Market Totalitarianism Primer: “Place-Based Media”

Quividi’s insertion of spy cameras on telescreens on behalf of marketers, which I briefed yesterday, is but one aspect of the ongoing explosion of what big business marketers call “place-based media.”

Today, The New York Times‘ Stuart Elliott files a report on this important aspect of market totalitarianism. Elliott reports:

The ardor to reach consumers outside the home — and outside the realm of traditional media like television — continues to grow among marketers.

Out-of-home media was once commonly known as outdoor media, reflecting its roots in billboards, posters and signs. The term has been changed to reflect the expansion into places like airports, offices, malls, schools and health clubs, where the ads are inside but not inside the home.

That has also inspired another advertising term, place-based media. The new places for ads — as well as the addition of digital and video capabilities to signs, bus shelters, phone kiosks and other sites — are among the reasons ad spending in the out-of-home category are second only to online advertising in growth.

The goal is to engage consumers “during the course of their daily lives in places they go on a frequent basis,” said Rick Sirvaitis, president at StoreBoard Media in New York, which puts ads on the security pedestals at the entrances and exits of retail outlets like drug stores.

“In 36 years in advertising, for the first time I can look people in the eye and guarantee every consumer will be exposed to the message,” Mr. Sirvaitis said, referring to a StoreBoard sign, “because you can’t miss it.”

“We’re always looking for places where ads are not expected,” said Greg Corradetti, director for account services at Serino Coyne in New York, an agency owned by the Omnicom Group.

In other words, as this doomed system continues its suicidal “development,” it becomes less and less tolerant of any and all still-uncommercialized off-the-job space, the existence of which stands as a threat to further profits for the overclass.

You Are Inventory

Microsoft, the private oligopoly founded on purchased, publicly-nurtured ideas and pure luck, has just purchased Navic Networks, the proprietor of software surreptitiously embedded in 35 million “set-top” cable TV boxes in the United States.

Ever heard of Navic?  Know what it does?  Find any mention of it in your cable contract?

Didn’t think so, because it’s 100-percent something nobody would ever permit into their home, if they knew it existed.  Nonetheless, 35 million households have it.  I’d wager less than 1,000 know they do.

What is it that Navic has going?  It’s nothing that has to do with making your cable TV work.  Instead, it has to do with making your cable TV serve its primary purpose: extending corporate spying on behalf of big business marketers.

Navic’s main product, the great jewel coveted by Microsoft, is Admira, which Navic describes as follows:

Admira is a media placement service that optimizes television advertising by utilizing settop box measurement data to increase the value of inventory. Efficiently matching advertisers’ desired target audience criteria with media owners’ inventory.

In plain English, Admira is secret spying software that, without your knowledge or consent, constantly tracks everything you watch on TV, down to the minutest detail, and also cross-correlates it:

based on behavioral characteristics, real-time viewership data, program content, and geography.

And you pay money to the very same criminals who sneak this past you, and who are also doing this:

Project Canoe:

The addressable [i.e., household identifiable] advertising market has had major momentum in recent months in the wake of Project Canoe, a consortium of the country’s top cable operators whose mission is to create universal metrics for video on-demand ad opportunities to national advertisers. Part of Canoe’s initiative will be to introduce its own addressable and interactive ad products to the marketplace, with an additional data-and-analytics product to help advertisers assess the effectiveness of Canoe’s ad-serving technology. Just last week, the venture officially appointed its new CEO, David Verklin, former CEO of Aegis Media Group.

This is market totalitarianism. Rarely, if ever, has such a central and cancerous social process gotten so far without even being perceived, let alone debated.

We are in very big trouble…

Penetrating the Car: A Marketing Metastasis Update

the spirit of BBM They can’t stop. The system they serve is literally insatiable. Every newly “penetrated” then saturated life-sphere can only serve as a stepping stone to the next. Unending profit-making simply must find new necks to bite, or more places in which it can bite existing ones.

The latest off-the-job time/place about to have its penetration level increased is none other than the insides of corporate capitalism’s most important product — the private automobile.

This week’s edition of Advertising Age contains a report titled “Why Your Car May Soon Be Driving Digital Advertising.” It is penned by one Steve Rubel, a marketing practitioner and blogger leading the coming overclass race to insert more and better videographic marketing stimuli into the car.

banality of evilRubel reports:

If you think there’s already enough to distract you in your life, just wait. With Americans spending 100 hours a year commuting, according to the Census Bureau, the internet is coming to your car in a big way — and not just to the front seat either.

