong consumers with brand loyalties and that can be profitable for decades to come. What is more, children influence family spending decisions worth hundreds of billions of dollars on household items like furniture, electrical appliances and computers, vacations, and even the family car.

Corporations began targeting their marketing messages directly to children during the 1980s, as affluent adult markets became saturated with consumer goods. Large firms established ‘kids’ departments and smaller firms specialised in marketing to children. A number of advertising industry publications were created such as Selling to Kids and Marketing to Kids Report. The academic literature began to feature studies of children as consumers.

In the US the amount corporations spent marketing to children under twelve increased by five times between 1980 and 1990 and ten times more during the 1990s. In 2004 around $15 billion was being spent marketing to children. Conferences on the best ways to market to children are held all over the world. There are also awards for the best advertisements and marketing campaigns with hundreds of entries.

Much marketing to children now consists of sales promotions such as direct coupons, free gifts and samples, contests and sweepstakes, and public relations exercises such as using celebrities and licensed characters to visit shopping centres and schools. These additional forms of marketing have supplemented rather than replaced advertising as the importance of the children’s market has grown. Their aim however is the same as advertising.

The international children’s market is increasingly attractive to transnational corporations who seek to make their brands and products popular in different cultural milieus. The food industry was a pioneer in these efforts. In 1997 Brandweek magazine noted that McDonald’s was the favourite fast food all over the world and Coca-Cola the favourite drink.


Not only are there many more advertisements aimed at children but they are increasingly infiltrating the private and public spaces where children play and learn. Today’s children are confronted with advertisements almost everywhere they go. There are now television stations, radio stations, newspapers and magazines delivering underage audiences to advertisers 24 hours a day.

As the amount of money being spent increased, the age that children were targeted decreased. A marketing conference in 2000 in New York was entitled “Play-Time, Snack-Time, Tot-Time: Targeting Pre-Schoolers and their Parents”. There is even a US cable station, BabyFirstTV, which aims at under-two year-olds.

Television is an ideal way for advertisers to reach children as it is so omnipresent in homes around the world. In more than a third of the homes of American preschool children the television is on most of the time, whether or not anyone is watching. By the time they get to first grade American children will have “spent the equivalent of three school years in the tutelage of the family television set” and by the time they finish high school they will have spent more time watching television than they spent in class for their entire schooling.

In the UK, the average child watches around 17 hours of television a week. Three out of four children between 5 and 16 have a television in their bedroom. UK children view more than 18,000 television adverts each year.

Individual commercials are repeatedly shown for months and “effectively penetrate” the language and thinking of young children. They repeat advertising jingles and slogans to friends, draw advertising images and logos in their artwork, and discuss advertisements with their friends. Roy Fox, in his book Harvesting Minds, pointed out: “A person’s image and language create his or her sense of selfhood. And this selfhood â€" especially during our formative years â€" is the most valuable, fragile quality we’ll ever embrace.” Yet it is sold as a commodity over and over. Today it is advertising jingles that children sing rather than nursery rhymes.

The internet, video games and mobile phones have also provided opportunities for “new, personalized promotions” aimed at children. Children as young as four are being targeted by internet advertisers and often the interaction with the children is unmediated by parents or teachers. UK advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi noted: “Interactive technology is at the forefront of kid culture, allowing us to enter into contemporary kid life and communicate with them in an environment they call their own.”

Advertisements appear on banners at the top of websites, on scroll down frames at the side of the windows, and unbidden on pop-up windows. There are even animated product “spokescharacters” to interact with the children and develop relationships with them so that they can be persuaded to buy something.

Internet advertising is particularly effective at targeting children because they are less able to tell the difference between advertisements and other content. They are more likely, for example, to click on banner ads thinking they are part of the website, offering information or entertainment, and they tend not to take any notice of annotations like “AD” or “PAID” that are supposed to indicate advertisements.

The meagre regulations that television advertising is subject to don’t apply to the internet. Advertisers and marketers are free to merge content with advertising and exploit children with few if any limits. The ads on internet sites are often integrated with the other content of the internet site â€" games and competitions, music downloads, video clips, discount coupons, online chat rooms, free email, club membership, gossip, fashion tips or advice â€" which is designed to keep the children engrossed in play for hours at a time and to keep them coming back. Marketers and advertisers are “fundamentally reshaping the digital culture, creating new hybrid forms that blend communications, content and commerce”.

For example the Family Education Network, a division of Pearson Education, runs and websites for children with “the hottest collections of games and activities” on the internet. It offers advertisers access to “over 7.5 million unique kids targeted by age and gender”, three quarters of whom are between 6 and 12 years old.

