I’ve watched millions of minutes worth of Ted Talks and just stumbled upon possibly my favourite of all time.
Rory Sutherland, Advertising Beast, hits us up with his thoughts on Consumerism and how creating intangible value could actually be used for good stuff.
What makes this talk so special is the way he delivers a serious message, fills it with fun facts and smothers it in sarcasm.
The Squanderlust Rebellion
Since my lightbulb moment just a few weeks ago, I’ve been rebelling against my inner Squanderlust.
I used to be a self-confessed Zara addict making weekly visits to the store hoping to adopt a new addition to my ever-growing thread family. I’d dish out a colossal number of pennies on paper cup coffees on the daily, and feel nothing but momentary joy at handing over gold coins and crisp notes in exchange for, well, anything really.
Any sort of purchase genuinely felt like a hit, a pick-me-up, an injection of joy, but it never lasted more than a few minutes before I was craving another fix.
For somebody so interested in the way our minds work, I’d completely overlooked, or actually rather chosen to ignore the fact I was being vacuumed up by the Marketing Machine
The Great Potato
One of my favourite anecdotes from Rory’s talk was that of the potato.
Apparently, “Fredrick the Great of Prussia was very, very keen for the Germans to adopt the potato and to eat it, because he realised that if you had two sources of carbohydrate, wheat and potatoes, you get less price volatility in bread. And you get a far lower risk of famine, because you actually had two crops to fall back on, not one.
The only problem is: potatoes, if you think about it, look pretty disgusting.
And also, 18th century Prussians ate very, very few vegetables – rather like contemporary Scottish people. So, actually, he tried making it compulsory.
The Prussian peasantry said, “We can’t even get the dogs to eat these damn things. They are absolutely disgusting and they’re good for nothing.”
So he tried plan B. He tried the marketing solution, which is he declared the potato as a royal vegetable, and none but the royal family could consume it. And he planted it in a royal potato patch, with guards who had instructions to guard over it, night and day, but with secret instructions not to guard it very well.
Now, 18th century peasants know that there is one pretty safe rule in life, which is if something is worth guarding, it’s worth stealing. Before long, there was a massive underground potato-growing operation in Germany.
What he’d effectively done is he’d re-branded the potato. It was an absolute masterpiece.”
I found that little piece of 18th century marketing to be nothing short of genius.
Tales like this are so clever but at the same time, they feel spun with the darkest fibres. It does nothing but show how we can cultivate a sense of craving for something that essentially we don’t need at all.
It’s Psychological Wizardry really, and usually for ephemeral pleasure of the masses to nourish egos of the gluttonous few.
Rory ends his Talk with a declaration that “We need to spend more time appreciating what already exists, and less time agonising over what else we can do”.
In my world this means avoiding the shops and getting creative with what I’ve already got…
So today I’ve dyed my hair rose gold, butchered myself a short blunt fringe, lined my eyes with green, blotted my lips pink and put together a somewhat imaginative outfit.
I’m a walking talking potato.
Poetry is when you make new things familiar and familiar things new