Must-Have: The Hidden Instincts Behind Everything We Buy, By Geoffrey Miller

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The Independent Culture

Prof Geoffrey Miller is on a mission to redefine how we think about marketing. Through the discipline of evolutionary psychology, he examines and dispatches the current marketing paradigms. These he identifies as either conservative (human nature plus free markets necessarily equals consumerist capitalism) or radical (consumerist capitalism occurs as a result of oppressive institutions and ideologies impressing themselves on nascent minds). While such alternatives may be unfairly cast as straw men, Must-Have is a thought-provoking analysis of how marketing really works and its relationship to our ancient psychological traits.

Marketing is a consequence of surplus that is characteristic of modern capitalism, while our psychology was significantly shaped by the hunter-gatherer society of early humans. Yet the same traits that have developed in subsistence societies are, says Miller, the engine of modern marketing. Our choices as consumers result in two Darwinian "fitness cues": we spend money on products that display social and sexual fitness, or which, based on prehistoric indicators, enhance our social, survival, sexual and parenting prospects.

(Just watch out for references to Spent throughout – this was the title of the book in hardback and for reasons unknown, Vintage has failed to update it in the text.)