Ralph Nader has a new interview with Advertising Age. [It may be pay-walled, so TCT refrains from linking; you can find it.]
In the interview, Mr. Nader muses on “advertising inefficacy.” Commenting on the timeless fact that marketing remains something far less efficient than computer programming and that marketers are never sure which parts of their efforts are the ones that produce behavioral changes, Nader is apparently trying the tack of taking all this as proof that advertising is entirely ineffective, a mere vehicle for “misbehavior” by those who plan and sell it.
Nader’s underlying theory seems to be that, if he can only implant the news that advertising is a pointless waste, then TPTB will move against its ever-increasing importance in our lives. Here is Nader’s explanation of his motive:
“The more attention paid to advertising inefficacy, the more the FTC is going to wake up, and the more they wake up, the more Congress may wake up.”
If we really want to address the galloping commercialization and commodification of our world, we can’t indulge cavalier opportunism, no matter how venerable the source. Delusion will get us nowhere. We need to describe reality if we want to exert some reasonable control over it. We are up against deep — and deeply logical — institutions. They will not yield to frippery.
Over at CounterPunch, Ralph Nader, he of the macabre number-fudge, turns his attention to advertising. His findings?
1) Advertising really doesn’t work:
Ask yourself when was the last time you saw any of those tiny ads on Google and Facebook and rushed to buy the products or services. For that matter, ask yourself whether any radio or television advertisements prompted you to go out and buy the product. Sure the newspaper ads announcing short-term sales for clothes or household goods may get you to the market, along with the supermarket specials for foodstuffs. But generally speaking, you must wonder what the business community gets for its tens of billions of dollars annually pouring out of their advertising budgets. I can almost hear the chuckles from Madison Avenue reacting to this skepticism about whether ads are worth their price. Such doubts are almost never publically [sic] discussed.
2) Consumer Reports is a rational form of resistance to marketing:
There is one organization that doesn’t lose any sleep over the question: “do advertising dollars work or are they largely wasted?” Consumers Union, through its monthly magazine Consumer Reports and its website services, gives you just the facts derived from its wide ranging honest testing programs. With over five million magazine print subscribers and three million online subscribers, more and more Americans are getting it the rational way. By the way, Consumer Reports has never carried advertising in its seventy-five year history.
That first argument is simply lazy and uninformed.
As for Consumer Reports, however useful it may be in a narrow sense, it is what it is — a magazine that blithely, if not gleefully, recommends corporate products, with zero criticism of whether we ought to be shopping for things like automobiles at this point in human history and zero coverage of political and macro-economic alternatives to corporate commodification.
We TCTers might also note the typical swallowing and normalizing of the “consumer” insult. Both “Consumers Union” and Mr. Nader continue to use “consumer” as a natural and even empowering label for product-users, again without the smallest hint that such a choice might be doing a piece of Big Business’s work for it.
When Ralph Nader steps in, it’s a sure sign it’s too little, too late. Hence, Nader is now trying to save the United States Postal Service by more of his trademark narrow special pleading.
Problem? The USPS was mortally wounded in 1967, when it had to stop opening savings accounts due to government restriction of both the size of deposits and its ability to pay interest rates competitive with those then offered by private banks. A second severe blow came in 1971, when Nixon pushed it to the very edge of the public sector in retaliation for a postal union strike. Eleven years later, the death-blow was delivered — of course — by the Reagan Administration, which ended meaningful public subsidy and required the post office to survive by selling its own “postal products,” which — also of course — were not to include things like savings accounts or insurance policies or anything else that might compete with the so-called private sector, despite the common practices of the rest of the supposedly free world.
More recently, mainstream politics have further strangled the USPS, including by the method about which Nader now complains, the amazing requirement that the USPS pre-pay its workers’ pensions to the government.
Why do I mention all this, apart from its obvious relevance to the TCT theme of the private sector’s reliance on the maiming of public-sector competition? (How attractive would a USPS savings account paying even the measly 2% rate that killed the practice back in the 1960s look in our age?) The answer can be seen here, at Deliver magazine.
What is Deliver? Published by the USPS,
Deliver magazine, is [a] resource for mail marketing strategies brought to you by the United States Postal Service.® What We Do: Deliver magazine arms marketers with research, news and commentary impacting their industry.
That’s right. Deliver magazine is a public-sector enterprise that advises capitalists on how to prepare and send junk mail! Now, there’s an activity that doesn’t need to be regulated by the supposed representatives of the people!
Go take a look at Deliver‘s website. There, you will discover such shining examples of the public spirit in action as this piece, “Power in the Mailbox”, by spammer-marketer Steve Cuno (who also happens to post apologies for his trade at randi.org, where they hold to the view that capitalism is rational and honest):
Time for a disclaimer before I proceed. I’m not attacking e-mail marketing. I shall contrast it with direct mail only to bring out some of the latter’s advantages. E-mail has advantages, too, but that’s another column for another day.
