What We Buy is Who We Are

Katie Lowell

The social logic of consumerism communicates identity, social status, and draws the lines for in groups and out groups. As consumers, we are told that the only way to represent ourselves to others is through the unbridled consumption of goods, products, and services. But we are sold more than just stuff. We are sold ideologies, norms, expectation, goals, prosperity, happiness. Through the repeated exposure to these words, language, and stories we come to adopt the norms as our own until we cannot separate our unique wants and desires from those we are bombarded with through the media.

In this video, Cadillac is clearly selling us the neoliberal dialogue; individualism, self-determination, ethnocentrism. But we’re also being sold something else: an electric car. Does this intersection of sustainable technology and capitalist consumption suggest a shift in society’s value system? Or does the blatant reinforcement of neoliberal principals negate the fact that we are being sold an electric car?

Keep in mind, this car is for rich people. Which means this ad is meant for rich people. Does that mean that this is the very type of mass media that hinders the ability for new (non capitalist-consumer focused) words, language, and stories to enter the American dialogue? Or does this mean that (presumably) older, white, rich people are demanding sustainable luxury vehicles? If the sense of alienation is a purposeful marketing tactic then good work Cadillac, I now have no plans to ever buy your cars (even if I could afford it).

Ford has since issued a parody response:

This version is obviously more focused on sustainability, diversity, and possibility but still has hints of neoliberal language. Since we are still being sold a product within the confines of neoliberal ideology, is this commercial really any different than Cadillac’s? I think it’s at least a step in the right direction.


On a side note, the original Cadillac commercial aired during the Olympics, which may be a discussion for another day.


  1. vavrok

    I agree that this signals a step in the right direction by Ford! Two consumer groups are being targeted here, of course, those who are concerned about the direction of our society and those who are not. I would be interested to see how the general population is reacting to both commercials and how that would potentially affect their purchasing choices. It would also be interesting to see in which geographical regions these commercials are played and on which channels!

    1. katielowell

      What do you mean when you say the two consumer groups are separated into “those who are concerned about the direction of our society and those who are not”? I would argue that both ads are meant to target consumers who are concerned with environmental sustainability, since both ads are selling us electric cars. However, Cadillac is clearly more egocentric than Ford. This might suggest that Cadillac consumers are more concerned with upholding neoliberal ideology because it benefits them while Ford consumers are more concerned with replacing restrictive ideologies with a more empathetic society that benefits many. I think there is a lot to unpack in both of these ads and that is why I am skeptical about the use of “society” as I think it might be too broad.

      Somehow I doubt the Cadillac commercial is being shown abroad, but it did first air during the Olympics which I think is interesting considering the Olympics is meant to celebrate athletes from around the world and this ad shamelessly promotes American capitalist values.

  2. ashleeeyvd

    I thought this was an interesting point:

    “Through the repeated exposure to these words, language, and stories we come to adopt the norms as our own until we cannot separate our unique wants and desires from those we are bombarded with through the media.”

    I agree — it goes beyond just a conscious effort to associate oneself with a group of community; we actually lose the ability to have an individual and genuine opinion. That’s frightening! As a passive consumer, we’ll let society dictate what is good and bad; what’s desirable and undesirable. It takes active reflection, I think, to get in touch with what we really want. I just hope (for myself included) that the results of such reflection in Americans, if they were to do it, would bring them to a realization of good beyond a consumeristic lifestyle.

  3. caitpetrie

    Anyone else think that its funny that car companies are selling “sustainability”? Both Ford and Cadillac are saying to live sustainable lives we need to buy a NEW electric car. When in reality, the most sustainable thing to do would be to drive that “old” Prius till it dies. Are rapidly changing technologies warping our ideas of what true sustainability is?

    1. millicentg

      Caitlyn, you stole my thought completely, they encourage the “Green Movement” which really is just asking us to continue to consume more instead of driving our cars or using our iPhone 3S until it dies. Will we ever see a commercial advising you to get your oil changed every couple months, detail your car, and maintain it parts so it drives for 20 years? Probably not…

      I really enjoyed your post Katie, I like the connection you were drawing between the dialogue in the Cadillac commercial and neoliberalism. It would be interesting to see if these commercials were not only aired at certain times on TV but if they were aired on specific channels following certain programs. Mass media has it dialed in to airing certain publications at the right time to appeal to the various cohorts in society.


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