If consumers robotically obeyed advertising messages, then 80% of all new products would not be destined for failure, despite the over 200 billion dollars (in 1997 figures) spent by producers to bombard the senses of the consumer through every possible venue, from television to the Internet. (45; 50)
Twitchell concludes that the presence of consumer culture paradoxically gives consumers the tools of empowerment by offering them new tools of self-fashioning. Through buying products and exercising individual choice, persons can remake themselves into new individuals, much like the rituals of the church provided similar tools of self-improvement and self-fashioning.
However, one must ask the question -- does the existence of consumerism replace other moral aspirations of humankind? For example, a person who believes the rhetoric of advertising might decide that personally buying an ecologically sound product is a replacement for actually writing his or her congressman as part of a widespread letter-writing campaign to do something about the environment. Also, the stress upon the individual, a necessary aspect of consumerism (as the individual must be convinced to buy a particular product) belies the idea that the consumer is all-powerful in relation to the producer.
The reason advertising is so powerful is that consumers have been sold, without realizing it, upon the idea that personal self-improvement in a monetary and narcissistic fashion is the ultimate purpose of life. In contrast to advertising, the best aspects of religion promise salvation through participation in a community and a long-standing historical tradition. Religion, at its best, also provokes uncomfortable questions about how to live a good life. While advertising may have parallels with the worst aspects of religion, like selling false relics of saints or promising easy answers to tough questions, this does not mean that modern advertising is parallel with all of…