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By Glenn Wohltmann

You are a sheep. Don’t take it personally; all your friends are sheep, too. So am I.

If you don’t believe me, look down. Got a pair of sneakers with that incredibly popular “swoosh” logo, the ones people wait on line for hours to buy? Odds are they were made by a kid who made less than $2.00 a day. It costs less than $5 to make those kicks you bought for $100.

Own an iPhone? Thank the 13-year-old in China who worked 16 hours a day for 70 cents an hour, a kid who will probably never own one or even see a working model.

Do you like to wear logo shirts? Shouldn’t the company be paying you for doing their marketing for them? Instead, you paid somewhere between $30 and $100 to be a spokesperson for Hollister or Abercrombie and Fitch – which, by the way, is being sued by 62,000 of its own employees for requiring them to buy and wear the company’s clothes to work.

Everything you and I own has been marketed to us. Beer commercials, the same ones that suggest we “drink responsibly” are some of the biggest offenders, leading us to believe that we’ll be surrounded by beautiful women if we suck down their particular brand of suds. Commercials suggest we’ll be more macho if the buy a Ford/GM/Dodge truck, sexier if we buy a Mercedes/BMW/Lexus, more thrifty if we buy a Honda/Toyota/Hyundai – you get the picture.

Companies like Disney, Sony, and Apple are now using an approach called “cradle to grave marketing,” which means exactly what it implies. Disney, for example, has launched a line of princess prom dresses aimed at capturing the market (and disposable income) of teenage girls.

We seem to have a desperate need to see ourselves as cool. Everything piece of clothing we buy, every accessory, every kitchen appliance, even our socks and underwear (especially our underwear – thank you, Victoria’s Secret) have to validate us, because we can’t validate ourselves.

I’m as much a victim – or, I suppose, a willing co-conspirator – as you are. My jeans are Levi’s, which moved its manufacturing overseas decades ago and lost a $9 million lawsuit brought by some foreign workers over “substandard working conditions.” My Skechers, like those Nikes, were made in China, and the company has fought unionization of its truckers here in the U.S. At least my Samsung seems to have not been built with child labor – the company severed ties with a manufacturer after it was found to be using teen labor (and not paying overtime) in some Chinese factories.

A lot of this “buy this to be cool” marketing that we see can be attributed, or blamed, on Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays. He’s known as the father of public relations and wrote books including “Propaganda” which makes the case the public needs to be manipulated, and “The Engineering of Consent,” a how-to book that shows how to cash in on our unfulfilled desires by directing them toward buying more stuff.

My suggestion to people who think this stuff matters? Check out who makes the stuff you buy. Think, “do I need this?”  Don’t rely on labels or brands to define you. I’ll do the same.

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