Junk Mail on Steroids

Big business marketing and advertising are much more Pavlovian and much less magical and postmodern than most critics have claimed.

If you doubt this, consider how television advertising, the endeavor that funds and delimits almost all the program “content” on US television, actually functions. Here is long-time marketing consultant Erwin Ephron describing it:

For example, a shampoo brand buys daytime TV at $10.00 for a thousand 30-second exposures.

Since each incremental unit of shampoo sold makes a $2.00 contribution to profit (i.e. wholesale price minus marginal cost), then fewer than five incremental sales can cover the cost of the advertising.

And also the cost of talking to 994 other potential customers who may be in the market next week!

Micro-marketers who argue that exposures not resulting in a sale are wasted, are as wrong-headed as people who argue that advertising shouldn’t be expected to sell at all. Some exposures sell, but all exposures build broad market awareness, shift attitudes and help create the brand value, which is the foundation for the next sale. These are the hard and soft effects of TV advertising.

The economics of network television for a super-upscale brand like Mercedes are even more remarkable. For Mercedes, one incremental sale can pay the costs of network messages to a million men and women.

True, most of them will never buy the car, but those messages are not wasted, either. They help to create the broad-market perception that Mercedes is special, which makes owning a Mercedes one so attractive to the small group of consumers who have the money.

For super-upscale products, value to the purchaser is often in the eye of all those millions of non-purchasers.

In other words, considered from the point of view of its sponsors, television is junk mail on steroids.

And we’ve long since surrendered our civil society to this inherently discombobulating and addictive force.

This great surrender, of course, remains completely “off the table” of mainstream politics and media coverage, despite its extreme threat to us, our democracy, and the world our rampaging sponsoring class is still bullying.

One Reply to “Junk Mail on Steroids”

  1. Michael,

    Thanks for your insightful comments on TV and cars. While I’m finding it rather difficult to jettison my auto, we got rid of our cable TV a LONG LONG time ago. The first thing I noticed was that my conversations at the water cooler were really stilted — while I wanted to discuss a book I was reading or a film I had seen, everyone else (and I mean EVERYONE) was talking about the exact same things: last night’s programming.

    When 300 million people are all discussing exactly the same thing, to me that equals a hive mind.

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