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The subtle art of 'mind-fuck' and how advertisers tap into our self-destructive impulses.

The Western lifestyle has long adopted the all-out chase of material wealth as the only quantifiable way to personal happiness and fulfilment. The relentless advertising that swamps our daily lives unashamedly infers that 'Greed is good' and that only the 'weirdos' would suggest otherwise.

In the seminal 1987 movie "Wall Street", the greed that Gordon Gekko evangelised with great conviction permeates more than ever the many aspects of society, from individual behaviour to systemic structures leading people to prioritise self-interest as the only natural formula to personal success.

But advertisers have our best interests at heart, right? Would they ever use manipulative advertising practices at consumers' expense? Would they consider using human greed, one of the worst evolutionary flaws of Homo Sapiens, as an integral part of their advertising strategies?

The answer to all those questions is a resounding yes. By leveraging human desires for wealth, success, or material possessions, the advertisers aim to construct and establish a permanent sense of 'want–need' in their target audiences. Here are some of their strategies:


Advertisements frequently showcase luxurious lifestyles or desirable products, triggering a sense of longing or envy in viewers. They depict scenarios where owning a particular product is associated with status, success, or personal fulfilment. This appeals to people's aspirations for a better life, feeding a deep desire for the advertised product.


Companies often create a sense of scarcity or exclusivity by promoting limited-time offers or special editions. By implying that certain products are rare or only available for a limited period, they tap into consumers' fear of missing out (FOMO), such as hurry-everything-must-go or Black Friday seasons. Such marketing tactics play on the greed instinct by intensifying the longing for an item that appears exclusive or elusive. Limited-time offers and promotions exploit the human greed instinct by creating a sense of urgency and scarcity. Advertisers may emphasise that the opportunity to obtain the product or take advantage of a special offer is fleeting. By capitalising on the fear of scarcity, advertisers intensify the desire for the product and create a sense of urgency, prompting immediate action to fulfil the perceived need.


Advertising agencies utilise sales promotions, discounts, or "buy one, get one free" offers to amplify the lure of acquiring more for less. It appeals to people's ingrained desire to maximise their gains while minimising their expenses, thus exploiting the greed instinct to drive purchase decisions. Discounts and promotions play a significant role in exploiting the greed instinct. Advertisers often offer discounts or bundle deals that give consumers the illusion of getting more value for their money. By framing these offers as limited-time opportunities or as "exclusive deals available only to a select few", the ads fuel the desire to acquire the product at a discounted price. This taps into the human instinct to maximise gains and minimise expenses, compelling consumers to make impulsive purchasing decisions.


By presenting an idealised version of life or portraying individuals who have achieved extraordinary success, advertisements create a sense of aspiration and desire. Such ads often suggest that by purchasing a particular product or service, consumers can elevate their social status, experience luxury, or attain success that would have been impossible without the advertised product.


Advertisers strategically choose endorsers and influencers who embody an aspirational lifestyle and are admired by the target audience by associating their products with these seductive figures. They partner with social media influencers, who have a significant following and influence in a particular niche, to promote their products or services. These influencers create sponsored content, such as posts, videos, or reviews, endorsing the brand and its products to their fans.


In today's technologically advanced era, personalised targeting enhances considerably the effectiveness of these tactics. Advertisers employ sophisticated data analysis to identify consumers' preferences, desires, and demographics. By leveraging this information, they can craft tailored advertisements that appeal to individuals' greed instincts. This hyper-targeting ensures that the ads resonate deeply with viewers, increasing the likelihood of influencing their purchase decisions. Modern advertising leverages advanced targeting techniques, allowing advertisers to tailor their messages to specific individuals or demographics. They use personal data and consumer insights to identify desires and preferences, creating highly customised and targeted advertisements that tap directly into individuals' specific greed instincts.


Advertisers also commonly use social comparison in their strategies. By showcasing individuals who possess the desired qualities or possessions that the audience wants, advertisers cultivate a sense of envy or longing. This encourages viewers to associate the advertised product or service with their desired social status or personal success. Ads often create an implicit message that by acquiring the product, individuals can join an elite group or attain a higher social standing, appealing directly to the greedy desire for elevated status or exclusivity.


