Totalitarianism & Communis…

…pace. As in Communispace, the marketing research firm with the Fortune 500 client list and this self-description:

Communispace is one of the first companies to create online communities that enable organizations to get deeply involved with customers– to gain insights into their lives, interests, decisions, and needs in ways not possible before. We know how to invite the right people, use the right mix of technologies and methodologies, and build the type of customer relationships that deliver powerful business insights, ideas and intelligence.

As I wrote in my book, The Consumer Trap, big business marketers have long since enjoyed the ability to spy on their “targets” to an extent and a degree of refinement that would make Joseph Stalin blush.

Consider what Communispace, which is merely one example of the growing galaxy of real-time marketing research strategies that are getting corporate capitalists ever closer to their goal of literally “walking in the shoes of our consumersto get inside [their] hearts and minds,” as Communispace CEO Diane Hessan puts it.

Communispace started out in 1999 trying to create websites where company employees could share ideas. But at a meeting with Hallmark, an executive asked whether the collaboration could be extended to customers. The Hallmark Idea Exchange was launched in November 2000, and since then, Communispace has created close to 225 online communities.

The cost is roughly $200,000 a year, including recruitment of members, website development, facilitators, and regular reports. In an age of Do Not Call lists and TiVo time-shifting, what’s amazing about the online communities is the willingness of people to participate, committing to at least 30 minutes a week. The only financial incentive they receive is a $10 gift certificate once every six weeks.

Part of what draws people in is what Julie Wittes Schlack , Communispace’s vice president of innovation and design, calls the “anonymous intimacy” of the Web. Many community members spend much more than a half-hour a week on the websites. When they’re not responding to company postings, they’re trading gossip, posting pictures, or networking. Schlack says it’s a chance for people with similar interests to talk about personal or business issues with one another, everything from investing philosophies to losing weight.

One client of Communispace’s spying has been Procter & Gamble, which has used the service to invent and promulgate its magnificently stupid and wasteful product, Axe body spray:

On their own, the young men in Unilever’s AXE deodorant community arranged Wednesday night online gatherings to talk about all sorts of things. At one such session, said Alison Zelen , director of consumer and market insights at Unilever, members began posting pictures of their girlfriends and asking other members to rank them on a scale of one to 10.

Zelen said the spontaneous member postings gave her Unilever team valuable insights into the young male mind. She said those insights help in the development of Axe products and advertising, which is heavily focused on how Axe products can help attract women.

Other features on the Axe community website include the Female Fight Club, where members vote for their favorite female celebrity in head-to-head competitions. Winners advance through brackets much like the World Cup.

There is also a lingo-lexicon area where members define the slang they use. Many of the postings on the Axe website might be considered offensive anywhere else.

“I liken it to being in a locker room with the guys,” said the 35-year-old Zelen. “That’s something I would never be able to do.”

You might wonder: Inside corporate marketing’s professional circles, what’s the main debate over this shockingly totalitarian exploitation of ignorant “targets” by the agents of the overclass? Like all good foot soldiers, the issue there is confined to technical refinement, not morality:

I want to state at the outset that I think that Communispace offers companies a very valuable service. I also think that there are many, many ways to work with an study onlne consumer communities. Many ways to conceptualize them, gain insights from them, research them, and incroporate them into corporate strategy and tactics. But I’d like to take this a step further. Asking the question above, about whether an intentionally constructed online community made of monetarily motivated individuals can provide the same insights and benefits as a community that has evolved of its own accord is a legitimate question with practical and research implications. Or, maybe it’s interesting to ask about what kinds of community seeding there are as options, and what their implications are.

Kaufen macht frei!

Here Comes RFID Spying…

The Washington State Legislature was the site this week of yet another major corporate victory. State Rep. Jeff Morris (D) had introduced HB 1031, which proposed to require businesses wishing to track people’s movements via the RFID (radio frequency identification) chips embedded in places like cell phones and store “loyalty” cards to first obtain “opt-in” permission.

