Emotionomics: A Noteworthy “Revelation” of Market Totalitarianism

Capitalism’s apologists have always painted their allegedly history-ending system as the anti-thesis of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism, of course, is the sort of modern social order in which a ruling elite tries to control all aspects of life among its underlying population, especially via threats and appeals to forms of propaganda-induced unreason.

Capitalism, they say, is the opposite of totalitarian, as it is inherently not just respectful of, but actively encouraging of, the advancement of independent self-interested calculation and free choice among the masses.

Alas, they lie.

As Noam Chomsky says, in the real world, capitalists hate the kinds of competitive “markets” classically assumed by Adam Smith. Those “classic” (and purportedly still-extant) situations are simply not conducive to maximizing owners’ profits, as they tend to require price- and management-minimization. Because of these noisome pressures, amid the Great Depression of the 1870s-1890s, the overclass used its clout to launch the corporate age. Capitalism quickly became corporate capitalism.

By the 1920s, the overclass began to realize that diverting some of its bounteous new corporate cash flows into managing not just workers, but also off-the-job behavior settings could, if well and carefully done, become yet another source of ROI.

In the 1950s, accelerating movement in this direction yielded the breakthrough now known in boardrooms and business schools as “the marketing revolution.” Ever since its consolidation — most especially in the core selling zones created by a combination of early capitalist plunder and employment patterns, mid-20th-century democratic footholds, and the need to bolster the Cold War storyline — corporate capitalists have devoted ever-growing budgets to managing the realm of what we uninformed commoners still quaintly think of as our “free time.”

With this in mind, over the coming weeks, I will help you take a look at Emotionomics, a new book in which corporate consultant Dan Hill reports and muses on the growing practice of corporate “neuromarketing.”

Here’s the overall context:

Described by marketing super-guru Philip Kotler as “a revelation,” the book not only tips the hand of core big business marketing attitudes and methods, but it is indeed a “revelation” — an especially clear, not-for-public ears enunciation of the true voice of corporate capital.

Hill’s core revelation is a naked, un-self-conscious admission of the reality of market totalitarianism at the heart of corporate capitalist normalcy.

Hill, whose “blue-chip clients have included Target, Toyota, GlaxoSmithKline, Allstate, and Kellogg, among many others,” counsels his audience of corporate planners to once-and-for-all stop kidding themselves about the “world’s love affair with rationality”:

Breakthroughs in brain science have revealed that people are primarily emotional decision-makers…Emotions are central, not peripheral, to both marketplace and workplace behavior. As a result, companies able to identify, quantify, and thereby act on achieving emotional buy-in or acceptance from consumers and employees alike will enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage.

It doesn’t get much plainer than that: both workers and “consumers” are objects of detailed, ongoing, essentially emotional managerial control campaigns.

As Noam Chomsky also frequently points out, big business corporations are “unaccountable private tyrannies.” These days, they are also getting increasingly clear amongst themselves about the classical nature of their tyranny: Stripped of the standard self-congratulating, self-excusing managerial jargon, this nature is nothing less than pure totalitarianism.

The “Consumer” Insult & Its Costs

The word “consumer” is a rank capitalist bias. First used in the realm of early bourgeois economics, it debuted as a proffered substitute for the neutral term “product user” in a telling place — the 1898 Sears & Roebuck catalog (see Oxford English Dictionary).

Since 1898, “consumer” has spread like wildfire through our mental world. The effects have been insidiously devastating to rationality.

A typical illustration appears today on the independent socialist website MR Zine, in the form of a poem:

The New Monastics
by Dennis Brutus

Tall black-shadowed cypresses
slender beside arcaded cloisters:
thus were monastic enterprises:
now with our new doctrines
secular-consumerist we bend
with similar devoutness in service
to our modern pantheon —
Bretton Woods, its cohort deities
— World Bank, IMF, WTO —
diligently we recite
We have loved, o lord, the beauty of your house
and the place where your glory dwells”
“Amen” we chorus in unison
as ordered by our Heads of State
obediently we traipse to our slaughterhouse
directed by our Judas-goats
Mbeki’s herds tricked out in shabby rags
discarded by imperialist gauleiters
who devised our Neepad subjugation

ActionAid Economic Justice course,
Kenyan School of Monetary Studies
Nairobi, November 26, 2007


This poem by Dennis Brutus was posted to Debate, a discussion list of the independent left in Southern Africa, today.

I replied at MR Zine as follows:

Here you see the logical effect of the word “consumer.” It turns the problem into “we,” to the complete delight of the overclass, who disappear in its generalizing, mis-directing wake. Every time somebody chalks corporate capitalism up to “consumerism” or “consumer culture” or “consumer society,” a Robber Baron laughs his/her ass off… “Consumer” is an insult, a capitalist bias run rampant and roughshod over our discourses. It blinds us. The correct term, if and when you need to denote the targets of corporate marketing as such, is “product user.”

If humanity survives the twenty-first century, the triumph of the word “consumer” in the twentieth century will be seen for what it was and is — a consequence and key indicator of market totalitarianism.

Onward Corporate Soldiers…

new frontiers in eyeball capturing

The next egg is hatching: O.V.A., Out-of-home Video Advertising, is growing faster than the overall economy, and is now the second most rapidly expanding branch of ad spending, after the internet.  By 2010, despite “a sharp downturn in global advertising spending and a decline in traditional out-of-home advertising in 2009, digital out-of-home media is among the fastest growing media in the world and will continue on an upward track in 2010, according to a new global forecast from PQ Media.” [Remember when there used to be a quaint debate about whether commerce or science and democracy would dominate the “information superhighway?”]