As is so often the case in our super-capitalist society, the technological basis for this coming penetration is an artifact of past marketing operations:

Dashboard navigation systems provide a natural entry point. Year-over-year unit sales of GPS devices grew nearly 500% during the 2007 holiday season, according to NPD.

This seems to me to be a textbook case of big business marketers turning a molehill of legitimate need into a mountain of profitable sales. I haven’t seen hard numbers (which may itself be a sign of the importance of the corporate pushing behind the “demand” for GPS), but the actual use of GPS systems almost cannot be high or important in the large majority of automotive trips, which are commutes to and from highly familiar places. Instead, I’d wager heavily that GPS marketers, probing like all BBMers for profitable buttons to push, know full-well that most people think they get lost much more than they actually do, and are thus susceptible to the sell. Pair that vulnerability with a back ground of marketing-encouraged techno-festishism and the difficulty of thinking of Christmas and birthday presents in this hyper-commodified society, and there you have it…

But whatever the rational and irrational reasons for their spread may be, the fact is that GPS units are now inside a great many cars. That has big meaning for corporate marketers, as Rubel explains:

Several GPS manufacturers such as Tele Atlas, which supplies systems to the automakers, already display the logos of nearby fast-food restaurants’ gas stations. However, the screens are quickly getting more useful — or cluttered, depending on your point of view. Navigon’s high-end model, for example, features helpful restaurant reviews and ratings from Zagat.

Soon, devices that can both send and receive data will hit the market. Dash, for example, is integrating Web 2.0 crowdsourcing into its systems, allowing cars to send information back to the company to improve traffic calculations. As mobile broadband becomes more ubiquitous, it’s conceivable that these devices will soon talk to your cellphone via Bluetooth and, thus, talk to social networks as well.

With send/receive capabilities and overall bandwidth improving, local contextual advertising, perhaps rich-media-based, is just around the corner. Google already allows users in Europe to send directions from the web to maps on connected dashboards. Microsoft is working in a system through its Sync technology to provide ad-supported, location-based information for which users would normally pay. (Disclosure: Microsoft and Zagat are clients of Edelman, my employer.)

As is so often the case, the primary victims of the coming blitzkrieg will be children:

The back seat offers perhaps more immediate promise for TV advertisers in search of new venues. In March Sirius and Chrysler launched an in-car video network called Backseat TV. The subscription service carries kids programming from Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel and Cartoon Network. Kids weaned on the service will surely demand more as the technology gets more sophisticated, perhaps to the chagrin of parents.

And therein lies the rub: Marketers will need to strike a careful balance to protect privacy and to not push into a space that many consider sacrosanct. However, given the size and captive nature of the in-car audience, the digital-advertising potential is becoming very clear.

Translation of that last bit into honest English goes like this: “Marketers will have to be careful and gentle as we insert our tools of coercion into another place (like every prior place) where we know people don’t want it. Despite our constant public professions that we only use marketing to gather information to make us better servants of people’s independent desires, clear knowledge that we’re utterly unwelcome in this new sphere, of course, will not and cannot stop us.”

The moral of this story? To the extent it can continue to outrun its own mounting wastes and dangers, corporate capitalism means the eventual total destruction of free time. Genuinely independent free time, of course, is nothing less than a necessary prerequisite for intelligent citizenship and, thus, democracy.

As somebody once remarked, to such questions, the capitalist asks: “Ought these to trouble us, since they increase our profits?”

Dove Droppings: A Campaign of Real Fakery

For some time, the Unilever Corporation has been peddling its extensive line of unsustainably packaged, mostly ineffective and unnecessary “Dove” brand products under its “Campaign for Real Beauty” marketing strategy.

The basic idea is pure big business marketing Flipthink: Having been at the forefront of the hundred-year drive to push cosmetics and “aspirational” body and beauty images on women, why don’t we strike a pose as if we’re now really quite disgusted by and opposed to manipulating female self-perceptions? Hey, what a great way to sell whole new floods of crap to the Bubbettes! Genius!

