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So much has been written in recent years about the power of consumer advertizing. The thesis generally being that we, the consuming population, are overrun by advertising agencies, manipulated into buying much more than we need or can afford. Some have postulated that the Financial Crisis of 2008 was the indirect result of our inability to distinguish between need and want, means and credit. I think they all have a point. Although, they are over-looking one key element.

We still have choice.

Having moved away from big city American where consumerism is at its height, to a country where culture places a greater emphasis on parts of life other than acquisition, I’ve had the opportunity to witness a healthy model of consumerism.

Some believe that French advertizing, or la publicité as it is called here, is relatively unregulated due to the exposure of bare breasts on television or in magazine ads. I see this question a little differently. Last week, the French powers-that-be removed an ad for an upcoming film in which a male star, Jean Dujardin for those of you who may have seen The Artist, stands facing the camera with a pair of female ankles in high-heels framing his face. The ad was deemed inappropriate and degrading to women. This decision struck me as the exact opposite of what Americans think about French gender-sensationalized advertising.

Interestingly, many of my fellow Americans find no harm in flinging a scantily clad pre-teen on a billboard in a sexually provocative position to sell nylons, a pair of jeans or a hamburger.

Research shows that when we consumers see a pretty face or a sexy body, we want the clothes that made the model look that way. Funny, isn’t it, how the majority of us don’t see through the facade: The clothes didn’t give her that body, Photoshop did.

But I’m getting away from myself again. Consumer advertising power is, truth be told, only as powerful as we allow it to be. And you are, dear reader, only as gullible as you allow yourself to be.

As consumers, we have a great deal of power to affect change in our society. If, for instance, you decide not to purchase products in non-recycled packaging (packaging that is not made from recycled materials) than companies will be forced to change their game.

True, it won’t happen overnight. But I’ve seen it happen in my own lifetime.

As a child, I was ardently green back when recycling pickups were as likely an occurrence as the Y2K Armageddon. And in the 30-odd years since, every town I visit in the West has recycling programs. In fact, in my mom’s town outside of Toronto, they even have compost pick nowadays. I have yet to enter a grocery store in the previous five years where there wasn’t a green option of toilet paper or cleaning fluids. Companies now even advertise that their products are environmentally friendly and their packaging made from post-consumer material.

This is due, at least in large part, to customer preference. Every time we make a decision to use our spending power for a good, we improve the world by that little bit.

We aren’t sheep waiting to be herded into the aisles of stores to spend our money on what someone else tells us we want. We aren’t the infantile, bean-like beings glued to the television and unable to have coherent thoughts of our own, as represented in Disney’s Wall-E.

Companies are in the business if making money. True. But I don’t believe they are deviant entities; they are heartless because their heart is the bottom line. But that doesn’t make them evil. It makes them predictable.

It was announced this week here in Paris that one of our biggest grocery stores, Monoprix, will no longer be supplying customers with plastic shopping sacks. They advertise the move as: “One small personal inconvenience for one great collective good.” Some clever young soul in the Monoprix financial department likely came up with the concept to cut expenses and marketing department knew they could sell it to the public as an environmental decision. We’ve seen the same modus operandi in hotels across the globe with their ‘reuse your towels and sheets’ policies.

The world’s largest oil company, Shell, has invested billions into renewable energies over the past decade. Again, this wasn’t out of the goodness of their hearts. They see the world’s consumer market moving in that direction with hybrid cars and fuel efficiency policies. So they’ve taken steps to ensure they are ahead of the game rather than left behind in the dust.

All these changes, which happen to be positive for the environment, lead back down to the company’s pocketbook. And the company’s pocketbook just so happens to be where you and I have a hand to play.

Michael York

If we no longer buy what they sell, they will change until they offer us something we want. We’ve been told we are powerless against multi-media conglomerates with their subtle manipulation and psychological tools of persuasion.

Fiddlesticks! There are more of us!

We can force change by making thoughtful decisions about how we spend our money. It’s really that simple.

It’s true that in France publicité is hard at work trying to win over the consumers’ hearts and minds. And yet there seems to be more balance in France; parents still know how to say “no” regardless of media pressure; people seem to still understand the difference between need and want.

Being able to live with enough is almost counter-intuitive to the American Dream. We are encouraged to earn more, want more, succeed more. We are bombarded on two fronts: advertising, and the insatiable American appetite for success.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the American Dream as long as it is a healthy part of one’s life. As with everything, moderation is the key. All the money in the world can’t make you happy. I learned that when I moved to France.

I’ve learned to ask myself if I need whatever it is I’m gazing at in one of the glossy magazines. I’ve learned to use my consumer power for the betterment of the environment and for the sake of my own peace of mind. At night when I close my eyes, I’m content with my choices and desires. Living in France has taught be how.

I once dared you, dear reader, to take back your privacy. Now I’ll do it again. But this time, take back your purchasing power; make informed consumer decisions.

Go on, I dare ya!