Why, then, the intrepid AV Clubber asks, such plain-Jane starlets on the show?
The answer is beyond simple, if you have any working knowledge of the controlling force behind this and all other commercial TV shows: big business marketing.
The marketing rationale for this apparent “mystery” is that “Sex and the City” is nothing more than a vehicle of flattering ordinary, average-looking women into believing they could, if only they were single and living in SoHo, be one of the friends of cigarette-smoking “Carrie,” the show’s supposedly “smart” and “sexy” central character.
You see, if the actresses were really as stunning as you would expect them to be, based on knowing how the real world actually works, they would be fantasy-killers and, thus, drive away viewers. Knowing this, the packagers of “Sex and the City” cast four comparatively homely lead actresses. The implanted reaction: “See? They’re not models. Neither am I! I could totally hang with Carrie!”
This implanted reaction was a piece of smart, effective, conventional marketing. The purpose of “Sex and the City” was (and is — it’s massively being re-run) to deliver the maximum number of female eyeballs to its sponsors’ advertising campaigns. To do this, its producers simply decided to make the lead characters “attainable” in both looks and behavior, so that the “girls” in the audience would indulge the show’s proposed fantasy of decadent, pampered, narcissistic shopping, dining, and man-chasing.
Of course, once the eyeballs get delivered, the more ordinary “aspirational” flatteries return: “Buy this cosmetic, and you will look like Halle Berry.”
The lesson here was stated well by my favorite ad critic, Leslie Savan. To understand corporate marketing, Savan says, “follow the flattery.” Once you do that, many “mysteries” evaporate.
Corporate capitalism operates via 6 core industrial complexes:
3. F.I.R.E. (finance, insurance, real estate)
6. Government (financial and ideological subsidy to capitalism)
The loss of any one of the huge spending streams flowing through these complexes would spell doom for the system.
With the possible exception of F.I.R.E., which sells its stuff mostly to the ruling class itself, all these capitalist-industrial complexes are now managed via the strategems and methods of big business marketing.
The strategems are coercion in several forms: lies, threats, flattery, and Pavlovian conditioning.
The methods are targeting and marketing research (i.e. corporate espionage on private citizens’ “free time”), product management (i.e. manipulative packaging), and sales communications.
The task ahead of us is to reclaim government from the corporate elite, then use it to rebuild our society away from these Six Deadly Complexes. Failure in this task promises us the Mad Max outcome we’re hurtling toward.
Capitalists know only one solution to any problem: redoubled doses of the same old medicines. The reign of the automobile and the auto-industrial complex is clearly doomed. There is simply not enough energy in the world to make it last past roughly the middle of this century.
So, what do corporate car-marketers do? They heighten their efforts to misinform their “targets.”
The latest form of this trend is the change in the way car-capitalists state their miles-per-gallon claims in advertising. The old practice was to state two MPG ratings, one for city driving, the other for highway. So, my 1998 Toyota Corolla was advertised as having 32/41 MPG.
Now, in these increasingly dangerous end times for the automobile, the marketers have taken to simply shifting the city part of the MPG rating into the footnotes. Virtually all new ads that bother to mention MPG now only state the highway rating.
This is neither more nor less than planned disinformation, an intentional attempt to alter people’s access to and perceptions of vital information about products. Though you will never see this fact admitted in public, it is a standard method of big business marketing.
Capitalism, you see, is a just a well-disguised form of humanity’s 6,000-year run of pre-historic barbarism. A a social system, it is entirely of a piece with the older forms of class coercion that its apologists have long tried to distinguish it from.
Al Gore has just won the Nobel Peace Prize for making the movie “An Inconvenient Truth.” So far, talk of the consequences, however interesting and important, has entirely missed the deepest meaning of the award: By endorsing Gore’s insidiously wrong-headed film, the Nobel committee has seriously worsened the already terrible ideological climate shielding the reign of the private automobile from the serious democratic scrutiny it requires.
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.