Advertisements construct a story around their products, showcasing how owning them can transform an individual's life for the better. This narrative typically involves a protagonist who overcomes challenges, achieves great success, or gains admiring attention—all thanks to the advertised product. By presenting this narrative, advertisers tap into viewers' aspirations and foster a desire to replicate the depicted achievements in their own lives.

Advertisers tap into the greed instinct by suggesting that owning the advertised product will bring individuals closer to the glamorous and coveted lifestyles they desire.

Advertisers message to consumers: the more we shop, the happier we are.

Advertisements routinely use persuasive messages that emphasise the benefits and advantages of the product, promising:

  • Enhanced social status,

  • Financial gain, or

  • Personal fulfilment.

By appealing to individuals' desire for more wealth, improved status, or increased success, these messages exploit the greed instinct and create a perceived need or desire that can drive consumer behaviour.


While exploiting the greed instinct can generate sales and profits for companies, it is essential to recognise that these tactics are bound to have a negative impact. They can create an environment where consumers value materialism and excessive consumption above all else, imposing heavy financial pressure on consumers.

Moreover, by promoting values centred around possessions and superficial desires, advertising agencies may inadvertently contribute to societal issues such as inequality and the overconsumption of resources. The pervasive nature of advertising that exploits the greed instinct can perpetuate a consumer culture that prioritises material wealth and acquisition over more profound, more meaningful aspects of human life.

The constant bombardment of advertisements that appeal to greed can create a cycle of never-ending desires. As individuals succumb to the allure of acquiring more and better possessions, their pursuit of fulfilment through consumption becomes insatiable.

This can lead to a perpetual cycle where individuals constantly strive for more, never satisfied with what they have. The negative consequences of exploiting the greed instinct in advertising extend beyond society's well-being. Focusing on relentless consumerism at the expense of all other considerations can erode social cohesion and neglect deeper personal needs.

When companies prioritise profit maximisation over environmental sustainability, workers' rights, or social justice, it perpetuates systemic greed that exacerbates environmental degradation and societal inequalities, which, let's be frank, if unchallenged, can only lead to the erosion of the very fabric of civilised life.


It is essential to approach advertising and consumerism critically, questioning the underlying motivations and values embedded in marketing messages. Recognising the exploitation of the greed instinct in advertising opens discussions about the need for ethical and responsible marketing practices.

Advertisers, of course, have a responsibility to their shareholders. But should they ignore their social responsibility? Shouldn't they seek ways to play a pivotal role in shifting the narrative and fostering a more balanced and sustainable approach to consumption?

Advertisers should encourage consumers to make informed decisions based on genuine needs rather than enticing them with false promises or exaggerated claims.

There is a slow but growing number of companies who are shifting their advertising strategies to focus on promoting values such as social responsibility, environmental sustainability, and community well-being. They seek to appeal to consumers' desire for a meaningful connection with their purchases rather than solely capitalising on their greed instincts. By aligning their brands with causes that resonate with their target audience, they can tap into the growing demand for conscious consumerism.

Ethical marketing practices involve being transparent and truthful in advertising messages. Building trust with consumers by providing accurate information about products and their benefits fosters a healthier relationship between brands and their audiences.


As consumers, we can play a vital role in challenging the toxic aspects of advertising. By being mindful and critical of the messages presented to us, we can actively resist the lure of excessive consumerism.

This involves being conscious of our own desires and questioning whether a particular product or purchase truly aligns with our values and needs.

Developing a sense of self-awareness and reflecting on what truly brings us happiness and fulfilment can help counteract the influence of exploitative advertising.

Educating ourselves about the tactics used in advertising can empower us to make more informed choices. By understanding the psychological techniques employed to exploit our desire for more, we can better recognise when we are being manipulated and make conscious decisions that align with our values.

Supporting brands prioritising sustainable and ethical practices can also contribute to a shift in the advertising landscape. By consciously selecting products and services from companies that demonstrate a commitment to social and environmental responsibility, we can send a message to the advertising industry that responsible marketing is not only desired but expected.

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