How Oprah Winfrey Implicitly Endorses Consumerism and Materialism

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George Burns / Harpo Productions / AP

“For her, transformation is about self-esteem and about buying stuff.”

Yes, Oprah famously says to “Live your best life.” But when you think about how her show, magazine, and website operate, the life she’s suggesting is filled with an awful lot of stuff.

A BusinessWeek story analyzing the marketing lessons of “Brand Oprah” explains that Oprah’s popular “favorite things” series amount to infomercials and product placement. The fact that Oprah is not compensated for these product endorsements makes the endorsements all the more powerful. It also allows a subtle, measured but obviously pro-consumerism message to sneak through, as an expert quoted in the BW story notes:

“For her, transformation is about self-esteem and about buying stuff,” says Susan Mackey-Kallis, a communications professor at Villanova University. “It’s consumerism, but it’s not crass.”

Well, if self-esteem is somehow tied to buying stuff, that does seem a bit crass. Intentional or not, Oprah’s “You deserve it” message, in which the right stuff will help you “live your best life,” is product marketing 101. Transformation is a much more attractive concept than contentedness or sacrifice; it’s especially convenient that the former is much more advertising friendly as well.