Bigger (and Bigger) Brother

big_brother We TCTers are aware that, having long since replaced price competition as the main vehicle of business competition, the practice of behavioral engineering known as “marketing” grows larger, more sophisticated, and more expensive over time, with almost no pauses. In the TCT book, I called this process “the marketing race.” In this post, we review some of the latest evidence of its existence.

First, Ad Age reports the results of its survey of marketing practitioners regarding their firms’ usage of the newest marketing frontier, the internet. The results are as predictable as the rotation of Earth:

Last June, in the weeks following Facebook’s botched IPO, Ad Age and CITI surveyed marketers about their views on the social network. The big takeaway? While the majority (85%) felt they needed to be on Facebook, only about half felt they needed to be advertising there.

Fast-forward to January 2013: We asked a new crop of 701 marketers and media execs their views. You’d expect sentiment to have risen a little, and it has: More marketers on Facebook say they’re also advertising — 61%, compared with 55% seven months earlier. We also found a slightly higher percentage that said their Facebook ad budget would “modestly” or “significantly” increase, 58%, compared with 56% in our earlier survey.

As you might expect, Facebook’s mobile ads are on the minds of marketers: 69% now say mobile advertising on Facebook is “somewhat” or “very” important compared with 63% seven months ago.

79 percent of those marketers who’ve used them report being satisfied with their ROI from deployment of Facebook’s newest product, “Sponsored Stories.” To see how those work, take a gander at these eager beavers rhapsodizing them:

In a one-time concession for this maneuver, Facebook just settled a class-action lawsuit against it, btw. The financial cost? 0.4% of its 2012 revenue.

Finally, Google reads your Gmails in order to scrape marketing data, and there’s nothing you can do about it, other than dropping Gmail (on the very questionable assumption other “hosts” aren’t or won’t soon be doing exactly the same thing).

Market totalitarianism — it only grows…

13 Replies to “Bigger (and Bigger) Brother”

  1. pfft – Facebook links? So low tech – try ‘personal surveillance camera’! A recent counterpunch essay on the implications of the “google glasses” – the web-connected eyeglasses for augmented reality, that also conveniently could trace what you do every single second:

    As with most things, while this has a wonderful potential in the abstract, for a long while it will be just pure evil.

  2. It’s quite true that insertion of face and pupil tracking cameras into people’s households is about where internet was when I started writing the TCT book, and that these glasses are going to be part of the mix. So, in 15 years, barring collapse or revolution, expect to be reading these same Ad Age reports about the race to exploit them.

    Wonder what the type II diabetes rate will be by then…

  3. I watched the video a few times – I think it’s fascinating. I don’t know if people like this really exist, but the the very fact that the image of apparently well fed, well educated people with vaguely helpful and concerned expressions being “excited” about the ability of western white people to tell their friends they like Starbucks or something can exist is plenty surreal. Such a waste of life for everyone involved (the well paid cubicle drones included)

  4. Actually, I take that back – i know that people like that exist, the doubt is simply wishful thinking: a few weeks back I was at a party, w/ a couple where both spouses were working for the marketing research department of a local grocery chain. They were *very* proud of their ability to successfully profile neighborhoods on very specific dimensions (far beoynd SES) and influence the minutia of sales.

    While I can certainly understand and appreciate the satisfaction of a job well done, even when the job is evil, I still wanted to punch the husband in the face once he told (sic) me – with a happy smug face – “your purchases are influenced by far more factors than you realize”.

  5. Md is perfectly correct – how can these Ivy League officer training mills justify their alleged elitism when scrufulous pedigreed jackasses like “Engineer Phil” issue such robotronic lies?
    What does corporate tool husband mean “your purchases are influenced by far more factors than you realize?” I “realize” the factors that go into my purchasing, and, with DVRs and my ability to ignore, I’m not being controlled by Madison Ave, but I’m an outlier, who cares about my low-level purchasing?

  6. DVRs, ignoring, etc. will only last so long. This one will rant more about it elsewhere and later, but for now, the next layer is found inside the content itself. The openly-avowed “commercials” you see in this time period are an example of planned obsolescence. As noxious and obvious as they are to increasing numbers of people, they’re meant to be discovered and slain.

    The increasingly plot- and character-based commercials, and decreasingly plot- and character-based programs, will continue down their respective graphs until they become one and the same. It’s already begun to happen.

  7. Martin, here’s one of the few examples he ‘kindly’ offered me:
    – in neighborhoods with more educated customers (controlling for income), the way in which the fresh vegetables are showcased can dramatically affect sales – e.g. the exact same batch of lettuce will sell out much faster, if you lay it out so that it looks more like a farmer’s veggie stand, sprinkled with water and all, not too squished – relative to if you just organize it efficiently so it takes less space – which is what they’d do in a poor and less educated neighborhood, where people are much more likely to shop in a more focused way and primarily worry about the price.

    You can see where this is going – even an ostensibly aware educated individual trying to ‘resist’ – can be/will be influenced by this–> “hmm, look at this lettuce, looks good, lush and green –> therefore healthy –> therefore I should definitely get some” (even if I didn’t have lettuce on my shopping list – because it’s just how good it looks).

