Big business marketing was a trillion-dollar-a-year juggernaut by the early 1990s. It is almost certainly now a TWO-trillion-dollar-a-year juggernaut.
Big business marketing provides almost all the money for commercial television, which remains far and away the #1 shaper of people’s “free time,” mental databanks, and worldviews in the United States.
Contrary to academic jibber-jab about the complexity of “reading” advertisements, ,as a communications-maker, big business marketing operates almost exclusively via these 4 classic coercive behavior alteration tactics:
1. Lies (of both commission and omission)
4. Brain-Conditioning (think Pavlov and his use of repetition and titillation to reform mental agendas)
Marketing is now so dominant, these tactics have come to govern not just the ads and promotions, but the actual TV shows, as well. These days, very few prime-time TV shows are NOT 100% intentional button-pushers, with underlying dramatic designs taken wholly from corporate marketers’ radically shriveled and demeaning approach to audiences.
Big 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, and 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.
This 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.
It would take an intentional effort to invent a mode of getting around town that is more wasteful and expensive than the personal auto. Corporate capitalism, of course, is quite literally addicted to cars’ ongoing reign over life in the United States, for the self-same reason: their lusciously profitable wastefulness, fragility, expense, and marketability. This undiscussed institutional addiction promises genuine (and not happy) history-ending consequences, barring radical democratic rebellion in the next decade or two by still somnolent ordinary Americans — rebellion that will have to far, far transcend this kind of self-congratulating ostrich behavior:
Presently, I am completing a book on this core crisis within our culture, which is the reality I call “the consumer trap” and James Howard Kunstler calls “the long emergency.” (Note: These are one and the same disasters.) My book is forthcoming in about a year from Monthly Review Press, and will be titled Automobiles Ueber Alles: Capitalism and Transportation in the United States. Stay tuned here for more tidbits from that effort.
“Consumer” is a rotten word, a naked, vision-stunting bias parading as a basic, natural term of modern democratic life. Whenever you hear yourself being called a “consumer,” you should reach for your gun.
Contrary to both mainstream dogma and received cultural-leftist/neo-Marcusian canon, access to commodities has never been anything like equal in the United States. In fact, in this epoch of escalating income and wealth polarity, the newest statistics show that inequality among U.S. “consumers” is now at an all-time high.
Bradley Johnson of Advertising Age magazine’s “American Demographics” column reports:
Spending patterns vary from rich to poor. The government’s latest Consumer Expenditure Survey shows spending by the top fifth of households (pretax income of $85,147-plus) rose 8.1% in 2005 vs. 2004. That’s a bigger percentage boost than for any other income group.
The top fifth collected 50.4% of pretax income and accounted for a record 39% of consumer spending in 2005, according to the Consumer Expenditure Survey, produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those affluent households outspent the bottom three quintiles combined. Spending disparities have grown: The bottom fifth (pretax income below $17,579) did just 8.2% of 2005’s consumer spending, a record low. (Advertising Age, January 15, 2007, p. 29)
As Johnson also notes, “[t]he affluent account for massive shares of spending in key categories.” In the service of publicizing this reality and helping MR folks rethink “consumption,” I decided to calculate some of the key ratios. The numbers signify the average spending of the richest 20 percent of U.S. households as a percentage of the averages among the poorest 20 percent and the middle 20 percent, respectively, in various “consumer” areas, all for the year 2005.
Housing: the richest quintile spends 3.7 times as much as the poorest; 2.1 times as much as the middle
New Vehicles: the richest quintile spends 19.2 times [not a typo!] as much as the poorest; 3.4 times as much as the middle
Dining Out: the richest quintile spends 4.7 times as much as the poorest; 2.2 times as much as the middle
Life Insurance, Social Security and Pensions: the richest quintile spends 28.8 times [not a typo] as much as the poorest; 3.9 times as much as the middle
Education: the richest quintile spends 4.7 times as much as poorest; 5.7 times [not a typo] as much as the middle
Reading Material: the richest spends 4.7 times as much as the poorest; 2.3 times as much as the middle
Apparel: the richest quintile spends 4.3 times as much as the poorest; 2.4 times as much as the middle
Alcohol: the richest quintile spends 4.6 times as much as the poorest; 2.2 times as much as the middle
Overall “Consumer” Spending: the richest quintile spends 4.7 times as much as the poorest; 2.3 times as much as the middle
As you might guess, there is only one exception to this pattern: tobacco. In that area, the richest quintile spent only 107% of what the poorest quintile spent, and only 74% of what the middle quintile spent.
For ordinary people in our proto-democratic age, life has three sectors: 1) employment/work, 2) personal life/free time, and 3) politics/the state.
Together, the first two comprise what scholars call “civil society.” In a democracy, free time is actually free, and nourishes independent citizenship, which then in turn governs both state and economy.
As we all know, the antithesis of democracy is totalitarianism, which Merriam-Webster defines thus:
Main Entry: 1to·tal·i·tar·i·an Pronunciation: (")tO-"ta-l&-'ter-E-&n Function: adjective Etymology: Italian totalitario, from totalità totality 1 a: of or relating to centralized control by an autocratic leader or hierarchy : AUTHORITARIAN, DICTATORIAL; especially: DESPOTICb: of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures (as censorship and terrorism) 2 a: advocating or characteristic of totalitarianismb: completely regulated by the state especially as an aid to national mobilization in an emergency c: exercising autocratic powers : tending toward monopoly
So, here’s the quiz question: Why is subordination to the state part of this definition?
The answer, of course, is that this unnecessary qualification distracts attention from the other possible source of totalitarian control — namely, the “private” economy.
And that is exactly what we now have in the United States — market totalitarianism, a political-economic regime based on subordination of the individual to the big business class and its strict control of all aspects of life.
The state? Everybody who pays attention has long since known that the Money Power owns American governments.
Work? No need to even comment on that topic.
But what about “free time?”
Corporate marketing, the trillion-plus-dollars-a-year juggernaut of managerial manipulation, is the main vehicle by which our overclass dominates “free time” here in the United States. And this domination is far subtler and deeper — and far less recognized — than state-totalitarian methods, horrific as they are, have ever been.
In truth, thanks in no small part to big business marketing, market totalitarianism in the United States is both real and much more effective than state totalitarianism could ever hope to be. Where state despots are all thumbs, big business marketing is a thousand dextrous hands. What’s more, because the system’s single purpose — maximum further profit for the already rich — is pursued by genuinely competing institutions rather than a central Politburo, and because the henchmen of these institutions aim to control the practical circumstances and private communications of civil society rather than public rules, market totalitarianism has enjoyed far greater “deniability” than its more famous, state-centered cousins ever did.
The true bottom line? Unless wesoon wake up to this reality, we (and the world we still dominate) are just as screwed, albeit more slowly, subtly, and (sometimes, somewhat) more pleasurably, as recent history’s other boot-crushed masses.