As Advertising Age reports, this redoubled corporate drive to extend television (i.e., the #1 marketing “platform”) beyond the four walls of the nation’s thoroughly TV-saturated McMansions and McShacks “includes everything from elevators to urinals.”

The problem for marketers, you see, is that, although corporate capitalist priorities are in virtually complete control of all aspects of life in the United States, that is never good enough for the individual firms that comprise the system. In the abstract, it is a capitalist’s dream-come-true that watching commercial TV is the unrivaled #1 leisure-time activity in the society, and that almost every human need from thirst-quenching to everyday mobility is now slaked via maximum-profit-yielding commodities. But, in the specific realm of competitive profit-making, that’s mere trivia. How do we surpass last quarter’s return-on-investment? That, that, is the question.

working the body while getting worked in the brain...The only possible corporate capitalist answer is, of course, more and better marketing, a.k.a. profitable manipulation of “consumer behavior.”

Hence, the emerging explosion of O.V.A. Despite the huge amount of time ordinary Americans devote to regular in-home TV, that field is now so littered with rival ad campaigns, its overclass sponsors grow restless. They want and demand more. Hence, the business press reports on the move into O.V.A., where they seek to revive the glory days of early marketing:

Prime time’s original significance was in the opportunity to consistently hold a consumer’s undivided attention—after all, advertising messages are more effective when you have a captive audience. (Source: Media Week press release)

“Reaching a Truly Captive Audience” is the title of this effusive little report. You see, in the boardrooms that plan and implement our “free market economy,” the captivity of “the consumer” is understood to be a VERY good thing indeed.

Meanwhile, we Amerikins remain the underlings of a ruling class whose own dominance makes them behave like the hell-spawn of the villains of Orwell and Huxley. As they corporate rich continue to run the show, we follow the asymptote up the wall of complete market totalitarianism.

Capitalism’s Beverage & the Obesity Epidemic

The Los Angeles Times reports that Disneyland is retooling its boats-on-water rides because of the raging obesity epidemic in the United States, “to deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.

small world no more...

People are simply getting too fat for the existing rides, including the now satirically named “It’s a Small World”:

“Forty-one years after the whimsical ride debuted at the Anaheim park, Disneyland plans to shutter the attraction in January to give it a much-needed face-lift — and deal with the delicate problem of bottoming-out boats.

“Heavier-than-anticipated loads have been causing the boats to come to a standstill in two different spots, allowing for an extra-long gander at the Canadian Mounties and the Scandinavian geese, said Al Lutz, whose website MiceAge first reported the refurbishment plans.

“Disneyland is well aware of America’s expanding waistlines.

“In recent years, the park has redesigned many of its costumes and started stocking them in larger sizes to accommodate ever-expanding waistlines. Adult men and women are about 25 pounds heavier than they were in 1960, and 65% are considered overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The average weight for men jumped from 166 pounds in 1960 to 191 pounds in 2002; women average 164 pounds instead of 140.

“Of course, this is a world of fantasy and the perfect place to forget about that diet for a few hours. So when somebody gets booted from the boat, Lutz said, Disneyland ride operators make sure the guests don’t leave disappointed: They hand them a food ticket.”

The primary cause of this epidemic (which is very closely and inversely correlated with individuals’ class position) is corporate capitalism.

As I explain in my book, as the system churns on, its normal operation compels all big businesses to extend and refine their marketing operations, which are neither more nor less than history’s most detailed and expensive behavioral-control campaigns.

As this generates an expanding marketing race, it increasingly commercializes and commodifies off-the-job life. Along the way, less capitalist-friendly practices and products give way to more capitalist ones.

One of corporate capitalism’s ultimate (and hence most important) products is soda pop: It preys upon human weaknesses for sugar and caffeine and sensory titillation. It is impossible to make at home or obtain for free. It is mildly addictive. It is highly packagable and marketable.

Along with the reign of the automobile (another of corporate capitalism’s core products), soda-pop is a chief cause of the horrifying obesity epidemic in the United States.

Soda pop has roughly 150 empty calories per 12-oz serving. In 1900, Americans drank the equivalent of 12 12-oz cans of soda per capita annually. In 1929, they drank 26 cans per person per year. 1949 = 158; 1957 = 200. In 2004? 535 cans of pop per person per year! Soda now far surpasses water as the #1 thing Americans drink. Between 1980 and 2005, its per capita ingestion in the United States increased every single year!

[An Aside: People in the mass media often puzzle over why French people are not as fat as Americans. Is it drinking wine? French mystique? A secret epidemic of French bulimia? Hell, no! It’s the cars and the soda pop, i.e. the unrestricted capitalism, stupid! The French have the Paris Metro and the TGVs and a forest of bikeable and walkable cities. And what was France’s 2004 per capita ingestion of soda pop? Just over 100 cans per person, about 1/5 of the U.S. rate. 400 cans of soda-pop, the number Americans drink over each year and above the French average, contain 60,000 calories. Q.E.D.]

As I like to say, the degree of control our ruling class has over us underlings would make Joseph Stalin purple with jealousy. We in America just simply live under market totalitarianism. Our habits are approaching complete commodification, with outcomes that deserve serious consideration by anybody wondering what kind of basis money makes for a purported civilization…