If you believe that Georgia Tech’s Aware Home laboratory is, was, or ever will be anything but a marketing research platform, you are — again, at best — wildly misinformed.
The corporate capitalist thirst for automated surveillance on prospective product purchasers was large and voracious way before 1998, the year in which Georgia Tech’s entrepreneurs-as-professors launched Aware Home.
Zuboff once suggested that the automation of the corporate workplace might lead to the reskilling of work and the diminution of managerial power. Now, she wants us to see market totalitarianism as a mere anomaly that we might easily regulate away.
I just learned, thanks to a tip by the omnivorous Douglas Pressman of Prague and an article by Bruce Campbell, that, back in 1945, Friedrich Hayek’s wildly naive apology for capitalism, The Road to Serfdom, was made into a comic book promoted by no less a (then as now and evermore) state-dependent corporate capitalist enterprise than General Motors.
Hayek, having only an ultra-abstract textbook understanding of private enterprise, never stopped to wonder about the things his theory elided that were happening right under his nose. Not least among these was, of course, the continuing consolidation of corporate marketing,which is the art and science of applying the principles of scientific management to ordinary people’s off-the-job lives.
As I argue in The Consumer Trap book, the progress and success of this overclass endeavor would make Stalin, Hitler, and Mussolini purple with jealousy, if they were around to see it today. Among its many effects is what I call a market totalitarian society, where people are free to do whatever they want, so long as it’s shopping for and using capitalist products (politicians now distinctly included).
Hayek, of course, could not imagine such things would happen, as his view of private business was so deeply naive. His supposed master work is far less critical and realistic even than Adam Smith, who, in a radically different context with a very different purpose, had written a far subtler, more open-ended, and altogether better defense of business ascendance 168 years before Hayek’s book became the favored intellectual cover for American capitalism.
Even though Hayek framed socialism as a question of class analysis — he equated all possible forms of socialism and even welfare states with feudal servitude — he remained utterly denialist that capitalism is itself a form of class domination, albeit one operating as much through the power relations of “the free market” as through state power. Hence, here is the hugely ironic — and hilariously embarrassing to Hayek and Hayekians — cartoon from his GM-pushed comic book on the topic of “recreation” planning by the overclass:
“Once started, planners can’t stop.” Precisely, Freidrich, precisely! It’s called the marketing race, a.k.a. the primary form of big business competition. It is quite literally built into corporate capitalism, and can only stop upon the death of that system or the planet on which it operates, whichever comes first.
Robert Klara of AdWeek has a nice review of the history of diamond jewelry marketing. An extension of the timeless history of love? Not quite:
Harry Oppenheimer had a problem. It was September 1938, and with war smoldering in Europe, market prices of diamonds—a commodity that had been cornered by his father’s company, De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd.—were plummeting. Concluding that the company’s survival lay in penetrating the American market, Oppenheimer came to Philadelphia and looked up the N.W. Ayer & Son advertising agency. The result of the trip would be one of the most successful advertising slogans ever created.
Ayer worked the account for a decade—draping diamonds on Hollywood starlets, mostly—but struggled to find a tagline. Then in 1947, a young copywriter named Frances Gerety chanced upon a photo of two newlyweds on their honeymoon and scribbled “A Diamond Is Forever” along the bottom. De Beers adopted the tagline the following year.
Of course, kings and maharajas had made diamonds desirable for centuries. The genius of what Gerety did was to fuse together the idea of swooning, everlasting love with a sparkly rock. According to psychologist Robert Passikoff, who runs the consultancy Brand Keys, “people take certain signs of objects and imbue them with an unspoken meaning”—and thanks to De Beers, diamonds have come to be seen as a natural rarity, a precious embodiment of the marital pledge. In the early days, not all grooms (who make up 90 percent of diamond buyers) got it, and so the copy helped things along with lines like “Your engagement diamond, with noble fire, reflects the greatness of your love.”
Eventually, the dudes (who [now] drop an average of $3,200 on an engagement ring) glommed on—and they haven’t forgotten.
Behind it all, there is the usual — oligopolistic hoarding:
De Beers holds back so much supply that if all the world’s diamonds were dumped onto the market, they’d be worth less than $30 each.