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Philosophy of futility is a phrase coined in 1928 by Columbia University marketing professor Paul Nystrom to describe an increasingly prevalent outlook which, he believed, induced a greater demand for fashionable products. The growth of industrialization had brought about a narrowing of interests, contacts, and achievements for many people in the Western world. Such conditions of life, Nystrom observed, encourage a tendency to become quickly bored and, consequently, a continual appetite for newness and change and a greater interest in goods in which fashion dominates, such as apparel, automobiles, and home furnishings.
Philosophy of Futility and Retail Therapy:
Shopping in order to make oneself feel happier is a symptom that is referred to as “retail therapy” in the popular press. The term was first used in the Chicago Tribune of December 24, 1986: "We've become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy". Retail therapy, sometimes observed in people in times of depression or transition, indicates lack of personal purpose, and involves shopping as a therapeutic act that improves the buyer's mood or disposition; therefore, goods purchased during retail therapy are often referred to as "comfort buys."
The “vicious cycle” in Nystrom’s theory can be seen in many economic and philosophical arenas. Robert and Edward Skidelsky, in a father-and-son/economist-and-philosopher writing partnership, discuss that needs are finite and can be satisfied, but wants are infinite in quantity.Adam Smith, a pioneer in political economy, states his Theory of Moral Sentiments that “Riches leave a man always as much and sometimes more exposed than before to anxiety, to fear and to sorrow.”
Advertising can manipulate those wants, and make them appear as needs by making consumers feel they are not whole or happy with their product. In his criticism of Christianity, Friedrich Nietzsche said "To act as a physician," he writes, "the priest must make one sick!" For Christianity to appear as the savior, people must first have a problem. Advertising can make their product be the savior of a consumer’s problem.
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