imomus (imomus) wrote,

Notes on the Marketing Personality

This is an extension to yesterday's entry (and my Frieze column) about "New Left mystic" Erich Fromm. Today I want to look at the personality typology he developed in his books Man for Himself, To Have or to Be? and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. Above all, I'm interested in the personality he associated with modern capitalism, the Marketing Personality.

In Fromm's model, there are two basic types of person, Productive and Non-Productive. The Productive person is "biophilous", in love with life. This person is emotionally mature, basically able to work and to love. All the other types are neurotic in various ways, shading through to the sickest type, the "necrophilous" person, the person in love with death and destruction. Dick Cheney, or a high school shooter, perhaps.

In between Fromm's biophilous angel and his necrophilous devil, there are four types, with roots in different historical periods:

Receptive: Derived from Freud's oral incorporative type, this is a passive personality, expecting to be fed.
Exploitative: This comes from Freud's oral sadistic type, and represents someone who manipulates others.
Hoarding: From Freud's anal retentive type, the hoarder saves and stores in a pathological way. Some have likened the hoarder to the Victorian man of property, a development of the "Protestant-Capitalist" described by Max Weber.
Marketing: The marketing type is the only one Fromm made up himself, without reference to Freud. Marketing types dominate in our own society, where everyone has to think of him or herself as a commodity. Marketing types are fickle, faddy, superficial and conformist.

Here's Neil Clark in The Guardian:

"In The Sane Society (1955), Fromm argued that a society, in which "consumption has become the de facto goal", was itself sick. He advanced his theory of social character: that "every society produces the character it needs". Early Calvinistic capitalism produced the "hoarding character", who hoards both possessions and feelings: the classic Victorian man of property. Post-war capitalism, Fromm argued, produced another, equally neurotic type: "the marketing character", who "adapts to the market economy by becoming detached from authentic emotions, truth and conviction". For the marketing character "everything is transformed into a commodity, not only things, but the person himself, his physical energy, his skills, his knowledge, his opinions, his feelings, even his smiles". (For a perfect example of a "marketing character", just think of the current inhabitant of No 10 Downing Street). [At the time, Tony Blair.] Modern global capitalism requires marketing characters in abundance and makes sure it gets them. Meanwhile, Fromm's ideal character type, the mature "productive character", the person without a mask, who loves and creates, and for whom being is more important than having, is discouraged."

I think we all have to recognize the Marketing Personality as at least a partially-accurate description of who and how we are. It's certainly drummed into self-employed people that we have to market ourselves as a commodity in competition with other commodities (in other words, people). The faddy changes of my adolescent hero, David Bowie, could be seen as endless product re-launches, vampiric re-vamps of a fading brand. I've certainly marketed myself cannily over the years, and may even be doing it right now.

There's a little quiz you can take -- not entirely scientific or serious, but derived from Fromm's typology -- called Which of Erich Fromm's Personality Orientations Are You?. I got:

You Scored as Marketing
"You are probably a "Marketing" character. The marketing character is marked by an extreme desire to fit norms created by family, society, and culture. They are fashionable, dynamic and willing to compromise more than any of the other characters. They often find that morals impede on their lifestyle and goals and are often unprincipled. The marketing character will always look for a way to change himself before demanding social change."

You can watch a video of Erich Fromm talking about the Marketing Personality here. Here's the relevant section from the transcript:

WALLACE: In writing about men in America, you've said frequently - you've talked frequently - about what you call "the marketing orientation." What do you mean by "the marketing orientation," Dr. Fromm?

FROMM: I mean by that, that our main way of relating ourselves to others is like things relate themselves to things on the market. We want to exchange our own personality - or as one says sometimes, our "personality package" - for something. Now, this is not so true for the manual worker. The manual worker does not have to sell his personality. He doesn't have to sell his smile. But, what you might call the "symbol pushers" - that is to say, all of the people who deal with figures, with paper, with men, who manipulate - to use a better or nicer word - manipulate men and signs and words. All those today have not only to sell their service, but in the bargain, they have to sell their personality, more or less. There are exceptions.

WALLACE: So, his sense of his own value must, therefore, depend upon what the market, in this sense, is willing to pay for it...

FROMM: Exactly, just as a handbag which cannot be sold because there is not enough demand is, economically speaking, useless. And if the handbag could think, it would have a terrific inferiority feeling, because, not having been bought, it would feel useless. So does a man who considers himself as a thing, and if he is not successful to sell himself, he feels he is a failure.

