Beyond Poseur Politics: An Open Letter to Adbusters

logo Adbusters is impressive in many ways. It has made some waves, and its founder and CEO Kalle Lasn has some smart things to say, such as calling advertising “brain damage” and “one of the most powerful cultural forces in the world.”

Many of Adbusters’ “spoof ads” have also been indisputably brilliant.

And, as reported in this week’s Advertising Age magazine, Adbusters has also pulled some clever pranks that underscore the purpose and workings of the commercial media. Whenever Adbusters tries to buy airtime on corporate TV for its “anti-consumption” ads, for example, it draws and then publicizes telling (if entirely predictable) replies such as this:

“Suck it up, it’s the real world,” an ABC executive is recorded angrily and loudly rejecting the pig spot a few years ago. “There’s no law that says we have to sell you time.” (Advertising Age, November 27, 2007)

100,000Finally, subscriptions to Adbusters have also now surpassed 100,000, a very substantial feat for a non-capitalist publishing effort.

Analysis

Does all this mean that Adbusters is making progress toward its stated goal, which is “to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century”?

Alas, it definitely does not, and here are the major reasons why not: Continue reading “Beyond Poseur Politics: An Open Letter to Adbusters”

The “Consumer” Insult & Its Costs

The word “consumer” is a rank capitalist bias. First used in the realm of early bourgeois economics, it debuted as a proffered substitute for the neutral term “product user” in a telling place — the 1898 Sears & Roebuck catalog (see Oxford English Dictionary).

Since 1898, “consumer” has spread like wildfire through our mental world. The effects have been insidiously devastating to rationality.

A typical illustration appears today on the independent socialist website MR Zine, in the form of a poem:

The New Monastics
by Dennis Brutus

Tall black-shadowed cypresses
slender beside arcaded cloisters:
thus were monastic enterprises:
now with our new doctrines
secular-consumerist we bend
with similar devoutness in service
to our modern pantheon —
Bretton Woods, its cohort deities
— World Bank, IMF, WTO —
diligently we recite
We have loved, o lord, the beauty of your house
and the place where your glory dwells”
“Amen” we chorus in unison
as ordered by our Heads of State
obediently we traipse to our slaughterhouse
directed by our Judas-goats
Mbeki’s herds tricked out in shabby rags
discarded by imperialist gauleiters
who devised our Neepad subjugation

ActionAid Economic Justice course,
Kenyan School of Monetary Studies
Nairobi, November 26, 2007


This poem by Dennis Brutus was posted to Debate, a discussion list of the independent left in Southern Africa, today.

I replied at MR Zine as follows:

Here you see the logical effect of the word “consumer.” It turns the problem into “we,” to the complete delight of the overclass, who disappear in its generalizing, mis-directing wake. Every time somebody chalks corporate capitalism up to “consumerism” or “consumer culture” or “consumer society,” a Robber Baron laughs his/her ass off… “Consumer” is an insult, a capitalist bias run rampant and roughshod over our discourses. It blinds us. The correct term, if and when you need to denote the targets of corporate marketing as such, is “product user.”

If humanity survives the twenty-first century, the triumph of the word “consumer” in the twentieth century will be seen for what it was and is — a consequence and key indicator of market totalitarianism.

A New Phase in Iraq War Marketing

“LeftI on the News” nails the latest reports, per The New York Times, that the “major” Democratic Party candidates are now “seeing the progress” in Iraq. Check out their post here.

bio of jkgAs I wrote in a comment over there, the real story is best clarified via the late, great John Kenneth Galbraith’s under-appreciated book, The Culture of Contentment, in which Galbraith explains the actual roles and methods of the two wings (Republicans and Democrats) of the Business Party that runs our state on behalf of corporate capital. As Galbraith argues, the Republicans are actually a far superior political party, judged in terms of honesty about stated goals and actual behavior.

Here’s what I wrote over at LeftI, with Galbraith in mind:

Excellent analysis [of the “seeing progress” news]! And it confirms something that the sea of confused liberals (for whom I have much sympathy) have spent 6 years missing: Our system works very well at achieving its clear #1 priority, which is serving the corporate overclass. Analyzed correctly, Cheney is one of history’s best politicians, a true hero for his constituents. He got elected behind the “compassionate conservative” Monkey-Man and then quickly proceeded to do what it took to stick a permanent U.S. military base in the ME, with (at least possibly) a new sweetheart deal providing special control over the largest untapped oil reserve in the region.

And, truth be told, the Democratic Party, having finished jettisoning popular constituencies under Killiam Klinton back in the 1990s, accepts and will preserve this huge victory for the corporate class, from which it draws its advertising budget in exchange for preserving the illusion that corporate capitalism is at all compatible with civilization and human decency.

