Advertising the American Nightmare

Advertising’s apologists always claim that advertising’s essence hasn’t really changed since the days before corporate capitalism was consolidated. Ads, they claim, remain mere conveyances of information. The newest, most heavily researched and expensively produced TV commercials are merely big, colorful versions of newspaper classifieds.

This, of course, is balderdash, in the extreme.

One interesting and important example of the deep differences between ads now and ads of yore is the blitzkrieg of advertising now flowing forth from the real estate business.

As yesterday’s New York Times reported,

Mortgage companies spent nearly $409 million on ads in the third quarter of last year, the most recent period with available data, higher than the industry’s ad spending during the peak of the housing boom.

[While] the Mortgage Bankers Association is predicting this will be a down year for the industry, and on Friday it said that the total value of mortgages produced would be down 16 percent from its level last year….the National Association of Realtors is running national television ads saying there has never been a better time to buy a home. Home values nearly double every 10 years, the commercial claims, showing a young couple walk up to their white colonial-style home.

This shows exactly what modern corporate advertising is: lavish fraud designed to pitch you products you very often do not need, attempts to get your behavior to comport with the requirements of investors’ bottom lines — whether it’s good for you or not.

Facebook Never Forgets

The second-most-emailed story today on nytimes.com is a report on the near impossibility of taking your personal data back from Facebook, the website that allows unwitting registrants to post bits of verbal and visual swag about themselves in exchange for letting Facebook “harvest” extremely precise and commercially valuable information about the users.

Turns out, once you walk into this trap, your data have no way to get out.

Are you a member of Facebook.com? You may have a lifetime contract.

Some users have discovered that it is nearly impossible to remove themselves entirely from Facebook, setting off a fresh round of concern over the popular social network’s use of personal data.

While the Web site offers users the option to deactivate their accounts, Facebook servers keep copies of the information in those accounts indefinitely. Indeed, many users who have contacted Facebook to request that their accounts be deleted have not succeeded in erasing their records from the network.

“It’s like the Hotel California,” said Nipon Das, 34, a director at a biotechnology consulting firm in Manhattan, who tried unsuccessfully to delete his account this fall. “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

It took Mr. Das about two months and several e-mail exchanges with Facebook’s customer service representatives to erase most of his information from the site, which finally occurred after he sent an e-mail threatening legal action. But even after that, a reporter was able to find Mr. Das’s empty profile on Facebook and successfully sent him an e-mail message through the network.

The Times reporter explains the reason:

Tensions remain between making a profit and alienating Facebook’s users, who the company says total about 64 million worldwide (MySpace has an estimated 110 million monthly active users).

The network is still trying to find a way to monetize its popularity, mostly by allowing marketers access to its wealth of demographic and behavioral information. The retention of old accounts on Facebook’s servers seems like another effort to hold onto — and provide its ad partners with — as much demographic information as possible.

As usual, the whole scam is cloaked in layers of dishonesty:

Facebook’s Web site does not inform departing users that they must delete information from their account in order to close it fully — meaning that they may unwittingly leave anything from e-mail addresses to credit card numbers sitting on Facebook servers.

And if you doubt the immense importance of this whole shebang to our overclass and its big business marketing juggernaut of behavioral and technological dictatorship, consider the fact that none other than Microsoft has already paid the creeps who own and run Facebook a quarter-billion dollars — for a mere 1.6% share!

Draw your own conclusions, but I will say this again: If our out-of-control overclass and its political representatives hadn’t been keeping the FTC in an induced coma over the past several decades, this kind of fraud and theft would be punished. As it stands, it’s all treated as a simple matter of “personal responsibility” — for those at the bottom only, as always, of course.

One hears the voices of mega-over-privilege tittering out from the “third homes” of the world: “Let them eat cookies, and caveat double-emptor! Forever.”

New CT Feature: Visual Evidence of Corporate Capitalism’s Extreme Decrepitude

One good thing the internet can do is show pictures, which really are often worth 1,000 words.

Hence, I’m hereby launching another new occasional Consumer Trap feature — the Visual Evidence of Extreme Decrepitude, or VEEDs.

