What the Automotive Bailout Bought

roflmfao Remember that Obama-designed bailout of the automotive capitalists, the one that will direct at least 130 billion no-ownership-exercised public dollars to what remains of the real-economy vanguard of our mortally decrepit overclass?

What changes has the bailout cash facilitated, you might wonder.  New, cutting edge cars that out-perform Japanese makes?  Radical MPG improvements?  Exploration of the idea of using existing production equipment to rebuild the nation’s rail stock and infrastructure?

Not so much.

Turns out, the money is retooling marketing strategies, not transportation arrangements.

If by now you’ve finished rolling on the floor laughing your ass off over GM’s new “May the Best Car Win” campaign and perhaps vomiting as you realize that pickup trucks and SUVs remain a central part of the Not-So-Big Three’s plans, consider the latest news out of Chrysler.

According to Automotive News, here is what that pool of investors is planning to do with their free handout:

Chrysler hikes spending to rebuild brands

After five months of near silence on the marketing front, Chrysler Group is roaring back with a new attitude. The automaker is ratcheting up advertising this quarter and plans to do so in each of the next two years, CFO Richard Palmer said last week. He spoke at the unveiling of Chrysler’s five-year plan under Fiat S.p.A., which took control of Chrysler as it emerged from bankruptcy in June.

Chrysler Group vehicle sales fell 30 percent last month from a year earlier and are down 39 percent this year through October. CEO Sergio Marchionne said, “I can give you one reason: The fact that we’ve been incredibly quiet for the last five months, so the marketing positions of all our brands have been incredibly weak.”

Chrysler’s plan is big — literally. Three experts who attended the meeting were given a loose-leaf binder 2 inches thick outlining it.

Read moreWhat the Automotive Bailout Bought

The Axe Fraud Spreads

As the world hurtles toward its Mad Max future, what are our wonderful corporate capitalist behavior manipulators spending their time researching?

Can you get males to start thinking more about their looks than they currently do?

landfillAs part of this valiant soap-selling endeavor, we are about to witness the expansion of the Unilever corporation’s efforts to foist its shameful Axe line of products on teenage boys with the preposterous promise that smelling of Axe will get you laid.

The Procter & Gamble conglomerate is now taking this pathetic fraud to the next older age group with the new “pheromone-infused” Dial for Men Magnetic Attraction Enhancing Body Wash.

And people wonder how American culture gets so moronified…

Ah, the Mighty NHTSA…

mousedish The mouse that doesn’t even squeak, the Orwellian sop to Naderian special pleading, the organization that dares put “highway traffic” and “safety” not just together, but together in its very name…

So, let’s say the Congress wanted to find a way to give away some free money to help further bail out car capitalists by encouraging commoners to step up their anemic, Great Depression III automotive purchasing rates.  Which governmental agency would one expect the money to be managed by?  The Commerce Department, perhaps?

In reality, can you guess where the conduit lies for the federal government’s new Car Allowance Rebate System, a.k.a. “C.A.R.S.”, a.k.a. “cash-for-guzzlers” program?

Yep:  In the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration!

This fact speaks volumes in several directions, not least as proof that the NHTSA, both by design and established practice, does nothing serious to make personal mobility safer in this market-totalitarian society.  It is a cover, a shield, a deflector for our massively deadly, dangerous, and irrational cars-first arrangement.  Hence, in a nation where 35,000-55,000 people die in car crashes each and every year, the NHTSA in the year 2009 has the time and staff to administer a complex program for passing out free money for even more cars!

Footnote:  If you watch any TV, you’ll have already noticed that, in local auto dealers’ aggressive come-on advertising, “cash-for-guzzlers” is most certainly not being explained in any substantial degree.  Judging from these ads, which (at least in my “market” of Portland, Oregon) are blatantly mis-labeling the program “cash-for-clunkers,” any reasonable person would conclude there are no requirements for obtaining money other than owning a clunker.

In reality, there are narrow rules based on vehicle age and gas-mileage ratings.

Hence, the actual main effect of the “cash-for-guzzlers reimbursement system” is to serve as a publicly-sponsored marketing platform for a new round of bait-and-switch selling on the nation’s car lots.  “Now that you’re here…”

Department of Cats and Bags

catbag Two items pertaining to the real nature of “the free market.”

Item 1: Existing Business Markets Depend on State Suppression of Basic Information

In 2003, researchers at a federal agency proposed a long-term study of 10,000 drivers to assess the safety risk posed by cellphone use behind the wheel.

They sought the study based on evidence that such multitasking was a serious and growing threat on America’s roadways.

But such an ambitious study never happened. And the researchers’ agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, decided not to make public hundreds of pages of research and warnings about the use of phones by drivers — in part, officials say, because of concerns about angering Congress.

On Tuesday, the full body of research is being made public for the first time by two consumer advocacy groups, which filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for the documents. The Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen provided a copy to The New York Times, which is publishing the documents on its Web site.

Item 2: Corporate Capitalists Know Private Enterprise is Often Inferior to Public Enterprise

A government-run public [medical insurance] plan would have “unfair advantage over private plans, eventually crowding out private plans from the marketplace,” said Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Once Again: Facebook is Evil

thumb_32friendsworthI mean this.  If you want to make free contributions to market totalitarianism’s Big Brother, keep your Facebook account.

Here’s the real purpose of that account, as reported by Business Week for June 1, 2009:

Advertisers are…interested in understanding individuals. Decoding friendship, many believe, could be the key to getting consumers’ attention. Historically, this wasn’t so hard. Information was in short supply, and by comparison, time was cheap. Not long ago millions waited through entire newscasts just to learn who won a game or what tomorrow’s weather would be. This was ideal for advertisers: They had a captive audience.

