The Engine of American Unreason

Many wonder about the sources of the profound irrationality of contemporary U.S. culture and society. The main modern engine of this continuing trend has long bragged about what it does, and why, and how:

SAP Chief Marketing Officer Alicia Tillman made the point that this is also good business. She said “humans experience 27 different kinds of feelings and today consumers are using emotions more and more to drive purchasing decisions. In a study of 1,400 ad campaigns, those with purely emotional content performed twice as well as those with purely rational content.” But from there her message got a bit more, well, transactional. “We need to get experiential data to help us understand those 27 feelings,” she said.

Reported in Advertising Age, October 7, 2019

Wealth and Delusion

Frau Klatten spricht…

Sociology’s cardinal hypothesis is that circumstance affects human perception and behavior, often to a degree that rivals or excels biological factors.

There are interesting empirical tests of this claim here and here.

One thing modern researchers seem to be confirming is that too much money is quite bad for individual mental health.

With this hypothesis in mind, get a load of this excerpt from an interview of Suzanne Klatten, the German heiress who became a billionaire by accomplishing the extremely difficult task of being born to the majority owners of the BMW corporation:

Q: The concern is that society is breaking up into poor and rich people…


A: Klatten: There is a degree of mistrust in the social space that worries us as entrepreneurs. We know that redistribution has never worked. 
I think fairness is when everyone can take advantage of their abilities and develop their full potential. And if you actively promote that, then many people can get very far. Our [own] potential reveals itself in [our] having inherited and developed a legacy. We work hard every day. 
This role as guardian of fortune also has personal sides that are not so beautiful: you are constantly visible and at risk, must protect yourself. 
Added to this is envy, a trait widespread in Germany in particular. 
That’s why I feel misunderstood, to be honest: they focus on dividends. 
The rest that connects with it, is hidden. My brother pointed this out in an interview and asked: Who would want to trade with us?

This, of course, is straight-up Marie Antoinette. In a supposed meritocracy, noblesse oblige is alive and well, with the usual psychotic analysis of what constitutes the noble.

Meanwhile, would that the German people were given an actual chance to answer Madame Bimer’s question about trading places…

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?

Games and the System

Bosch image According to Nielsen data reported by Advertising Age, in the year 2018, “live sports generated 89 of the year’s 100 largest audiences” on “live plus one” TV in the United States.

This explains why there is so much money flooding into professional and quasi-professional sports now. The inherent suspense and ease-of-understanding in live athletics is now pretty much the only thing that can get large numbers of people to watch television on advertisers’ preferred terms — meaning with low control over their own exposure to ads and in-broadcast marketing messages.

Noam Chomsky is a doubly good source for making sense of the huge meanings of this news about the evolution of big business marketing, which remains by far the main engine of American off-the-job culture, aka “free time.” First, the Herman-Chomsky model of corporate capitalist media has much to offer anybody trying to figure out the filters that affect not just news reporting, but also broadcast entertainment content. Second, Chomsky has sharp and powerful things to say about the socio-political logic of sports fanaticism.

Facebook Ain’t Going Away

The question of the week comes from marketing guru Rich Greenfield, who just said this to Advertising Age about the status of Facebook, following more (mis-reported) revelation of its core business practices:

“Why would [an ad agency] advise clients not to use Facebook?” Greenfield asks. “It’s not like there are a lot of good alternatives.”

That is what they call, in academia, “instrumental morality,” i.e. the ends justifying the means.

Big businesses will, in other words, keep doing what they need to do to achieve their end, come –ahem — hell or high water.

Still No Such Thing as “Consumer Culture”

house built on sandOrdinary people — not even “middle class” Americans — did not spontaneously demand the material infrastructure that is, as it continues to enrich its primary beneficiaries and true designers, presently killing the human biosphere.  They just did not.  Acceptance and adaptation are not the same thing as invention, design, and promotion.

Nonetheless, the harebrained concept of “consumer culture” still easily addles the minds of those who claim to want to demystify and rescue the world.  Consider, for instance, this august statement.  Every single work cited there is a positive offense to the cause of rational explication of pertinent relationships and processes.

To say it again, here’s why:  “Consumer culture,” as a concept, is irretrievably terrible at both ends.

Ordinary people are product-users, not consumers. The destruction of goods and services — “consumption” — is neither our intended purpose nor something that is in our interest.  Eliding this point is eliding a huge swath of reality.

Meanwhile, saying our problem is “culture” implies that pre-existing popular desire usually draws forth capitalist planning and investment, rather than the reverse.

Although it is anathema to say so, the simple fact is that, in the making of the modern material world, right from the start of the corporate epoch, capitalist planning has consistently, easily, and probably (given the stakes and we-should-know-better-now factor) increasingly dominated popular desire.

It has really been no contest, if you attend to the actual evidence.  And, despite American Exceptionalism’s continuing “bi-partisan” promotion, elite domination of product-usage has been most pronounced in the United States.  You could look it up (though doing so would take great effort, given the almost complete inattention to the issue even among our critics).