Of course, Peak Oil and the final round of poker in our winners-took-all pseudo-economy may soon cause the Money Holders some grief in other ways, but Cheney has simply delivered the goods, and the mighty Dems are now ready to step in and drape it all in a show of reluctance and embattled principles…

The role of the “New Democrats” is, as it always has been, now (after the new increase in overclass power) to run a new kind of political marketing over the top of the new corporate victories. “We would love to leave Iraq completely, but how can we, since they continue to kill one another? We must uphold our humanitarian values!” Nobody seriously believes either Monkey-Man or Cheney knows what a non-financial value is, let alone cares.

a friend of the war criminalsBut Killary Klinton has just the right credentials to sell this soap for 4 or 8 years. Plus, she’s a girl, and we all know girls are born to care!

P.S. Note how Killary packages herself as a tough-ass Tomgirl — the boy’s dress-shirt, the lezzish hairdo! — when she visits the troops. This is only natural since both she and her “husband” Killiam are 100% given to the methods and principles of modern marketing, as handled by the “consultants” they have at elbow 24/7.

If you listen, you’ll be able to hear dear Killary’s “hearty laugh” as she reaps your vote next November.

Unilever Runs on Lies

Unilever, the multinational mega-corporation that markets the utterly horrendous, unneeded, and wasteful Axe Body Spray, is under attack from feminists and parents. Seems that, at the same time it’s peddling Axe via waves of super-sexist mind-conditioning campaigns targeted at teenage boys, it’s also trying to curry favor with women and girls by running “viral” marketing videos suggesting Unilever favors mass appreciation of “real beauty,” a.k.a. females who are sane enough to found their self-esteem on something more substantial than how closely they resemble the “aspirational” super-models and man-chasing bimbos portrayed in most corporate advertisements and commercial media.

Caught playing it both ways, Unilever made this statement:

The Axe campaign is a spoof of ‘the mating game’ and men’s desire to get noticed by women and not meant to be taken literally.

This is the most howling of lies, the exact diametrical opposite of the truth, which is that Axe’s entire “brand strategy” is to further commodify teenage boys’ self-interpretation by training them to think that using Axe will raise their chances of getting into girls’ (a.k.a. dimwitted vagina-bearers’) pants. By thus worsening the already awful post-feminist, Britney-Lindsay-Paris-and-Hillary Duff ideological climate, Unilever is selling perfume to boys, who would obviously laugh in your face if you tried an honest approach.

Unilever is not unique, of course. Studied, systematic, multi-layered dishonesty is absolutely essential to all big business marketing. If you bother to look, you see that the art and science of is now the rapidly-expanding stock-in-trade of big business marketers everywhere.

BBM Asshole: Chuck Brymer

chuckie on the loose Introducing BBM Asshole #2: Chuck Brymer, President and CEO of multinational advertising agency DDB Worldwide.

Chuckie won his new mega-overpaid job atop DDB by promoting “swarm theory,” a new concept by which big business marketers are trying to get “consumers” to glom onto their products like “flocks of birds and schools of fish.” (To marketing planners, “consumers” are always some kind of animal — frogs, mice, dogs, monkeys, fish, birds.)

Planning ways to add new layers of behavioral control to the already stunningly expensive and ubiquitous BBM juggernaut is, of course, a logical part of corporate capitalism. As I explain in The Consumer Trap, big business normalcy generates a constantly growing marketing race between its constituent firms/unaccountable private tyrannies.

Brymer’s “swarm” marketing strategy, for which he is now being promoted and rewarded, is to go beyond merely configuring “consumer” environments to profitably reshape “consumer behavior.” Now, Brymer is teaching the overclass how to use things like Facebook, Myspace, and the booming field of “word-of-mouth marketing” to make people themselves into marketing vectors. In other words, the concept is to get the lab mice to apply the chosen stimuli amongst themselves, rather than merely relying on the indirect method of controlling mazes and levers and chemical implants.

Brymer explains this neo-Orwellian move to Advertising Age:

“I increasingly see people as media.”

BBM Asshole.

BBM Asshole: Roger Black

Tonight, I launch a new CT feature: the BBM [Big Business Marketing] Asshole List. When I come across words or actions from a corporate marketing practitioner that tips the hand of the system with particular clarity and power, the asshole in question will appear here to collect their glory. (Nominees from readers very welcome!)

The very first BBM Asshole enshrinement goes to ad designer Roger Black. the blackmeister

The esteemed Mr. Black enunciates the mind of corporate capital regarding something the public utterly hates and would sharply reverse, if it had any access to the decisions driving it: the increasing advertising clutter that emanates from big business normalcy.

“It’s like noise on the streets of Manhattan,” Black tells Advertising Age about the problem of “consumers” becoming desensitized by ever-exploding ad clutter.

“You [here, Black means citizens, not corporate shills such as himself] just get used to it, in which case you [and here he means corporate shills such as himself] just have to make it noisier.”

BBM Asshole.