Here’s what Unilever says on a webpage allegedly (when a corporation publicly admits whom it is targeting, you ought to smell a rat) targeted at 11-to-16 girls*:

Image Manipulation: It’s hard to know what’s real anymore. Photo imaging software ensures every food product looks yummy, every car looks sleek, and every model looks perfect. Just look at a typical magazine cover, television commercial, or billboard and you’ll see the media has created an ideal image of what females should look like. Big round breasts, a narrow waist, long flowing hair, full pouty lips, tall lean body, and voila! — perfection. We’ve reached a point in society where we idolize that look — then we look at ourselves in the mirror and compare ourselves to those models…

Catch Unilever’s diagnosis of the culprits involved: “the media,” our “point in society,” and, of course, “we,” the mirror-gazers. No profit-seeking, media-sponsoring, mind-implanting corporations involved whatsoever!

But that’s merely the half of it. Turns out, genuine honesty and realism have had the exact same place in this “Campaign for Real Beauty” as they occupy in any other marketing mix — none.

In a story titled “Retouching Ruckus Leaves Dove Flailing,” this week’s issue of Advertising Age reports that Unilever has been caught with its hand on the very photo imaging software it claims to be denouncing and transcending.

Ad Age’s story on the exposure of Unilever’s fraud quotes Pascal Dangin, the “prominent” image re-toucher who clandestinely worked for Unilever. Laurel Collins, the author of a piece of puff reportage in the immensely over-rated The New Yorker magazine relays this fleeting exchange she had with Dangin:

I mentioned the Dove ad campaign that proudly featured lumpier-than-usual “real women” in their undergarments. It turned out that it was a Dangin job. “Do you know how much retouching was on that?” he asked. “But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

So, even in a “real” marketing image, the really real must be carefully selected and re-touched, as always.

Once again, Robert L. Heilbroner: “How strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that generates a ceaseless flow of half-truths and careful deceptions?”

*My guess is that the whole “Campaign for Real Beauty” is actually targeted at middle-aged moms, with the idea being to build brand loyalty to Dove among both moms and daughters by preying upon the moms’ own fear of aging and their desire to mentor their daughters in a vaguely feminist way. “Dove is real!”

A CT Guarantee

Barring the somewhat early arrival of the world-historic socio-enviro-economic implosion this overclass is courting with all its might, this item from today’s New York Times will very soon sound like the molehill that became a mountain:

American consumers are expected to receive an estimated 1.5 billion unsolicited text messages in 2008, according to San Francisco-based Ferris Research, which tracks mobile messaging trends. That is nearly double what they received in 2006.

The Marketing Race: Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Every once in a while, a top corporate capitalist operative will publicly spill a deep truth about the system.

This time, it was J. Walker-Smith, President of Yankelovich, Inc., a subsidiary of the WPP Group, which employs over 100,000 people in its various marketing services operations:

“All of this marketing saturation that’s going on is creating this kind of arms race between marketers where they have to up the ante the next time out because their competitors have upped the ante the last time they were out,” Walker-Smith told CBS News. “And the only way you can win is to have more saturation — be more creative; be more outrageous.”

That is exactly correct. Its monumental implications are also still barely perceived, let alone combatted.

Corporate business normalcy spurs the huge firms that dominate the domestic and international economies to keep expanding and refining their marketing efforts.

One result is ever-increasing commercialism. Walker-Smith himself estimates that phenomenon in these terms:

“Well, it’s a non-stop blitz of advertising messages,” president of the marketing firm Yankelovich, Jay Walker-Smith said. “Everywhere we turn we’re saturated with advertising messages trying to get our attention. [There’s] a kind of super saturation of advertising that [people] are exposed to on a daily basis.”

Walker-Smith says we’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970’s to as many as 5,000 a day today.

My own educated guess is that big businesses are now spending around $2 trillion a year on their marketing operations in the United States alone.

And we know that the sheer number of people employed in “sales engineering” is also huge and growing.

Advertising Age recently reported that:

U.S. media employment in December fell to a 15-year low (886,900), slammed by the slumping newspaper industry. But employment in advertising/marketing-services — agencies and other firms that provide marketing and communications services to marketers — broke a record in November (769,000) [of 2007].

That record 769,000 number is important but also a serious under-estimate. It counts neither in-house corporate marketing personnel nor the huge number of freelancers not technically employed by agencies.

And, given that almost 100 percent of the US media are corporate, their central function is to serve as marketing platforms — eyeball and eardrum attractor/conditioners — for their corporate sponsors. Hence, it would only be proper to add those 886,900 media workers into whatever the real number of laborers in the marketing juggernaut may be.