Production is the Issue

Like the book from which it springs, this blog is called “The Consumer Trap.” By this phrase, I mean several things at once. Corporate capitalism is, I contend, a giant historic trap. That is the deepest claim.

But I also mean to protest against the foolish Frankfurt School suggestion that, under our epoch’s over-productive economy, the main strategic locus of politics and society somehow shifted from the boardroom to the bedroom — that we are somehow in an era in which “consumption” (meaning the ways we acquire and use commercial products) is the great question of our age.

This is a rather dull reaction to actual institutions and affairs. Our problem is no less one of macro-choice and investment (aka production) than it ever was. A sea of stuff, non-stop corporate entertainment, and increasingly commercialized off-the-job habits are all trends that emanate from elite dictation, not popular preference. But that is news to Herb Marcuse, who argued the opposite (without ever actually looking).

All of which brings me to this photograph:

That is the back of last night’s pizza box. It is one example of what’s wrong with talking about “consumption.” The manufacturer of this box is, no doubt, one or another major timber-and-paper conglomerate. That entity is certainly all too aware that greasy food containers DO NOT recycle. Yet, as we see here, that knowledge doesn’t lead to retraction of this dishonest little message. Why miss a chance to suppress and combat your customers’ actual concerns?

Corporate product producers are always biased in favor of lying and tricking and cheating to achieve their aims. Until we get back to studying how and why this happens, we will continue to chase our own tails in circles.

What “Consumerism” Denies

Almost all who favor taking conservative action to prevent existential catastrophe nevertheless accede to the allied ideas that “consumer” is a valid word for product-users and that we live in a “consumer culture” governed by “consumerism.”

This concession is itself pretty catastrophic, as we here at TCT have been trying to point out for fifteen years now.

Want an illustration?  Consider this graphic:

survey results image

Now, try to explain the reality shown there in terms of “consumerism” and “consumer culture.”  You can’t, because the facts in question utterly contradict those very concepts.

Trouble in the Ministry of Truth

Big Brother poster Apple has touched off a pretty major row in the halls of marketing. Apparently, the next version of its Safari browser will restrict the creation and retention of “cookies,” which are little computer codes that allow big businesses to collect increasingly rich data, without acknowledgement or permission, on internet users. Why Apple is expressing this glint of conscience is an interesting question. Far more interesting and important, though, is what the now-brewing fight confirms about the nature of big business marketing.

Corporate marketing is scientific management of off-the-job behavior. Advertising, a subordinate phase in that endeavor, is lying for money.

If you doubt that, take a look at the big advertising trade groups’ “Open Letter” to Apple. Here’s the operative paragraph:

Apple’s unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love. Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful. Put simply, machine-driven cookie choices do not represent user choice; they represent browser-manufacturer choice. As organizations devoted to innovation and growth in the consumer economy, we will actively oppose any actions like this by companies that harm consumers by distorting the digital advertising ecosystem and undermining its operations.

Let’s translate this passage from marketing-speak into truth, shall we?:

Apple’s unilateral and heavy-handed independent approach is bad for reflective of consumer* choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love tolerate. Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful it harder for corporations to harvest the data they need to keep manipulating people’s “free time” experiences. Put simply, Apple’s proposed machine-driven cookie choices do not represent user choice marketers’ existing dictates; they represent browser-manufacturer choice internet users’ clear, strongly-held preferences and best interests. As organizations devoted to innovation and growth in the consumer economy micro-managing off-the-job behavior on behalf of the corporate overclass, we will actively oppose any actions like this by companies that harm consumers corporate investors by distorting the digital advertising ecosystem and undermining its operations.

*Advertisers’ Thought Bubble: Ain’t it a great scam that we still get away with calling people “consumers”?

Not Robots

“The American Dream” trope exists to implant the notion that this is a unique nation that is uniquely dedicated to the greatest happiness of all its residents. That claim is pure rubbish.

Yet, it turns out that when people are asked what they want “the American Dream” to mean, the clear majority give rather decent answers:

dream

Of course, the actual society, being rigidly dedicated to making the rich ever richer, is dreadful at fulfilling these majority desires. But more proof that the commoners aren’t the dolts so many greens and lefties assume.

I’ll Take That Bet

JulesPolonetsky Jules Polonetsky is executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum, an industry-supported privacy group whose supporters include Acxiom, Facebook and Mastercard Worldwide.

It’s a group that exists, in other words, to make sure PR heads off actual laws.

Here’s what Don Quixote Polonetsky promises his fair Dulcinea, per Advertising Age:

[T]he Future of Privacy Forum worked with U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, and leading mobile location analytics companies to develop a code of conduct that encourages responsible use of in-store technology to improve the shopping experience [TCT: ROFL!] while respecting user privacy. This code can be [TCT: How?] enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, and provides strong [TCT: ROFL again] requirements:

Ensure consumers are not personally identified unless they expressly consent

Create a central Do Not Track site where consumers can permanently opt-out if they wish

Post conspicuous signage in bricks-and-mortar locations so consumers are aware of the use of location technology

These technologies offer some exciting opportunities to maximize convenience for consumers and to help them get the best prices. They all rely on using mobile data in new ways, and all can raise concerns if not handled properly.

Stores are faced with a choice: They can keep quiet about these new technologies while implementing minimal privacy protections, or they can be up-front and conspicuous about how mobile data is being used and proactively define its tangible benefits to consumers. The former risks alienating consumers, while the latter gives retailers the opportunity to build their brand, trust, and deepen relationships with customers.

Golly, I wonder which route “stores” will take…

Meanwhile, notice what is really being suppressed here either way — the public will. Even if all “stores” were to adopt Polo’s code, is there any doubt that a huge swath of shoppers would end up getting duped into allowing the supposedly “good” things proposed by this front group?