Capitalism does a few things well. Cheapening and distributing portable camera technology is one such thing. Using my camera phone, I snapped this one at a Target store this weekend:
This “limitless choices” claim, of course, is U.S. corporate capitalism’s version of the cruel slogans the Nazis hung over the gates of their domestic death-camps. The only difference is that our underlying population believes the slogans.
This is tragic, since one thing that is distinctly untrue about corporate capitalism in the United States is that it is a system that provides “limitless choices.” On the contrary, it is utterly dependent upon the careful policing of the realm of collective, political, macro-level choices. From transportation to education to war to the ability to launch public enterprises, the general population is VERBOTEN from meaningful participation in setting priorities and policies.
And, even at the vaunted micro level of personal shopping choices, big business marketing is a trillion-plus-dollars-a-year juggernaut, the sole purpose of which is to manipulate and addle “consumer behavior” in favor of corporate requirements.
In America, you can choose from a huge array of blue jeans, but, barring a revolution, you cannot hope to alter the murderous and suicidal path of your own nation’s normal development.
People are simply getting too fat for the existing rides, including the now satirically named “It’s a Small World”:
“Forty-one years after the whimsical ride debuted at the Anaheim park, Disneyland plans to shutter the attraction in January to give it a much-needed face-lift — and deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.
“Heavier-than-anticipated loads have been causing the boats to come to a standstill in two different spots, allowing for an extra-long gander at the Canadian Mounties and the Scandinavian geese, said Al Lutz, whose website MiceAge first reported the refurbishment plans.
“Disneyland is well aware of America’s expanding waistlines.
“In recent years, the park has redesigned many of its costumes and started stocking them in larger sizes to accommodate ever-expanding waistlines. Adult men and women are about 25 pounds heavier than they were in 1960, and 65% are considered overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The average weight for men jumped from 166 pounds in 1960 to 191 pounds in 2002; women average 164 pounds instead of 140.
“Of course, this is a world of fantasy and the perfect place to forget about that diet for a few hours. So when somebody gets booted from the boat, Lutz said, Disneyland ride operators make sure the guests don’t leave disappointed: They hand them a food ticket.”
As I explain in my book, as the system churns on, its normal operation compels all big businesses to extend and refine their marketing operations, which are neither more nor less than history’s most detailed and expensive behavioral-control campaigns.
As this generates an expanding marketing race, it increasingly commercializes and commodifies off-the-job life. Along the way, less capitalist-friendly practices and products give way to more capitalist ones.
One of corporate capitalism’s ultimate (and hence most important) products is soda pop: It preys upon human weaknesses for sugar and caffeine and sensory titillation. It is impossible to make at home or obtain for free. It is mildly addictive. It is highly packagable and marketable.
Soda pop has roughly 150 empty calories per 12-oz serving. In 1900, Americans drank the equivalent of 12 12-oz cans of soda per capita annually. In 1929, they drank 26 cans per person per year. 1949 = 158; 1957 = 200. In 2004? 535 cans of pop per person per year! Soda now far surpasses water as the #1 thing Americans drink. Between 1980 and 2005, its per capita ingestion in the United States increased every single year!
[An Aside: People in the mass media often puzzle over why French people are not as fat as Americans. Is it drinking wine? French mystique? A secret epidemic of French bulimia? Hell, no! It’s the cars and the soda pop, i.e. the unrestricted capitalism, stupid! The French have the Paris Metro and the TGVs and a forest of bikeable and walkable cities. And what was France’s 2004 per capita ingestion of soda pop? Just over 100 cans per person, about 1/5 of the U.S. rate. 400 cans of soda-pop, the number Americans drink over each year and above the French average, contain 60,000 calories. Q.E.D.]