Three quarters of food manufacturers advertising on the internet have designed websites specifically for children, some for very young children; many others have websites that have a children’s section. The address of the website is often given on the product packaging. Most of these websites are plastered with brand logos and advertising claims and include links to other food related sites. On some websites children are encouraged to view television advertisements for the product. On others they are offered branded downloads such as music clips, mobile phone ringtone, desktop wallpaper, screensavers.


It is unethical to advertise to children who are unable to distinguish the advertisements from television programs or internet content, unable to understand the purpose of advertisements, and unable to critically evaluate advertisements and the claims they make.

Between ages two and five most children cannot even differentiate what happens on television from reality. They are very interested in commercials, which they believe without reservation. Marketing consultant, Dan Acuff, notes that until the age of seven children tend to accept television advertising at face value and he advises advertisers how to take advantage of that. For example he tells them that at this age kids are particularly susceptible to give-aways and similar promotions because “the critical/logical/rational mind is not yet full developed”.

Studies commissioned by the US Surgeon General have demonstrated the failure of children under eight to understand persuasive intent. Even if they can differentiate advertisements from television programmes, (and sometimes the boundaries are blurred so that even adults don’t recognise some content as advertising), about half of them still don’t understand that the advertisements are trying to sell them something.

A study by Roy Fox, Associate Professor of English Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, found that children watching athletes in television commercials thought that the athletes had paid to be in the advertisements to promote themselves rather than the products. They believed children in advertisements were real rather than paid actors and they often confused advertisements with news items. Generally they did not understand the commercial intent of the advertisements.

A Swedish Consumer Agency report that contributed to the decision to ban advertising to children under twelve in Sweden noted: “The results of studies that have attempted to distinguish between different degrees of understanding or levels of awareness, all indicate that it is only after the age of 12 that children develop a fuller understanding of the purpose of advertising.”

The problem with not understanding persuasive intent is that children will therefore tend to trust what the advertisement is telling them and not recognise its bias nor that it may “exaggerate, manipulate, pontificate, and cajole” in order to get them to buy their product.

Psychiatrist Susan Linn notes that even if children say they understand that advertisements can be deceptive, they can still be subject to their influence.

Moreover, advertisements often set out to deceive children. Forms of deception in advertising to children include the following:

The use of celebrities to exploit a child’s trust in authority figures.
The presentation of products to make them seem bigger than they are to exploit a child’s limited perceptive abilities.
Focusing on gifts and giveaways rather than the actual product, so that the child is not actually making judgements about the product that is being sold.
The use of jargon and complex language to take advantage of a child’s limited vocabulary.
The excessive use of emotional triggers to exploit a child’s insecurities and gullibility.


Food companies exploit the inability of such young children to understand the purpose of the advertisements and the deception inherent in them. They seek to make food of little nutritional value seem to be exciting, delicious, and fun.

Free gifts are a particularly effective way of attracting child customers. Free toys can double or triple the sales of McDonald’s meals to children. One of the most successful was the Teenie Beanie Baby which was thought to have sold 100 million Happy Meals in ten days compared with normal sales of ten million per week.

Fast food and cereal marketers often take advantage of children’s natural inclination to collect things by offering gifts in sets as collectors items. For example, when McDonalds gave toy Hummers with its happy meals as part of its “Hummer of a Summer promotion” there were 8 different Hummers to collect. When Frito-Lay offered small collector discs called Tazos free in its Doritos chip packets in 1996 it had to increase production by 40 per cent to keep up with demand.

Advertisers not only promote unhealthy foods but they create a culture where food is eaten for pleasure or fun without any need for discretion, limits or care. Often manufacturers use food additives such as colouring solely for the purpose of making it appealing and eye-catching to children. The UK Food Commission found that 75 per cent of food that contains high amounts of added fat, sugar and salt also contains ‘cosmetic additives’. These additives, including artificial colour, have been shown to increase hyperactivity in children.

Food marketing undermines the efforts of parents, teachers and doctors to teach children about healthy eating. The onslaught of advertisements for fast foods, sugary foods and salty foods encourage children to favour such foods over more healthy and natural alternatives, such as fruit and vegetables. The US Department of Agriculture claims that children get an appetite for high levels of sugar and salt in their food and drinks before they even go to school.

The food and beverage industries have denied the link between their products and weight gain in children and funded several studies to support this denial (see box below). A Yale University survey of 88 studies found that “Studies funded by the food industry simply did not find the degree of negative health effects from soft drinks that independent scholars discovered.


Some Denial Studies from the Food Industry

Coca-Cola was the sole sponsor of an Australian government study into children’s exercise habits. The ensuing report in 2004 claimed that it was declining physical activity that was the major cause of rising childhood obesity.

