How Much Do You Need?


"My favorite car is the Mini Cooper. After seeing The Italian Job, I've become obsessed. With its quick bursts of speed, the Cooper's perfect for stunts and chases. I'd take my mom for a ride because I know that, once I started driving, she would freak! And watching moms freak is hilarious."

Susan Brinch, 18, as quoted in Parade, 2/22/04

Click here for The Italian Job trailer


Would Susan Brinch have become obsessed with the Mini Cooper if she had not watched the 2003 film The Italian Job? It's hard to know for sure. We do know, however, that corporations pay huge sums of money in order to have their products carefully placed in films, a practice that often generates substantial increases in sales of the product. For example, red, white, and blue Minis starred in The Italian Job, along with American actors Mark Wahlberg, Mos Def, Charlize Theron, and Seth Green, who drove the cars in elaborate sequences of stunts and chases to perform an ingenious robbery. The film in effect wrapped the Mini, a European-made car only recently released for sale in the United States, in patriotic colors, celebrity cool, and youth appeal. Not only is Susan Brinch "obsessed" with the car, suggesting the success of the Mini-marketers, she even pictures herself driving it the way it was driven in the film, although she seems to take more pleasure in "freaking" her mom than in using the Mini to perform a genuine heist. If car sales are any indicator of desire, Brinch is not alone: sales of the Mini-Cooper jumped 20% in the month after the release of the film.

Film is but one avenue through which advertisers create desire for their goods. The Internet has given birth to yet another ad universe, as anyone that has spent a few minutes surfing the web knows. Corporations are also entering previously forbidden spaces in their efforts to generate sales, as consumption experts like Alissa Quart show. Rising costs and budget cuts have caused many schools to allow corporate sponsorship within their walls. Districts across the country now have Pepsi and Coke contracts that allow sales of brand-name drinks in their schools. Advertisers are seeking to create desire for goods among younger and younger Americans. Disney, for example recently marketed popular princess-themed merchandise to girls as young as two years old. Their strategies have been incredibly profitable: Walt Disney's princess products totaled $1.3 billion in sales in 2003, up from $100 million in 2000.

In short, ours is a world in which advertising and marketing are creating new desires where none previously existed, and where traditional goods are marketed through more and more media. American workers, young and old, take home bigger paychecks and spend them on items considered luxuries decades ago. In generating such desires, advertising directly shapes our view of how much is or isn't enough to live.