Here's how Dr C George Boeree describes the Marketing Orientation:

"The marketing orientation expects to sell. Success is a matter of how well I can sell myself, package myself, advertise myself. My family, my schooling, my jobs, my clothes -- all are an advertisement, and must be "right." Even love is thought of as a transaction. Only the marketing orientation thinks up the marriage contract, wherein we agree that I shall provide such and such, and you in return shall provide this and that. If one of us fails to hold up our end of the arrangement, the marriage is null and void -- no hard feelings (perhaps we can still be best of friends!) This, according to Fromm, is the orientation of the modern industrial society. This is our orientation!

"This modern type comes out of the cool withdrawing family, and tends to use automaton conformity as its escape from freedom. Adler and Horney don't have an equivalent, but Freud might: This is at least half of the vague phallic personality, the type that lives life as flirtation. In extreme, the marketing person is opportunistic, childish, tactless. Less extreme, and he or she is purposeful, youthful, social. Notice today's values as expressed to us by our mass media: Fashion, fitness, eternal youth, adventure, daring, novelty, sexuality... these are the concerns of the "yuppie," and his or her less-wealthy admirers. The surface is everything."

Here's a gloss by Dean Sayers:

"The marketing orientation describes the mindset in which a man perpetally molds himself into society's image in order to fit the expected norms of society. He sees the world as a marketplace, where new symbolizes good and desirous, wheras old becomes ugly and useless to him. Fromm described this mindset as saying, "new is beautiful," as opposed to the historical mindset which has been one of keeping and maintaining possessions for later, commodity-oriented use: "old is beautiful."

"Marketing characters exhibit signs of extreme conformity and solve their problems as if they were simply manifestations of the market. These people look for mates as commodities to be scrutinized for positive traits which may have little to do with love, and create barriers between themselves and others defined by abstractions such as religiosity, monetary value and social status. Families which own or manage businesses or encourage conformity and a scholastic focus on the job market - that is, most families in industirialized nations today - tend to create marketing characters. This personality, Fromm said, only started to emerge with contemporary society and its focus on marketability."

Psychology lecturer Victor Daniels:

"The marketing economy says we have to sell ourselve, make ourselves into an object, commodity.There is an obsession with "packaging," with our facade. The person with the marketing orientation aims to sell himself or herself successfully on the market. This person does not experience himself or herself as an active agent, and to a great degree is alienated from his or her human powers. The sense of self stems from the socioeconomic role one plays. "Human qualities like friendliness, courtesy, kindness are transformed into commodities, into assets of the "personality package" that can bring a higher price on the personality market." A person's sense of his or her own value always depends on extraneous factors, on the fickle judgment of the market about the person's value."

Business writer Michael Maccoby:

"Not long after Freud described his three personality types in 1931, German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm proposed a fourth personality type, which has become particularly prevalent in today’s service economy. Fromm called this type the “marketing personality,” and it is exemplified by the lead character in Woody Allen’s movie Zelig, a man who is so governed by his need to be valued that he becomes exactly like the people he happens to be around. Marketing personalities are more detached than erotics and so are less likely to cement close ties. They are also less driven by conscience than obsessives. Instead, they are motivated by a radarlike anxiety that permeates everything they do. Because they are so eager to please and to alleviate this anxiety, marketing personalities excel at selling themselves to others.

The marketing-friendly Maccoby adds his own positive spin to the type:

"Unproductive marketing types lack direction, as well as the ability to commit themselves to people or projects. But when productive, marketing types are good at facilitating teams and keeping the focus on adding value as defined by customers and colleagues. Like obsessives, marketing personalities are avid consumers of self-help books. Like narcissists, they are not wedded to the past. But marketing types generally make poor leaders in times of crisis. They lack the daring needed to innovate and are too responsive to current—rather than future—customer demands."

This sounds like a marketing type describing marketing types, which raises the question: if this personality type is what capitalism has made us, how would we even see it? Wouldn't it just seem like "human nature" to us -- at least until our system started breaking down?

Other questions that occur to me: Is the decline of blue-collar occupations in the West corresponding to an increase in Marketing types? Are self-employed people and people in the arts the ultimate self-marketers? What if you have a marketing department to do your marketing for you, does that liberate you to do other things? Can you get "real" and productive again, after once having been a marketing type? What are Marketing Types like who don't share Fromm's "automaton conformity", but instead market precisely their headstrong eccentricities? Is that better, or worse?

Is my love of street fashion just a love of slick self-marketing? Is Obama a marketing type? And how does the cultural difference between Western and Eastern capitalism affect this? It's undoubtedly true that Asians tend to self-efface rather than advertise themselves; their societies are more collectivist than ours. Perhaps the Marketing Type only dominated the second half of the 20th century and is now on the way out, to be replaced by a Solidarity Type (in capitalist mode, but still collectivist)?

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