Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Visa’s Fools

smurf_mirror “Follow the flattery.” That is former Village Voice ad critic Leslie Savan’s sage counsel to would-be critics of advertising. As Savan knows, ego-stroking is one of the core tactics of big businesses’ efforts to manipulate our off-the-job behaviors.

Enter, on cue, Visa’s new Facebook “app,” the Visa Memory Mapper. The users of this scheme take vacations and, during or after, upload photos of their trips, add captions explaining the photos, and then select music and formats to turn the photos and captions into a “movie” about the vacation in question. All, purportedly, in the name of recording memories.

One might begin to sense the rat here when one reflects upon the true relationship between cameras, Facebooking, and experiences of uncommon or new locales. Which is likely to yield better memories — immersing oneself in a place with perhaps a few quick photos taken, or having a camera glued to one’s nose for a serious share of time in a spot? What possible place does Facebook have in the process?

The JWT Intelligence (yes, an arm of that JWT) blog clarifies the real logic:

Where travelers of old shared (and bragged about) their activities upon returning home, today’s hyper-connected and mobile-enabled vacationers enjoy the instant gratification of doing so on social networks in real time. These updates amplify the travel experience, providing the opportunity to broadcast how cool (or privileged, worldly, etc.) the traveler is, boosting the person’s social currency. Indeed, one-third of respondents in JWT’s U.K. and U.S. survey agreed that “Sharing my travel activities makes me stand out from everyone else’s activities in my social network.” Visa is smartly tapping into this new social currency by facilitating online boasting for its customers.

And, of course, the raison d’etre of this latest encouragement and exploitation of human vanity in our increasingly atomized (and therefore increasingly vain) society lies 100 percent in the realm of marketing research. Promo Magazine reports:

“What’s interesting about the social space is that you can measure the different elements of performance, not only from an impression, but also from paid media and now earned media, or the sharing of what people are doing with their friends,” Alex Craddock, head of North America Marketing for Visa Inc., said. “When you look at that as a success metric, you get a good sense of how the social space can be for you. There is so much data there, and with the triangulation of these findings you actually can be very well informed about how a campaign is forming in real time.”

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Comments (11)

  1. Saturday, November 19, 2011
    Mark Lovas said...

    I am always pleased to see your comments about Facebook, Michael. In fact, the use of Facebook to share vacation memories has disturbed me since I got involved with FB. On the other hand, this “app” and the associated status consciousness are something new–a new level of ugliness. While not disagreeing with you, I want to make two remarks–things that I heard from friends who use Facebook to show their vacation pictures. First of all, one friend (who happens to be Slovak) has, in the past, made comments about the way in which vacations seem to take place in poorer countries, and what that entails (exploitation). And he himself travels to warm, poorer countries on vactions, and he shares his pictures when he comes back. However, a different friend—actually a former student—-who may or may not use Facebook to share pictures—helped me get some insight into vacations (as I’ve never had the resources to take regular vacations). My former student explained that because he and his wife work, vacations were one of the few times that they could actually have time together without the interfering demands of their jobs. Of course, none of that represents anything like a disagreement with what you’ve said; but it seems to me that it is part of the background toward getting a fuller picture. From top to bottom, our desires to be with other people and to have some satisfaction in life are being twisted and distorted for the sake increasing the wealth of the already overly wealthy.

  2. Saturday, November 19, 2011

    No disagreement here, Mark. People have to survive within the system, which means doing things (or doing things in ways) that might not happen in a perfect world. I don’t blame people for using Facebook, which does have many decent aspects, or for taking reasonable vacations.

    Part of surviving is finding ways to have fun and feel some levity.

  3. Sunday, November 20, 2011
    Mark Lovas said...

    I think what I really wanted to say, and it is a sad thing, was that most people I knew in Central Europe who took vacations tended to travel to someplace sunnier and often poorer– but that they seemed to have never seriously asked themselves why some nations are poorer. (The friend I described previously was something of an exception.). I guess your main point is that, here too, ( in the case of vacations) companies are looking for ways to collect information about us. So my remark was simply something that occurred to me after reading what you’d written.

  4. Sunday, November 20, 2011

    It’s definitely a complex topic, isn’t it?

  5. Tuesday, November 22, 2011
    Mark Lovas said...

    Yes, but I wonder about your remark “atomized (and therefore increasingly vain)”–In a more recent post you speak of the concern for status and how marketers/advertisers play with that. But, I wonder what’s behind your suggestion that there is a connection between atomization (is that like the isolation of the suburbs?) and vanity? It sounds plausible enough, but is there a body of research here that I don’t know about? I don’t know how things stand today among anthropologists, but I know that there was once a suggestion about how among hunter-gatherer societies, successful hunters were likely to have more mates, status. So, how do we know when a society (or a person?) is really more concerned about status? I suppose that these are also complicated issues, but I just wonder what you have in mind. Incidentally, if I understand my old teacher, Terry Penner, correctly, his version of Socrates and Socratic thoughts about how to live contains the suggestion that praise and blame are totally important to living well. (I suspect that is the strongest rejection of any concern for status that I know of.) –Praise and blame, not teaching, I would add…..

