A Worthy Read

enjoy The New York Times does have its moments, despite its basic nature and attendant bias. Forthcoming in the Sunday magazine is a robust expose, excerpted from reporter Michael Moss’s forthcoming book, of corporate food marketing. It seems fairly packed with high quality evidence of what Marla Singer mentioned (via Veblen) yesterday: big businesses view prospective customers as so many units to be engineered for profit.

Take the case of standard practice at the Coca-Cola corporation, described by one of its former marketing executives as not having “a sense of humor when it comes to this stuff. They’re a very, very aggressive company.” Moss reports more of what this ex-Cokester admitted to him:

One of the other executives I spoke with at length was Jeffrey Dunn, who, in 2001, at age 44, was directing more than half of Coca-Cola’s $20 billion in annual sales as president and chief operating officer in both North and South America. In an effort to control as much market share as possible, Coke extended its aggressive marketing to especially poor or vulnerable areas of the U.S., like New Orleans — where people were drinking twice as much Coke as the national average — or Rome, Ga., where the per capita intake was nearly three Cokes a day. In Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta, the biggest consumers were referred to as “heavy users.” “The other model we use was called ‘drinks and drinkers,’ ” Dunn said. “How many drinkers do I have? And how many drinks do they drink? If you lost one of those heavy users, if somebody just decided to stop drinking Coke, how many drinkers would you have to get, at low velocity, to make up for that heavy user? The answer is a lot. It’s more efficient to get my existing users to drink more.”

One of Dunn’s lieutenants, Todd Putman, who worked at Coca-Cola from 1997 to 2001, said the goal became much larger than merely beating the rival brands; Coca-Cola strove to outsell every other thing people drank, including milk and water. The marketing division’s efforts boiled down to one question, Putman said: “How can we drive more ounces into more bodies more often?” (In response to Putman’s remarks, Coke said its goals have changed and that it now focuses on providing consumers with more low- or no-calorie products.)

If you believe Coke’s goals and methods have changed, TCT can also get you a really sweet deal on the Brooklyn Bridge…

4 Replies to “A Worthy Read”

  1. Now that’s just pure shame – “targeting the poor or vulnerable areas” like all big business, including the drug marketers.
    I guess they know it’s completely evil (low-calorie chem-swill as penance for all of their death-dealing?), but when money reveals no trace of its origin, Coke and Pepsi and Google (now referenced, in today’s nondescript USA Today article, as an “ad company,” nothing more, and with blase further description of its criminal data-mining) will keep those stock prices and bonuses soaring.

  2. These people are beyond despicable. In a marginally improved world, Dunn, Putnam and their minions would, at the very least, be obligated by contract to consume as much Coke per day as their ‘heavy user’ target group.

  3. Not sure if I’m laughing or weeping, but either way, it is always liberating to confront a fundamental existential problem in such a pure, elegant form. There you have it – the ultimate circumscription of all the possibilities of life to a limited set of input/output processes relevant to accumulation of capital.

    If it wouldn’t violate the laws of thermodynamics, the only logical next/final step could be a population enclosed in pods, and prodded with the appropriate stimuli, “The Matrix” style. Oh well, we can’t defy physics, but we can surely create a population fairly responsive to triggers intensifying both their labor output and their substance intake, anyway that’s profitable for us, no problemo.

    But Coke surely deserves to be singled out – it is not just an example of marketing in operation. It is also an example of such a thoroughly successful execution, that it is surely in the select subset of “iconic products”, that define culture and way of life as such. This is such an enormous power – even people fully aware of the objective fact that this is just shitty, sweetened, acidic water may experience a pang of uncertainty, sorrow, and even fear at the prospect of this going away. I know I am…(All my childhood memories from the beach involving Coke?!?? Oh boy, there’s a long road ahead…)

  4. Having enjoyed many a Coke, whether for the novel taste or pleasing recovery effects following a bad hangover, I would ‘rate’ the ‘product’ in and of itself as something possibly worth the time invested in its invention, and confined to a particular place of manufacture and distribution.

    But when something like this becomes, as Marla says, an ‘iconic product’, what with such massing death-dealing corporate force behind it, how can one ever look at that logo or imbibe with any pleasure or conscience? When Coca-Cola moves from being a ‘soft drink’ company to one which aims to supplant basic water resources and prevent access to life-giving water itself; what further evidence is needed of human folly? What greater example of imperialist rapine and conquest?

    Bill Hicks was right: If you work in advertising, go suck a tailpipe.

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