As I like to say, the degree of control our ruling class has over us underlings would make Joseph Stalin purple with jealousy. We in America just simply live under market totalitarianism. Our habits are approaching complete commodification, with outcomes that deserve serious consideration by anybody wondering what kind of basis money makes for a purported civilization…
Tivo, the increasingly popular programmable television recorder, has just launched Tivo Stop||Watch. This is a new spying service that will allow its corporate subscribers to know in fine demographic detail exactly who is watching what shows and ads, on a second-by-second basis. Tivo promises its corporate clients: “TiVo enables clients to track not only when a specific spot was viewed, but also whether variances in ad exposure can be correlated with changes in all kinds of consumption behavior….By observing variances in ratings based on these variables, it is possible to clearly determine how each influenced the effectiveness of the campaign and optimize the future return on similar investments.”
None of this, of course, is disclosed to the users of Tivo boxes. That would spur avoidance and resistance, and is utterly forbidden.
Remember this completely logical and predictable and normal development the next time you hear the phrase “the free market.” Cats everywhere are laughing their asses off.
Big business marketing is an extension of scientific management, a.k.a. “Taylorism,” into the realm of off-the-job activities. Due to the success of corporate capitalism at its cardinal function — maximizing property and upper-management incomes — big business marketing also has to work harder and bigger with each passing year, in order to find and “convert” more customers. It is a virulent social cancer, in other words.
The latest metastasis is called “shopper marketing.”
This is the use of hidden cameras, infrared scanners, RFID-tagged shopping carts, and other sensors to do to in-store shoppers what Taylor did to in-factory workers: careful recording and study of profit-related human behaviors:
“Shopper marketing” is now the fastest growing component of corporate salesmanship. It is described by Evan Schuman:
The main objective of all of this, however, has little to do with IT and everything to do with Marketing. From a publishing advertising perspective, Web sites have a wide range of metrics (pageviews, click-throughs, exit- and entry-pages, etc.), print publishers have focus group-like surveys (Starch, among others) and television has Nielsen and other ratings. But among the biggest sellers of advertisements in the world are retail chains. Every promo that is placed in an aisle, every display, every premium product placement, these all generate substantial revenue for retailers and yet there are virtually no ways for retailers or consumer goods manufacturers to know how many eyeballs they are getting for any placement in any aisle. The retailers involved were quick to applaud the effort. Stephen Quinn, senior vice president of marketing, Wal-Mart, issued a statement that the effort was a good first step. “This study has tremendous importance for retailers,” Quinn said. “Informed by the sophisticated data that this new metric will provide, retailers, for the very first time, now can consider new store layouts and product adjacencies to create an in-store experience that is more relevant, and thus, even more satisfying.” A big part of the number-crunching for this trial involves matching the data collected in the aisles with POS checkout figures. Although Hoyt get into the details of the POS data is integrated with the aisle-counter data, it will deliver a ratio of “the number of eyeballs that went by a particular promotion” versus “the number of purchases of products from that aisle.” As promotions are added, removed and changed, retailers and manufacturers would theoretically be able to see how those ratios change. Hoyt said that the number and position of the infrared sensors can help isolate particular segments or brands. “You have to frame an area,” he said. “A sensor at one end of the aisle would be able to track the traffic for that entire aisle” but additional sensors could track just, for example, Band-Aids. The ability for this group to be able to announce so many major players is crucial as this effort will ultimately have little value if it’s not widely—or even universally—accepted. “Our objective is to deliver a metric that will become an industry standard,” Hoyt said. “For retailers, the big ‘Aha’ has everything to do with finally be able to understand where (consumers) go and how they move throughout the stores. This will help us determine better adjacencies.” Procter & Gamble is identified as the study’s presenting sponsor, 3M, Coca-Cola, Walt Disney, Kellogg’s and Miller Brewing are listed as co-sponsors while “supporting retailers” are Albertsons, Kroger, Walgreens and Wal-Mart (the release even listed the retailers alphabetically. Sorry, Wal-Mart). One key marketing point of the group is that “this metric can forecast traffic and unduplicated impressions with a very high degree of accuracy” and that “accurate chain-wide projections are possible by suing this metric and data from a limited samples of stores.” The group’s analytical package is called PRISM, standing for “Pioneering Research for an In-Store Metric.”