Our overclass of major corporate shareholders entered into its terminal decrepitude in the 1970s, when its military and ecological/energy requirements first decisively revealed their true nature and non-sustainability, and when their system for endlessly further enriching themselves also revealed its inability to tolerate any meaningful reforms.

Ever since the “Reagan Revolution” officially enshrined their “new” policy of responding to all challenges by redoubling the same old efforts and keeping the ostrich’s head firmly down in the sand — i.e., the policy we’ve lived under ever since, regardless of the (R) or (D) asterisk attached to the various admittedly and committedly bipartisan “leaders” that have followed — their system has been busily squandering its own seed-corn. This, of course, happens to be the seed-corn of the whole human race, as well. Under present arrangements, it still just happens to belong to the commanding “entrepreneurs” among us.

So, without further ado, permit me to unveil the first in a running series of visuals showing why radical socio-economic reform and wealth redistribution are in very pressing order:

What is this? A new kind of movie theater?

No. It is a picture of the personal “media room” of one Jeremy Kipnis, son of a famous “classical” (i.e., old European) music conductor. Its cost to build? $6,000,000 US.

The “enterprising” Mr. Kipnis, you see, is hoping to use his inherited wealth to go around and provide other obscenely over-privileged persons with the pleasures of this “Kipnis Studio Standard.” As one slavering “audiophile” blogger reports:

Kipnis sees the KSS as a laboratory, an ongoing experiment to advance the state of the art. And it’s not just for himself; he’s dead serious about selling the KSS to movie-industry professionals and wealthy home theater aficionados. He sees his huge screen as an intrinsic part of the experience. “It’s an unprecedented level of immersion that I’m looking for.”

In the year 2008, this is the stuff of elite living. Watching the self-same cartoon-movies as the masses, but in media rooms of such unimaginable ornateness and gilded over-construction that they make a Versailles parlor look like a cabin in the woods.

Peak oil, mass poverty, ecological and military crisis, domestic and international bubbles-first economic mal-development?

“What’s that, friend? I can’t hear you. I’m watching the new Pixar cartoon in my KSS room!”

Pandora’s Hidden Box

Friends of mine recently gushed about their adoration of www.pandora.com, a new internet radio station that intelligently adapts what it plays based on what you tell it you like.

Based on their swooning endorsement and on the greatness of the idea of intelligently adapting internet radio, I went to the Pandora site to try it out.

Upon arrival, you get the very distinct impression that you are at a site run by computer geeks who simply love you and love music. Both the site’s tone and the nerdy, non-commercial-sounding name of its parent organization — the Music Genome Project — make Pandora seem for all the world like it’s an open-source, not-for profit labor of such love. (This strategic mis-impression is crucially replicated on Wikipedia, by the way.)

But guess what? This bubble quickly pops, if you know your stuff: In reality, Pandora is quite the opposite of what it presents itself to be. In reality, it is nothing more than a gigantic marketing Trojan Horse that uses the above impression plus an utterly shameless lie to insert itself onto your computer, and thereby into your life and your marketing profile.

Here’s the Big Lie:

“At Pandora, we have a single mission: To play music you’ll love – and nothing else.”

Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! This is simply utterly, utterly knowingly and calculatingly false. Wrong. As big a lie as there is anywhere.

Pandora’s actual purpose — the one that’s certainly both the real core of the business plan and the topic of every board meeting — is to be found, with a bit of digging and a knowledge of what big business marketing is and how it works, buried in the pandora.com fine print:

In other words, truth be told, what pandora.com REALLY is is three things:

1. A website that trades you song recommendations in exchange for your name, address, and email address (and, hence, the ability, via other marketing databases, to know all about you and your demographic characteristics) and a huge amount of unique, detailed, and extremely commercially valuable data about the inter-relationship of tastes and personal traits among people who share your particular demography and social statuses.

2. A website that attempts to deny that it has any “backside” interest in the rich marketing data it gathers about your “demographic” with your active but (unless you read and contemplate the true — and unexplained-by-Pandora — meaning of the “privacy statement” where they admit the truth) uninformed cooperation.