A number of unique factors work in direct mail’s favor. One is what your English literature teacher called “willing suspension of disbelief,” our ability to set aside reality and lose ourselves in a story. When a direct mail letter shows up in a personally addressed, stamped envelope, part of us wants to believe that someone took a moment to compose, print, address and post it, just for us. All the better if the letter calls us by name and bears a signature in fountain pen–evoking blue. A good writer can make an e-mail blast sound personal, but there is no electronic substitute for the look and feel of a signed letter in a stamped, addressed envelope.
Willing suspension of disbelief knows no demographic limitations. Consider my publisher friend. A technologically savvy marketing insider, she knows my shop, understands digital printing, publishes my articles and, on occasion, pops for lunch. Had she paused to analyze, she would easily have seen that the letter in her hand was direct mail. But — and this is the point — she chose not to pause and analyze. Nor did other recipients. Remember, these were high-balance customers, not exactly the intellectual dregs of society. Of those who replied, 80 percent willingly suspended their disbelief and thanked the bank president for writing them.
The near-overnight appearance of spam laws and filters provides another. No sooner had e-mail blasts arrived than the public demanded laws restricting them, servers blocking them, and junk filters dispatching them.
By contrast, laws governing physical mail are far less restrictive, despite more than 200 years of opportunity to enact them — and for good reason.
Yes, in America, we don’t regulate the mail. We merely cripple and prostitute its deliverer.
We face a choice between radical transportation reform/urban reconstruction and Carmageddon.
For those who are tempted to inhale the smoke being blown about ignoring this choice and merely rallying ourselves to demand cheaper prices at the pump, here’s a thought:
It is far from clear that cheaper oil is even possible. Not all speculation is irrational. Even a nationalized energy industry would probably be buying and stockpiling oil now at high prices, based on the likelihood that future prices will be even higher, due to booming global demand and peaking supplies — neither of which even the most rational cheap gas organizers (like Ralph Nader) usually mention.
This is not the 1970s any more. The trouble is much deeper this time.
I’m sorry, but that’s demagogic, misleading balderdash. The price of oil is but a symptom of the real problem, which is the intractable addiction of our corporate capitalist overclass to peddling automobiles. Corporate capitalism means autos-über-alles, which means we will remain chained to increasingly expensive petroleum, the supply of which has recently passed its peak.
It saddens me to see Nader failing to live up to what is perhaps the greatest challenge of our times. Just when we need his help in trying to open U.S. transportation policy to democratic scrutiny and control, he chooses instead to imply that, if we’d just picket a few bad apples, everything would return to the cheap-gas good old days.
Of course, this failure has deep roots in Nader’s work. Take the case of Unsafe at Any Speed, the book that launched him to his well-deserved fame.
The book starts with Nader spotting a telling contradiction:
For over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury, and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people….Unlike aviation, marine, or rail transportation, the highway system can inflict tremendous casualties and property damage without in the least affecting the viability of the system. Plane crashes, for example, jeopardize the attraction of flying for potential passengers and therefore strike at the heart of the air transport economy….The situation is different on the roads.
Something quite deep must keep cars from being scandalized, right?. After all, Nader observes, if one is objective about it, “[t]he automobile tragedy is one of the most serious of these man-made assaults on the human body.”
And at the outset of Unsafe, Nader seems poised to name and explain that deep something:
A great problem of contemporary life is how to control the power of economic interests which ignore the harmful effects of their applied science and technology.
What could “the power of economic interests” be other than corporate capitalism?
Yet, despite these bold opening statements, Unsafe at Any Speed never came close to connecting the required dots. After his introduction, Nader proceeded to present 298 pages of very detailed evidence that car-making corporations most definitely do not put human safety first in designing and selling their products. But, despite his own seeming recognition of the need to do so, nowhere in Unsafe does Nader relate the scandalous engineering decisions he documents to the ordinary business motives and imperatives of corporate investors. “Capitalism,” “class,” “investment,” “investors,” “profit,” “rich,” “wealthy” – none of these words appeared in the book’s index, and none were major conceptual elements of Nader’s renowned exposé.
Without a coherent explanation of corporate capitalism, however, Nader’s book, despite its shocking revelations, yielded a rather picayune understanding of both the depth of “the automobile tragedy” and the politics of its possible remedies.
Consider, for instance the way Nader finished this sentence:
“[T]he public has never been supplied the information nor offered the quality of competition to enable it to make effective demands through the marketplace and through government for…”
For…what? Nader did not call for a safe, non-polluting, and efficient transportation system. Instead, here’s all Nader put after that momentous “for”:
a safe, non-polluting and efficient automobile that can be produced economically.
Thus, the man who called autos-über-alles “one of the most serious of these man-made assaults on the human body” ended up limiting himself to asking for better cars!
But could any conceivable autos-über-alles system ever really be “safe, non-polluting, and efficient”? Are better cars or cheaper gas really enough to solve our mounting problems? Can anybody really understand “why the automobile has remained the only transportation vehicle to escape being called to meaningful public account” and why “America is addicted to oil” without understanding the capitalist interests and imperatives involved? I think not.
Ralph, with all due respect, it’s high time to move your thinking into the twenty-first century. We
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