Advertising Age, on whose subscriber website articles on the topic are presently the top two most-emailed items, reports further:
Senior executives from the world’s biggest advertiser, biggest retailer and biggest media-buying agency turned up at the In-Store Marketing Expo in Chicago last week to tout a new way of measuring shopper marketing by the world’s biggest research firm, Nielsen Co. It was just one more milestone for shopper marketing, which is growing faster than internet advertising — doubling since 2004 and on pace for a compound annual growth rate of 21% through 2010, according to a draft study by Deloitte from the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “Shopper marketing is a new medium as important as the internet, mobile or gaming,” declared Starcom MediaVest Group North America CEO Renetta McCann at the announcement of pilot results using Nielsen In-Store’s Prism initiative, essentially a ratings system for in-store media and marketing that measures reach and frequency similar to TV. “It’s a brand-new ballgame, and we’re all in.” The Pioneering Research for an In-Store Metric initiative uses a combination of electronic eyes and human counters to track how many people travel down each aisle in 160 stores representing about 60% of package-goods retail volume to date. Prism also measures what percentage of people who shop in an aisle actually buy something there. It’s the crowning achievement so far of Nielsen CEO David Calhoun’s efforts to connect the pieces of the far-flung research firm to create new services. He likened Nielsen In-Store to his firm’s TV and internet ratings. “It will allow in-store to rightfully take a seat at the marketing table and be considered in an analytical manner consistent with all good marketing and media planning,” he said. “What you can measure, you can manage.”
And there’s the rub: Corporate capitalist normalcy means constant marketing growth.
This means the increasing perfection of market totalitarianism, where a growing array of our “free time” behaviors are increasingly measured and managed on behalf of profit.
For ordinary people in our proto-democratic age, life has three sectors: 1) employment/work, 2) personal life/free time, and 3) politics/the state.
Together, the first two comprise what scholars call “civil society.” In a democracy, free time is actually free, and nourishes independent citizenship, which then in turn governs both state and economy.
As we all know, the antithesis of democracy is totalitarianism, which Merriam-Webster defines thus:
Main Entry: 1to·tal·i·tar·i·an Pronunciation: (")tO-"ta-l&-'ter-E-&n Function: adjective Etymology: Italian totalitario, from totalità totality 1 a: of or relating to centralized control by an autocratic leader or hierarchy : AUTHORITARIAN, DICTATORIAL; especially: DESPOTICb: of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures (as censorship and terrorism) 2 a: advocating or characteristic of totalitarianismb: completely regulated by the state especially as an aid to national mobilization in an emergency c: exercising autocratic powers : tending toward monopoly
So, here’s the quiz question: Why is subordination to the state part of this definition?
The answer, of course, is that this unnecessary qualification distracts attention from the other possible source of totalitarian control — namely, the “private” economy.
And that is exactly what we now have in the United States — market totalitarianism, a political-economic regime based on subordination of the individual to the big business class and its strict control of all aspects of life.
The state? Everybody who pays attention has long since known that the Money Power owns American governments.
Work? No need to even comment on that topic.
But what about “free time?”
Corporate marketing, the trillion-plus-dollars-a-year juggernaut of managerial manipulation, is the main vehicle by which our overclass dominates “free time” here in the United States. And this domination is far subtler and deeper — and far less recognized — than state-totalitarian methods, horrific as they are, have ever been.
In truth, thanks in no small part to big business marketing, market totalitarianism in the United States is both real and much more effective than state totalitarianism could ever hope to be. Where state despots are all thumbs, big business marketing is a thousand dextrous hands. What’s more, because the system’s single purpose — maximum further profit for the already rich — is pursued by genuinely competing institutions rather than a central Politburo, and because the henchmen of these institutions aim to control the practical circumstances and private communications of civil society rather than public rules, market totalitarianism has enjoyed far greater “deniability” than its more famous, state-centered cousins ever did.
The true bottom line? Unless wesoon wake up to this reality, we (and the world we still dominate) are just as screwed, albeit more slowly, subtly, and (sometimes, somewhat) more pleasurably, as recent history’s other boot-crushed masses.