    It’s brilliant – because how can you even argue against it? It’s vegetables for crying out loud, and who could be against vegetables, right?

    Yeah, one such stupid trick may look insignificant and harmless, but they’ve got hundreds of them – probably enough to drive total sales to a level twice than what they’d be naturally (when Vance Packard was writing “The Hidden Persuaders” in the 1950s, he, or someone he quoted, estimated that store tricks inflated sales by at least 25% over what people would actually need; this has surely gone up in half a century..)

    Another easy one – the candy at the checkout counter. Be honest here – have you never, ever purchased a candy conveniently waiting for you at the cash register? Well, I have, even while knowing this is a bad idea. You always have a choice, but it is just too easy to tip you over the edge into a “purchasing decision”, esp, when they’ve been studying your behavior for decades. Who could possibly have the psychic energy to rationally assess the pressures behind every mundane purchase? They wear you down, it’s just as simple as that.

    Oh, about that candy – in the “rich” store in my neighborhood, there is no colorful stand with the many usual types of peasant candy. No sir – the clientele is too aware and sophisticated for that. Instead, there is just one jar, with a single type of chocolate bits – luxe and artisanal looking, almost a dollar each. Seems to be selling just fine…

  8. Yeah, Marla, that’s brilliant reporting – I understand that my assigning purchasing “free will” to myself while denying it to others is a form of illusion, but I was very disheartened to read of one quote last week in the NY Times neoliberal review – “Illusions, perhaps, are the only reality.”
    Guess who said that TCT-worthy koan? McCluhan? Chomsky? Foucalt?
    Nope. Benito Mussolini. He’s probably working at Facebook right now.

  9. Well, Chomsky would never say that, Martin.

    But you are quite right, Marla, about the thoroughness of the behavioral manipulation repertoire. It is encyclopedic, and even gets applied to the overclass itself, to some degree. If you doubt that, watch some gold on tv.

    One other thing they do in the “veggie stands” at yupper groceries: Toss away anything that isn’t visually perfect.

  10. Hmmm, I seem to be very out of things. What annoys me about grocery stores in the USA (at least El Paso, where I lived from 2009-2012, and at least in my parents’ neighborhood) was that most of the time, fruit and vegetables—-no matter how wet—was not fresh. But, then, maybe I lived in a low wage neighborhood, and El Paso, Texas is a non-prosperous community overall….
    However, that’s not what I wanted to say. Here in the Czech Republic–where I happen live today—- there are spies in every grocery store and bookstore. Yes, I know they are not called “spies”, and it is obvious who they are. But they are very annoying. They will follow you if the story is not crowded.
    And they can be shameless about staring at you. And, this low tech form of control is unpleasant. So, when people talk about “beautiful Prague”, I am sorry to say I just laugh and think of the very visible and (compared to the stuff you are talking about) low tech form the surveillance society has taken here. And, by the way I don’t think it’s mere racism if I point out that a number of bookstores and grocery stores (maybe most?) are foreign owned…….((Oh yeah, don’t quote me, but I think most of the local banks belong to Germans and/or Italians…….)

    And I can imagine that someone might say: well, they are watching us here, too…..And I know that is the truth. (I wish it were easier for me to review this comment before posting, sight…..)

    But let’s end with a funny thought: Around Christmas time I was shopping for presents in one bookstore. As I entered I set off a very annoying alarm. The security guard posted at the front door responded by asking me if I had any books with me. (For me that is a very very funny question, since I almost always do.) I opened my backpack and showed him my well-thumbed English-Czech/Czech-English dictionary…….He smiled, and so did I. By the way, he looked as though he had as much enthusiasm about his job as I do. As I left the store, I remarked to him that after all that trouble, the store didn’t even have the book I was looking for…..((I guess you cannot do that sort of thing with electronic forms of surveillance………)

  11. If someone says your purchases are influenced by factors you don’t know about—-factors which implicitly he controls (and you don’t), let’s be clear: He is being an arrogant jerk. However, what he is not telling you is that the research he relies upon also routinely says that people’s decisions are different if they have time to think about what they are doing. And, the real issue is as much how and why we are put into situations where our reasoning powers are overloaded–not that we deliberately choose that option but that we’ve got a variety of institutions designed to overload us. And the crowded pages of the internet are another example. (Just to avoid misunderstanding, when I talk about “reasoning powers’, I mean that in the very broadest possible sense, so as to include emotions.) And by the way, about that arrogant jerk: Actually, he himself undoubtedly responds to various factors of which he is unaware. His autobiography, e.g. is only imperfectly understood by him. And we might wonder what particular individual history has produced his warped view of reality. I will bet that his emotional life has been shaped in a very specific way so that he, has certain severe emotional limitations. The evil thing here is that he is taking a universal trait of human nature (our real ignorance) and attempting to use it as a tool with which to beat other people down. But, in fact, he’s not different or better than the rest of us…………but probably just better paid………

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