3. A business that undoubtedly makes heaps of cash selling its oh-so-cleverly “harvested” and essentially stolen demographic and psychographic data to other corporations, which are themselves seeking to hone their own marketing campaigns by better “targeting” you for future manipulations and frauds.

[Note: The assurances about “individually identifiable information” arereally beside the point.  Corporate capitalists are interested in teaching themselves to better manipulate groups like yours, not in stealing your identity.]

Behind its closed doors, Pandora, in other words, does indeed have a single mission and nothing else — to dishonestly exploit your passion for music and your use of the internet for its own investors’ personal gain.

If the FTC hadn’t been kept in a coma for the last 30 years, the blatant gulf between Pandora’s “about”-page “single mission — and nothing else” promise and its actual design and operation would be quickly and harshly punished. At a minimum, Pandora’s investors would have to tell you what kind of box you are about to open…

Meanwhile, I urge everybody to avoid this scam. If you have a Pandora account, close it and send them a message of protest. Until somebody with principles offers a not-for-profit version of this thing, keep finding your own new songs. Above all, don’t give our overclass a free gift of more ammunition for running its decrepit dictatorship over what products we make and use. The Earth is, as they say, “in the balance.”

Threatening Your Life, “Green”-Style: The Rocky Mountain Institute

In Sunday’s edition of his very creepily-named “Environmental Lovins” blog, “green car” and “Rocky Mountain Institute” snake-oil peddler Amory Lovins had two of his henchpersons post this double-talking falsehood:

Many consumers believe that the goals of a “safer car” and a “more fuel-efficient car” are at loggerheads, and that any increase in gas mileage will lead directly to increased fatalities.

This misconception is based in large part on a common assumption: The heavier the car, the safer it must be. Collectively, Americans have bought into this idea. The mass of the average personal vehicle in the U.S. has gone up 29% since 1987.

While that idea that more steel equals more protection seems intuitive, it turns out to be false. In fact, the best scientific research shows that automotive safety has nothing to do with vehicle weight, but everything to do with vehicle size and design.

Heavier cars are not safer in a collision.

This is patently, murderously wrong. It is absolutely, positively NOT a myth that more weight means more safety. It’s true that SUV safety is exaggerated, and that they also carry their own particular danger — roll-overs. Hell, even Volvos are far from being as safe as the Volvo corporation would have you believe. This, for instance, was a Volvo:

But it is simply a stone cold fact that getting into a collision in a car that weighs less is more dangerous, other things being equal. And getting hit by an SUV while driving a “Smartcar,” or one of Lovins’ still-nonexistent hypercars, is simply very extremely dangerous. That’s just plain physics, and there’s a ton of medical and engineering proof.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, whose job it is to report the actual physical risks of particular vehicles to insurers, puts the basic point bluntly and correctly:

“Fatalities are much higher with small, lightweight vehicles.”

As scores of medical studies confirm, the same point applies to the risk of injuries: Vehicle mass is a major factor in determining the severity of car-crash injuries.

People naturally understand this reality, too, which is a big part of why SUV marketing has been so successful, and why “green cars” do indeed face a very stiff challenge, notwithstanding the energy-supply confusions on which they are founded.

What the Lovins double-talkers are really saying is that it is possible to use design to compensate for the dangers of smaller vehicle sizes and masses. Notice, however, that they don’t tell you: a) how expensive it would be to totally overcome the problem, and b) that this point about safety equipment cuts both ways, in that bigger cars with more safety machinery are even safer than smaller cars with the same equipment. But, once again, to say that vehicle size and mass are unrelated to crash dangers is simply and viciously false.

The bottom line is that, in the cars-first United States, automobiles are metal and/or plastic boxes that are independently steered as they routinely travel at very high speeds over open, bumpy, sloping, and inherently dangerous roads. As such, they will always be massively deadly machines.

