The Work of the Eardrum Managers

Orwell image

How do the agents of big business marketing who manage enterprises in the realm of audio broadcasting view their customers? Like all corporate marketers: as animals to be controlled on behalf of profit-seeking sponsors.

What, in the audio-commodity endeavor, is the experience their wares are designed to mimic? What is the lure?

“We’re companionship,” Robert Pittman, CEO of iHeartRadio, tells Advertising Age.

Big Brother, as always, would be purple with jealousy. Corporate radio and the headphone/earbud life are now passing as togetherness.

Farewell to an Empty Soul

Lee Clow image Very sorry, but TCT just has to ask it: At what point did he drop the “n”?

The marketing press just now is abuzz over the retirement of Lee Clow, the Chiat/Day agency bigwig whom Advertising Age breathlessly describes as “the creative mind behind ads like Apple’s ‘Think Different’ and Adidas’ ‘Impossible is Nothing.'”

Marketing honchos provide an interesting window into the psychopathology of excessive privilege. Having spent their years creating particularly shameless forms of propaganda, they are usually, upon such occasions, extra loquacious about their own endeavors.

To celebrate his own retirement, Mr. Clow, who obviously fancies himself something of a hippie/rebel, has released a “love letter to advertising.”

What’s in it? Apart from triteness and narcissism, very, very little.

Fascinating, meanwhile, that the big farewell of a supposedly major brain who retires the same week as scientists warn about the impending extinction of all insect life on Earth has nothing to say about the various wider effects of an industry that exists to “make people…maybe even buy something.”

History, should we figure out how to continue it, is very unlikely to smile upon the solipsism of such multi-millionaire clowns.

Meanwhile, it would be interesting if we were somehow able to debate how much creativity really went into “Think Different” and “Impossible is Nothing.” Doesn’t seem all that impressive, does it?

Hicksie-Palooza

The Super Bowl’s extra-lucrative marketing flow always lures forth some deserving new recipients of the much-uncoveted Golden Hicksie.

2019 will apparently be no disappointment.

Behold the forthcoming SB ad for one of AnheuserBuschInBev‘s wares:

Could anybody cram more iconic mediocrities into one small frame? Jeff Bridges and Sarah-Jessica Parker? The Coen Brothers? The post-feminism of Sex Man-Chasing in the City? The sleep-inducing bore who is the Big Little Lebowski? Stella Artois beer?

Golden Hicksies all around! Shame on all these rich, over-rated people and things. May Bill Hicks’ immortal words haunt your nightly dreams.

Progress at The Baffler

snake image The Baffler, as evidenced by its very title, has generally promoted the Frankfurt School’s haughtily flippant approach to issues of so-called “consumption.” The core premise of this now-classic analytic style is the hypothesis that corporate capitalism’s ever-expanding commodity galaxy has, by establishing something called “consumerism” or “consumer culture,” made us all equal and all insane.

In his hugely influential and immensely over-rated 1964 book, One-Dimensional Man, Herbert Marcuse set the basic terms of this particular escape from realism. Here is the core presumption of modern “consumption studies,” the foundational axiom I think of as “Marcuse’s Big If”:

If the worker and his boss enjoy the same television program and visit the same resort places, if the typist is as attractively made up as the daughter of her employer, if the Negro owns a Cadillac, if they all read the same newspaper, then this assimilation indicates not the disappearance of classes, but the extent to which the needs and satisfactions that serve the preservation of the Establishment are shared by the underlying population.

By treating this always-preposterous “if” as an established fact, the task for the would-be anti-consumerist expositor becomes not explaining how the sphere of product design and product use works, but rather pointing out how crazy people are for participating in prevailing “consumer” activities.

I mention all this because The Baffler has just published a very useful essay that goes some distance toward breaking away from Frankfurtian “consumer studies” tail-chasing. Though he still uses the word “consumer” too blithely, Alex Pereene, the essay’s author, points out that, when it comes down to it, there has been a general failure among supposed experts “to account for the social and psychological context of consumer spending.”

Bingo.

Pareene adds that, while everybody keeps promoting and swallowing Marcuse’s If, the reality is that ordinary people are made to “settle for LCD TVs as a new generation of robber barons shot cars into space because they couldn’t figure out what else to do with the staggering amount of money they have.”

Well said, Baffler, and may you continue to get less baffled and baffling.

Surveillance Capitalism?

In her new book, Shoshanna Zuboff argues that, in order to be realistic, “it is necessary to distinguish between capitalism and surveillance capitalism.”

Surveillance capitalism, she says, is a new kind of power structure, resulting from an elite coup d’etat against regular-old corporate capitalism.  Here is how Zuboff defines the break:

When a firm collects behavioral data with permission and solely as a means to service or product improvement, it is committing capitalism, but not surveillance capitalism.

The question this raises is when it was that major businesses started collecting behavioral data without permission in order to do something other than objectively improve their products.

The answer, of course, is: Exactly as soon as they could — meaning a long time before the AMGAF (Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook) complex came into existence.

By 1923, Frederick Winslow Taylor‘s acolytes were giving corporate planners lectures on the need to apply Taylor’s methods to the task of “sales engineering.”

According to corporate management’s at-the-time self-reporting, by the 1950s, the idea had reached fruition, triggering what is now known, in standard business history, as the “marketing revolution.”

The engine of that revolution? Boilerplate corporate capitalism, a.k.a. profit-seeking under the new-and-improved, entirely normal-capitalist conditions made possible by the Corporate Revolution of the 1880s.

Both ever-expanding data scraping and treatment of products as sales-maximizing, behavior-conditioning stimuli were elementary marketing priorities from Day One of the Marketing Era. Both pre-date, clearly and massively, the inevitable emergence of AMGAF.

Funny, then, that in this book’s 531 pages, Zuboff does not discuss big business marketing! I mean, the word “marketing” does not appear in the book’s index!

Hence, despite the many useful arguments and facts Zuboff provides in this work, the thing is a giant red herring, an effort to make hair-splitting look like brain surgery.

Big business marketing is really a rather amazing institution. The main engine of national and global culture and a plain and direct outgrowth of our socio-economic order, it is somehow so ideologically well-insulated that almost nobody can bring themselves to mention, let alone analyze, it.