Cadbury Schweppes donated millions of dollars to the American Diabetes Association, and shortly afterwards the Association’s chief medical officer denied the link between sugar and diabetes as well as between sugar and weight gain.

Coca-Cola, donated millions of dollars to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry which now prevaricates about the link between soft drink and cavities.

In Australia McDonalds is paying the National Heart Foundation $330,000 per year in return for the Foundation’s tick of approval for nine of its meals. The foundation says the money is to reimburse its costs in testing the meals and auditing McDonalds restaurants.

A review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007 and paid for by the American Beverage Association, questioned a 2001 study published in the Lancet that found that children were 1.6 times as likely to become obese with every can of sweetened drink consumed per day. Two of the authors of the review had links to the soft-drink industry.

Coca-Cola has established The Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness, to undertake scientific research and educate the public around the world about the role beverages play in nutrition and health.

In 2002 a draft report of the Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases called for stricter marketing rules and labelling, as well as taxes on sugar-rich food marketed to children. It prompted the American Advertising Federation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the National Soft Drink Association, the Snack Food Association, the National Confectioners Association, the US Chamber of Commerce and several other industry associations to write to the US secretary of Health and Human Services to “express our concerns” that the report would harm the US food industry. The industry letter argued the report “should be substantially modified before being issued by WHO and FAO”.

The following year the Sugar Association “threatened lobbying to block WHO funding if the report was not changed.” At the behest of industry lobbyists the Bush administration opposed WHO anti-obesity initiatives behind the scenes and objected to the way the WHO identified some foods as “bad”.

Manufacturers of junk food deny that there are good and bad foods, but instead insist that all foods have their place in a ‘balanced’ diet. They nevertheless seek to achieve maximum sales of their foods. For example, McDonald’s aims for 20 visits per month per customer. In its brochure Healthy Balance, it stresses the need for “a balanced diet and regular exercise” and implies that McDonald’s can contribute to that balance:

“A typical McDonald’s meal of a Big Mac, French Fries and a Thick Shake contains foods from most of the core food groups, which are sources of riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, thiamine, niacin, zinc, magnesium, iodine and iron...”

They also add protein and vitamins to the list. However a person would need to walk for around 5.5 hours to burn off the calories of such a meal.

Coca Cola’s Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness emphasises the importance of drinking enough fluids so as not to become dehydrated and argues that any drink suits this purpose so “there’s no need to stick to plain water if it bores you”.

The food industry also argues that achieving a balanced diet is a parental responsibility and that government regulation of junk food advertising represents the intrusion of a “nanny state” into private lives. Advertisers nevertheless seek to market direct to children, bypassing parental gatekeepers where they can, encouraging pester power to overcome parental resistance. Moreover, the UK Office of Communications (Ofcom) found that mothers “are at a loss” as to how to make a healthy diet attractive to children in the face of the barrage of marketing making junk food attractive to them.

The food industry also thwarts the exercise of parental responsibility by lobbying against food labelling regulations and other sources of nutrition information being made available to parents. It has successfully lobbied for food disparagement laws in twelve US states making it difficult for critics to point out the shortcomings of their food. Jeff Richardson, director of the Centre for Health Economics at Monash University in Australia pointed out that “food marketing was so manipulative that a central free-market principal â€" that people would act in their own best interests â€" no longer applied in relation to food consumption.”

Junk food manufacturers blame lack of exercise, rather than junk food marketing, for the rising tide of obesity and have recently been promoting exercise and associating themselves with exercise campaigns as part of their public relations efforts. Several beverage and fast food companies, such as McDonalds, have given out pedometers. Many have sought to associate themselves with exercise and sport including Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Cadbury and NestlÈ. However it is not realistic to believe that regular consumption of junk food can be counteracted with exercise as we saw with the example of the McDonalds meal.

In 2007, when the food industry was under threat of advertising regulation in the US, a group of major food companies including McDonald’s and PepsiCo agreed to voluntarily stop advertising the worst of their foods during children’s television programmes. They will not however, stop advertising these same foods during family programmes such as the enormously popular American Idol, which most children watch. Similar promises were made by Kraft in 2005 and Kellogg’s in 2007.

Advertisers also like to claim that exposing children to advertising is part of their education and enables them learn to deal with advertisements and learn critical skills. However, the evidence seems to be that those “who watch most television tend to be the most easily influenced by a given advertisement” and, in particular, younger children do not become more sceptical of advertisements, the more they see. Heavy television watchers tend to ask for the products advertised more often. Critical skills are not gained by watching more advertisements.

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