Kleenex Expressions & the Depravity of Capitalism

The United States lacks national health insurance, universally good and equal schools, a sustainable transportation system, and a government that responds to popular wishes.

The whole human race suffers from mass poverty, illiteracy, looming unaddressed environmental and energy crises, a severe paucity of trans-national democracy, and still-proliferating weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, how are the good folks over at Kimberly-Clark, one of the original U.S. mega-corporations, directing their firm’s entrepreneurial spirit? How are they allocating the reinvested portion, whatever it is, of the $16.7 billion in book profits K-C reaped in 2006?

Here you go:

another capitalist technological breakthrough! It’s “Kleenex Expressions” folks!

This, you see, is the latest manifestation of K-C’s ongoing efforts to do — what? To “leverage the strong emotional bond forged by K-C’s trusted brands,” in order to “transform insights and technologies into innovative, proprietary and profitable solutions that deliver superior returns to our shareholders.”

Now, you might think the scandal here is old and confined to the shocking waste of human and natural resources — as Helen Caldicott says, “Kleenex” (long a synonym for all paper mose-blowing tissues) is founded on the K-C-cultivated false claim that cloth handerkerchiefs are unsanitary — inherent in corporate capitalists’ long-running efforts to peddle egregious junk like paper tissues.

But that’s only part of the story. The rest of it has to do with the criminal wastefulness that routinely occurs via the BBM sub-discipline of “product management.”

As I explain in The Consumer Trap book, product management is the art and science of viewing the end commodity itself as a bundle of marketing stimuli, as a collection of spurs to profitable “consumer” behavior. In PM, first you run a focus group to discover the weaknesses and irrationalities that exist in the “target” audience of potential buyers. Then, you build a production line to manufacture objects to convert those weaknesses and irrationalities into corporate cash flows. The ecological and financial costs of the process to the end-users and the human race? Ought these to trouble us, since they increase our profits?”

So, here’s how Advertising Age reports on K-C’s latest PM endeavors:

Tony Palmer, CMO of Kimberly-Clark, at Ad Age’s Media Mavens event last week, answering a question about what he would like for Christmas. Mr. Palmer made it clear that he thinks marketers need agency partners that let ideas and consumer insights drive channel choices — rather than their existing departmental structures and revenue requirements. And he doesn’t think the industry is there yet, not by a long shot.

Mr. Palmer might sound like one of those change-agent types, but in the style of a good old-fashioned marketing man, he sat on stage and later wandered the halls of the Hilton proudly brandishing a box of his company’s Kleenex.

Or perhaps I should say an oval of Kleenex, for these were K-C’s “Expressions” in their tony, trademarked, almond-shaped container.

The oval might not sound like a big wow, but it was a significant innovation in the category. The move was designed to attract younger, design-conscious consumers who didn’t like having the old rectangular box sitting on their Kohler commodes. Reports suggest the boxes have been best-sellers and spurred some growth in a stagnant category.

But, as Mr. Palmer pointed out, they didn’t happen without ripping up existing processes, changing people’s job functions and investing heavily in a whole new production line. (Ad Age, December 3, 2007)

Beyond funding overclass financial speculation, offshore bank accounts, and third homes, this is how corporate capitalism now works. It picks the subconsciouses of deluded hipsters to “create” next-generation iterations of products that simply should not (and, under economic democracy would not) exist.  Such lovely stuff is what new factories get built for.  Not for feeding or housing the poor.  Not for restoring and modernizing the railroads.  Not for making parts for new schools.  Yes for “Hip Chick” Kleenexes.

Caligula and Nero were amateurs compared to this system’s murderous decrepitude.

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