  6. Tuesday, November 22, 2011
    Mark Lovas said...

    Sorry, I seem to have made a typo above: The Socratic view is that praise and blame are NOT important to living well. I hasten to add (once again): To say that praise and blame –rewards and the threat of punishment—are not an important part of living well is not to say there is no room for teaching.

  7. Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    My understanding of psychology comes from places like Erich Fromm and Joel Kovel, plus speculation based on my own view of history and my personal experience. I think there’s a rational core to Freud, too — Productive adulthood requires a successful transition from innate (due to sheer circumstances) narcissism to mature recognition of the legitimacy and location of other egos.

    I can’t say I have any particular piece of research in mind when I make claims about the links between social isolation (atomization) and vanity. It just seems to me that one learns to escape narcissism by rich participation in helpful, healthful, authentic groups and communities. Losing access to those forces one to rely on symbols and markers, rather than internalized skills and self-confidence. Hence, vanity is the wages of “consumer society.”

    Vanity, btw, is a form of insecurity, IMHO. It’s a neurotic effort to prove one’s importance, driven by the secret feeling that one is unimportant and unrecognized, or by the lack of knowledge about and practice of genuine sources of accomplishment and recognition.

    It’s speculation, I admit.

  8. Tuesday, November 22, 2011

    P.S. It’s not speculation to say that corporate marketers seek to encourage and exploit vanity. Their main weapon is suggesting that use of their products is a marker of worth and desirability and intelligence. Flattery, in other words.

  9. Sunday, January 8, 2012
    Mark Lovas said...

    Michael, Thanks for answering my question. I am afraid that I’ve only just now gotten back to reading your answer. (Two months later….) My own experience is that when I lived in Central/Eastern Europe, merely because I lived in European-style cities, my life was richer, fuller, in a thousand ways—and that even though I had not the advantages I enjoyed as a University Professor (even a professor temp, or a “Visiting Assistant” one), I enjoyed the presence of other people in the Wien U-Bahn. I thrived on the fact that other people were always in the street. Here I despair at the unending presence of large trucks, at empty streets, at a sun which only illuminates the emptiness. And I see in the life that my elderly parents lead an isolation which would make sense only if it were the punishment for a terrible crime. So, I am always glad to hear an honest comment upon this awful way of living a life, this desperately inhuman form of living. And I always hope to find new tools to express it, to describe it. But I find that largely it is a hopeless task. The edifice of loneliness is so large and overwhelming that I lack the courage, perhaps. How can I say to a casual acquaintance: The way you live here is miserable.—But that is what I feel, that is what I believe, and I sense it, feel it, suffer from it with every breath I take……So, thanks again.

  10. Sunday, January 8, 2012
    Mark Lovas said...

    Michael, Thanks for answering my question. I am afraid that I’ve only just now gotten back to reading your answer. (Two months later….) My own experience is that when I lived in Central/Eastern Europe, merely because I lived in European-style cities, my life was richer, fuller, in a thousand ways—and that even though I had not the advantages I enjoyed as a University Professor (even a professor temp, or a “Visiting Assistant” one), I enjoyed the presence of other people in the Wien U-Bahn. I thrived on the fact that other people were always in the street. Here I despair at the unending presence of large trucks, at empty streets, at a sun which only illuminates the emptiness. And I see in the life that my elderly parents lead an isolation which would make sense only if it were the punishment for a terrible crime. So, I am always glad to hear an honest comment upon this awful way of living a life, this desperately inhuman form of living. And I always hope to find new tools to express it, to describe it. But I find that largely it is a hopeless task. The edifice of loneliness is so large and overwhelming that I lack the courage, perhaps. How can I say to a casual acquaintance: The way you live here is miserable.—But that is what I feel, that is what I believe, and I sense it, feel it, suffer from it with every breath I take……So, thanks again.

  11. Sunday, January 8, 2012
    Mark Lovas said...

    I’m still thinking about what you’ve written, but if your analysis is correct–if it’s genuine achievement and some sort of decent relationship with others that allows for a feeling of self-worth, and avoids vanity—then attempts to gain value (self-respect) by satisfying vanity must be frustrating. In other words, a person can’t ever be happy by feeding their vanity. Offhand, it sounds like an argument Plato once made against hedonism in the “Gorgias”—that it’s like trying to collect water in a leaky sieve…..

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