Meanwhile, even if it really were possible, as these screwed-up McLovins would have you believe, to put enough safety equipment into a car to counteract all the physical risks, the cost of doing so would be literally astronomical, rendering the point truly academic, an irrelevant testing-ground experiment. And, of course, it may very well be impossible to render any car truly safe, even if no expense is spared. The danger, you see, is inherent in the form and function of the automobile itself.

Of course, back in the real world, it’s true that if everybody converted to small cars all at once, a great deal (but not all — remember that many drivers die or get injured when they drive into trees, rocks, lightposts, etc.) of the danger of small vehicles would disappear, as the possibilities for getting creamed by a much larger car would be gone. But how does one imagine such an immediate collective conversion happening? If we ever obtain the kind of political will such a huge, massively-subsidized switch-out would take, we’d be far better off using the will and the money to build ourselves modern railroads and to start reconstructing our towns to facilitate walking and bicycling.

And there’s where the murder comes in. In the real world, if they ever materialize as an affordable option, Lovins’ profit-seeking “green cars” will undoubtedly be adopted in small batches. And, contrary to his lies, they will be sharing the roads with millions of far heavier trucks and cars — at very substantial risk to their “green” drivers.

Of course, it’s not surprising that Amory Lovins would be attempting to define away reality on this topic. His whole enterprise is nothing more than a greed-driven sleight-of-hand that, whatever good intentions some of its dissembling promoters may have, encourages its targeted victims — and note well the telling use of the word “consumer” in these purportedly “green” people’s discourse — to remain ignorant of the great and pressing disjunction between any kind of cars-first transportation order and the Earth’s finite energy supplies. Contrary to Lovins’ sick scam, the truth is that cars have no long-term future as the central mode of moving people on this planet. He either knows this, or ought to know it.

And the same “knows or should know” standard applies even more strongly to Lovins’ obligations vis-a-vis the elementary mechanics and physics of car crashes. Mass and size matter. To deny that is to deny that automotive transport is subject to the laws of nature.

The fact that he is now trying to do exactly that shows what this “green” guy really is: a dangerous, lying crook who is attempting to kill people, now in both macro (energy supply/peak oil/oil war/economic waste) and micro (vehicle collision) ways, all to make himself a buck.

He and his evil minions are aspiring to be among our next generation of big business marketing overlords, all while wrapping themselves in the green flag. For their self-serving disinformation and disservice to genuine green consciousness and technologies, I hereby award them the BBM Asshole honor in advance. Let’s hope they fail in their ugly, wrongheaded efforts.

Justice? It’s Vytorin.

kinuko y. craft painting

That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.
- Langston Hughes

The 01/21/08 issue of Advertising Age reports:

“Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp. [the makers of Vytorin] kept under wraps for more than a year findings that Vytorin does not deliver results.”

All the while, Merck and SPC continued their $100+ million television and print ad campaign claiming the precise opposite.

Now, overall, the official, court-certified FTC definition of what constitutes fraud in advertising is laughably lax, if you understand how the marketing process works and how utterly central planned deception is within it.

But this particular case easily and obviously crosses even the ridiculously loose, faux-naive fraud standards that are alleged to be in place. The planners of this affair belong in prison, and the corporations involved ought to be severely penalized, if not simply nationalized and restructured to make them what they allege themselves to be — namely, inventors and manufacturers of genuine modern medicines.

None of this will happen, of course. At most, the “Democratic Party” wing of the reigning two-party Business Biumvirate (the Democrats, of course, being the “party” that killed the Independent Counsel Statutes after their great triangulating hero, Killiam Klinton, perjured himself) will stage a show “hearing” in Congress, where they may possibly extract some “sincere” verbal regrets about managerial “mistakes.”

After all, who were Merck and Schering-Plough executives to say that the evidence of Vytorin’s ineffectiveness might not someday be reversed by further studies? You know — kind of like who were the Democrats to say that illegally invading Iraq on blatantly false and irrelevant pretexts was anything to actually vote against? Nod, nod, wink, wink, “regret,” “regret”…

Actual law enforcement, meanwhile, is now strictly for the little people in this country. Let them eat Value Meals and Vytorins, in jail, if need be.