For all its popularity, Facebook has yet to prove itself as an advertising platform. Visitors, it seems, focus on their friends and pay scant attention to ads. Few click on them, and advertisers pay pennies for page views. Consequently, Facebook, with its estimated revenue of $300 million this year, brings in scarcely a dime a month per member.

Now we’re swimming in information. We can call up nearly every bit of news, music, and entertainment we want on demand. In fact, there’s so much of it that we need filters to block the boring or irrelevant stuff and help us find the bits we need or desire. This has created what many call the “Attention Economy.” Says Bernardo A. Huberman, director of the Information Dynamics Laboratory at Hewlett-Packard: “The value of most information has collapsed to zero. The only scarce resource is attention.” So how do we figure out where to direct it?

The easiest way is to get tips from friends. They’re our trusted sources. At least a few of them know us better than any algorithm ever could. Little surprise, then, that the companies most eager to command our attention are studying which friends we listen to. Online friendship is a hot focus for Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. They joust to hire leading sociologists, anthropologists, and microeconomists from MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley. Microsoft just established a research division focused on social sciences in Cambridge, Mass.

Statistically, friends tend to behave alike. A couple of years ago researchers at Yahoo found that if someone clicked on an online ad, the people on his or her instant chat buddy list, when served the same ad, were three to four times more likely than average to click on it. It makes sense. Friends share interests.

But it raised lots of questions. Which types of friends have the most meaningful correlations with each other? People have always confided in a small circle of intimates, often only two or three. They’ve also had wider circles of experts for specific advice, whether on cars or cooking. Then there’s a broader circle of acquaintances whose opinions count far less but who can still generate buzz about a new restaurant or senatorial candidate. By studying patterns of interactions on networks—often scrutinizing us only as anonymous bits of data—researchers are working to predict which friends we trust and which we pay attention to in each area of our lives.

In an office above Palo Alto’s University Avenue, a lean 32-year-old PhD from MIT’s Media Lab pores over the data connecting millions of dots. Cameron A. Marlow, a research scientist at Facebook, has perhaps the greatest lab in history for studying [how to exploit] friendship. He can study social media communications including wall posts, shared photos, pokes, and friend requests among 200 million people.

The hope is that if Marlow and his team manage to track the paths of influence among its communities, the company [Facebook] might be able to offer more effective and lucrative advertisements and promotions.

An early step is to separate each user’s friends into clusters. Marlow pulls out a chart illustrating the social network of one of his colleagues, Alex Smith. It shows different groups of dots and their connecting links. One big and busy group represents fellow workers at Facebook. Others are high school friends, family, in-laws, frat brothers. Understanding these types of relationships could provide valuable context.

Marlow’s team recently carried out a study to determine how close we are to our friends online. They looked at how often people clicked on their friends’ news or photos, how often they communicated, and if the communications traveled in both directions. Studying this data, they determined that an average Facebook user with 500 friends actively follows the news on only 40 of them, communicates with 20, and keeps in close touch with about 10. Those with smaller networks follow even fewer. What can this teach advertisers? People don’t pay much attention to most of their online friends. By focusing campaigns on people who interact with each other, they’ll likely get better results.

Remember when capitalism’s apologists used to dismiss the very idea of socialism because of its alleged inherent reliance on social engineering?

Marketing and Age Compression

compressAs anybody who spends time around kids knows, the problem of “age compression” continues to worsen in this market-totalitarian society.

Age compression is the result of incessant indoctrination toward perceptions, preferences, and self-presentations that big business marketers call “aspirational.”

Boston-based K-8 teacher Geralyn Bywater McLaughlin reports at the excellent Rethinking Schools website:

“I saw you on My Space!”

“Yesterday after school Trina and Shayla got in a catfight over Brandon!”

“My butt is hot!”

“I got his phone number!”

“She thinks she’s cuter than me.”

These comments may or may not raise an eyebrow in any middle school classroom, but the year they became a common occurrence in my kindergarten and 1st-grade classroom threw me for a loop. It was just a few years ago, and at that time I had been teaching for 18 years.

In case you wonder how well-indoctrinated we are to the demands of our bail-out-taking corporate overclass, consider the weakness of McLaughlin’s conclusion from her own experiences:

Children are complex, and pop culture and media are not the sole cause of their troubles.

OK. Cigarettes aren’t the sole cause of lung cancer, either, are they?

The facts, meanwhile, could hardly be starker. Big businesses not only commonly seek to anchor their sales efforts in aspirations, but, by good capitalist logic, they choose the least attainable aspirations as the anchor points.

As I learned in researching my book, The Consumer Trap, the marketers of Pepsi-Cola have conducted long-running marketing/anthropology research projects to discover how best to boost sales by tying their sugary product (which they know kids “shouldn’t drink”) to psycho-social fantasies. One finding from such studies was that “the twenty-three-year-old image” was the best one to shoot for.

This, of course, makes eminent sense, from the perspective of sales imperatives. Being 23 is not only a fleeting moment of maximum health and exuberance, but is also the pinnacle of the kinds of aspirational “looks” on which capitalist modeling is based. Plus, it’s old enough to drink alcohol. Who wouldn’t want to be 23, already or again?

Of course, as anybody who’s spent a moment critically observing adults also knows, corporate capitalist age compression is certainly not confined to kids. If you wonder why the society acts like a late-teen/young-adult who expects mommy and daddy to swoop by and pay off the overdue credit card, go out and take a peek at all the 50-year-olds dressed and coiffed and talking like high-schoolers.

Money is not a viable basis for human culture, after all, it would seem.