The Politics of Consumption and the Consumption of Politics: How Authoritarian Regimes Shape Public Opinion by Using Consumer Marketing Tools

Nicholas O'Shaughnessy

Queen Mary, University of London

Editor’s Note:

This Speaker’s Box looks at the relationship between populist/authoritarian governments and consumerism. The underlying phenomenon is relevant to our era, which has been termed the “engineering of consent” (Bernays, 1955). This is the notion that public opinion does not exist in a defined form, but instead is tentative and somewhat malleable. The argument offered here by Nicholas O’Shaughnessy of Queen Mary, University of London, is that the tools for shaping public opinion are borrowed from the consumer economy. The Box observes two manifestations of this, the one historic (Germany), the other contemporary (China). O’Shaughnessy also comments on several other contemporary examples to reinforce his core argument that consumer marketing provides a medley of tools for populist/authoritarian regimes to deploy in the manipulation of public opinion. These tools also are propaganda of a kind, because they reinforce the idea of the regime as efficient, benevolent, and a provider of material satisfaction.