Annals of Wealth and Corruption

audrey_geisel At left is Audrey Geisel, widow of Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Audrey’s latest use of her husband’s estate has been to authorize the NBCUniversal media conglomerate to make a movie out of Dr. Suess’s The Lorax book. The result is a film with over 70 product tie-in deals, including one for the Mazda CX5 SUV. The plot of the movie reduces the book’s ecological theme to a subplot in a tweenage romance. It also converts what little is left of the ecological message to a brain-dead melange of green capitalist cognitive dissonances and verbal pabulum. The SUV tied into the movie, for instance, is “Truffula Tree Certified — We Care an Awful Lot,” as if trees and cars are somehow tightly connected issues, and as if Ted Geisel would ever have committed a ham-tongued phrase like “we care an awful lot” to paper.

And what does Mrs. Seuss have to say for cashing in on this great steaming heap? “I’m not one to go commercial very easily.”

Yes, she only does it whenever they ask…

The Whole Internet is Now Marketing Spyware

In The Consumer Trap book, I predicted that the whole internet would eventually become a tool of covert big business marketing research.

Told you so:

NEW YORK ( — Marketers are pushing the boundaries on data collection, but how far will regulators and the public let it go?

The latest frontier for marketers is taking offline data such as income, credit rating, home value, savings, past purchases, number of children living at home and other data, and merging that with the blooming online data stream.

The offline data — including extremely sensitive, personally identifiable information — has been used by the direct-marketing industry for decades. But only recently have marketers begun to connect that trove to online behavior. The resulting picture is revolutionary for marketers.

From The Wall Street Journal for March 15, 2010:

Digital-marketing companies are rapidly moving to blend information about consumers’ Web-surfing behavior with reams of other personal data available offline, seeking to make it easier for online advertisers to reach their target audiences.

EXelate Media, a start-up that collects and sells Web data on consumers, is set to announce an alliance Monday with Nielsen, the big consumer-research firm. The two firms say that under the deal, eXelate will tie its data on more than 150 million Internet users to Nielsen’s database, which includes information on 115 million American households, to provide more-detailed profiles of consumers.

“We can build [consumer] profiles from any building blocks,” says Meir Zohar, chief executive of eXelate, which was founded in 2007 and has offices in New York and Israel. “Age, gender, purchase intent, interests, parents, bargain shoppers—you can assemble anything.”

EXelate gathers online consumer data through deals with hundreds of Web sites. The firm determines a consumer’s age, sex, ethnicity, marital status and profession by scouring Web-site registration data. It pinpoints, for example, which consumers are in the market to buy a car or are fitness buffs, based on their Internet searches and the sites they frequent. It gathers and stores the information using tracking cookies, or small strings of data that are placed on the hard drive of a consumer’s computer when that consumer visits a participating site.

Advertisers, in turn, purchase the cookie data from eXelate and use it to buy targeted online ads.

The new deal will allow advertisers to go to eXelate to buy New York-based Nielsen’s trove of data converted to a cookie-based digital format. That data comes from sources including the Census Bureau, the firm’s own research and that of other consumer-research firms, such as Mediamark Research and Experian Simmons.

By the way, when I wrote The Consumer Trap in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the biggest existing marketing database was Mastercard’s pool of spying on 70 million households. Now, Nielsen’s database includes 115 million households.

How many households does the U.S. Census Bureau believe there are in the United States at present? 114,825,428.

So, every household in the country is now being tracked, in detail, by our corporate capitalist overclass.

Meanwhile, the parts of off-the-job life, still sometimes quaintly called “free time,” that aren’t devoted to taking in corporate capitalist sales communications and/or shopping are increasingly serving as marketing research vehicles.

Two words: Market totalitarianism.

Not that it much matters, given the difficulty of escaping the system altogether, but if you are inclined to resist, here is the link to opt out of eXelate. It’s probably worth the gesture, if only to flip the bird to the powers that be.