Such RFID “skimming” — which is already being practiced, by the way — allows corporate marketers not only to track and time a person’s precise movements through retail (and other) environments, but also, via the data associated with RFID chips, to connect the knowledge of movements with large amounts of detailed, individually-identifiable demographic and financial information.

This kind of knowledge is immensely valuable in the big business marketing process, which is neither more nor less than the extension of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s “scientific management” principles into the effort to profitably control “consumer behavior.”

Well friends, guess what happened when Rep. Morris’ bill hit the floor in Olympia?

That’s right: The big boys came out to deliver their message. The bill passed, but, as passed, it only pertains to “skimming” by individual identity thieves. The new law “makes it a Class C felony [in Washington state] to intentionally scan another person’s identification remotely without his or her knowledge and consent, for the purpose of fraud, identity theft, or some other illegal purpose” — but leaves business skimming unregulated. The reason? Corporate capitalists got their way and had the bill’s proposed “opt-in” rule stripped out.

As reported by PR Web:

Images are conjured up of scenes from sci-fi movies like Minority Report. For instance, a shopper walking into a store could unknowingly transmit their identity and whereabouts via a membership card, while they pick out items and make their final purchases. That information then goes into a database for further analysis and targeted marketing schemes.

Morris admits it’s been an uphill battle to win even this small yet commonsense protection for consumers. After years of advocating for stronger protections, including an opt-in requirement for retailers to abide by that was included in the original version of Morris’ bill, corporate lobbyists have fought to kill it every step of the way. These business interests have remained steadfastly intent on allowing the spy chips to remain unregulated as they quickly move to embed them in any or all products imaginable.

Morris does not intend to give up the fight, however. “This is just one small step to stake out some boundaries around our individual consumer rights before it’s too late. The battle now that criminal acts are covered is deciding whether or not spying on consumers for marketing purposes without their consent is criminal.”

One bit of good news: Rep. Morris has agreed to do a short interview with me via the internet about all this. I’ll be posting his report here on TCT as soon as I get it.

Recession/Depression: No Break from Marketing Cancer

bread linesAs the late, great Marvin Harris wrote, despite their (somewhat) changing tactics and technologies, ruling classes have always had only one basic strategy: intensification. When times are good, pour it on; when times are tough, pour it in on even harder. (See Harris’ Cannibals and Kings for the basic explanation of this very strong historical tendency.)

Big business marketing is, of course, merely the newest form of class-struggle-from-above, a.k.a. the latest weapon in the 6,000-year run of regimes based on overseers deploying threats and promises to make underlying populations’ thoughts and behaviors comport with the entrenched interests of great wealth and power.

For those trying to resist the destruction of the ecosystem and human culture — and corporate marketing greatly accelerates both these processes — it is vital not only to recognize marketing as a branch of systematic elite coercion (rather than of the much-advertised but still little-delivered freedom of choice), but also to note that, as such, marketing is fully subject to the intensification principle of class domination. When times get economically tough, big business planners work even harder to manipulate ordinary people into shopping (remember: watching commercial TV, by far the #1 “free time” activity in the nation, is merely a disguised form of shopping) and buying in prescribed ways:

Right on cue, the latest issue of Advertising Age has a story called “Recession Can Be a Marketer’s Friend.”

[R]ecession ‘[makes] the stakes higher,’ said David Rubin, brand manager on the U.S. launch and now director of U.S. hair-care marketing for Unilever. ‘Consumers are forced to make tougher choices when the economy is bad, and the role of marketing just gets amplified.’

The same story quotes a former McDonald’s marketer on the same point:

My response [to recession] has always been that when you go through periods of stress, that’s when you really have to go after top-notch, high-quality people, and really go out and market like crazy.

The lesson here is that there is simply no break from the further commercialization and commodification of the world. It is built into corporate capitalism, the world be damned.

The Next Metastasis: “Shopper Marketing”

Frederick Winslow TaylorBig 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, andTaylorism at work 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.

another consumer trapThis 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.