Last Hired, First Depressed

grind On what passes for the political left, analysis of corporate capitalism’s radical commercialization of off-the-job life has been atrocious.  Among the disservices performed by allegedly radical thinkers has been their thoughtless habit of adopting the business elite’s “consumer” vocabulary as a legitimate conceptual framework.  From the unjustly famous to the realm of everyday flippancy, examples of this disastrous, careless parrot-job abound.

If you wonder how much violence gets done to reality by not only swallowing the notion that “consumer” is a fair-minded label for product-users, but by the accompanying habit of treating the steeply stratified and deeply divided world of actual off-the-job humans as a pool of undifferentiated “consumers,” take a look at this recent report by Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad.

Obama Buys Foxes a New Henhouse

foxamong The Reincarnation of Ronald Reagan called President Obama has told us what we will get in return for our public purchase of General Motors:

What we are not doing — what I have no interest in doing — is running GM. GM will be run by a private board of directors and management team with a track record in American manufacturing that reflects a commitment to innovation and quality. They — and not the government — will call the shots and make the decisions about how to turn this company around. The federal government will refrain from exercising its rights as a shareholder in all but the most fundamental corporate decisions. When a difficult decision has to be made on matters like where to open a new plant or what type of new car to make, the new GM, not the United States government, will make that decision.

In short, our goal is to get GM back on its feet, take a hands-off approach, and get out quickly.

The foxes who ate all the chickens will not be told they are disqualified from running the place, despite the fact that the collective of the chickens just bought it.

Of course, the people who run the chicken collective are rather obviously foxes in feathered garb. The foxes bought them their television commercials and sponsored their rise from the coop.

Obama’s plan here is a guaranteed disaster, too, by the way. The age of the automobile is at its end. The Earth can’t take it any more, and capitalism has sucked all the blood out of the suckers. Unrestrained class-struggle-from-above has reached its own logical end. Offshoring and credit-card wage-substitution have finally finished laying their rotten eggs.

All Creep, All the Time

duckcreepBack in the hoary yesteryear of 2007, there was a minor brouhaha over the State Farm Insurance Company’s placement of its logo on the cross-bars of basketball stanchions during NCAA games.  At the time, The New York Times‘ fine advertising columnist, Stuart Elliott, reported on the marketing advance, naming it as a good example of ad creep.

Elliott contacted State Farm marketers, who disclosed their motives:

“Consumers consume media differently from three years ago,” said Mark Gibson, assistant vice president for advertising at State Farm in Bloomington, Ill. “It’s not enough to just run a 30-second commercial in a program.”

This admission of existing marketing-stimuli being “not enough” was, of course, followed by de rigueur professions of the corporation’s tender concerns for “consumers”:

In seeking alternatives to traditional ads, State Farm’s goal is “naturally, seamlessly integrating
the brand into a venue in a way that doesn’t take away from the event,” Mr. Gibson said.

If it causes disruption or becomes something people don’t like, it’s an issue,” he added, “and
consumers will let you know in their own way.”

So far, Mr. Gibson said, there have been no complaints about the signs. They are appearing at
universities that include Arizona State, Auburn, Baylor, Brigham Young, Florida State, Iowa State, Marshall, Miami, North Carolina State, Purdue, Texas A&M, the University of Colorado, Vanderbilt and the University of California, Los Angeles.

“State Farm was very sensitive about the schools doing this and didn’t push if a school felt it
was not right,” said Greg Brown, president at the Learfield Sports division of Learfield Communications in Plano, Tex., which represents 32 universities in their dealings with corporate marketers.

“The college landscape is a much more reserved landscape than Nascar or a variety of other
sports enterprises,” Mr. Brown said. “There’s headroom in what we do, by comparison, but we
don’t do something the schools won’t agree with.”

Mr. Brown says he believes “we’ve struck a nice balance” with the State Farm signs, because
they are visible to fans at the games as well as viewers on TV but are “not in your face.”

Time travel with me now to the year 2009, won’t you.  What do we find here?