Trivial, Useless, Dangerous, and Smarmy: Downy Fabric Softener

downysmarmShe ought to be barfing in her sweater.

To see a textbook case of both commodity fetishism and the general sickness of corporate capitalism, keep an eye out for Procter & Gamble’s appalling “Feel More” marketing campaign on behalf of its Downy fabric softener brand.

The ads and promotions emerging from P & G’s campaign encourage people to interpret use of this trivial-at-best, ecologically inexcusable, and probably toxicologically dangerous product as an expression of and gateway to their deepest bonds and emotions.

Equally sick and preposterous is the campaign’s further suggestion that “fabric softener” is some kind of defense against the heightening ravages of the very investors-first system that foists this Earth- and health-endangering shit on us.

“With all the uncertainty around us today, it’s more important than ever for each of us to take solace and find pleasure in the simple things in life. Consumers have really resonated with our message,” said Marty Vanderstelt, brand manager for Downy North America.

You have to worry about the future of a culture in which the dominant behavioral influencers scientifically study ways to convince people that dumping chloroform, pentance, benzyl acetate, and dipalmitoylethyl hydroxyethylmonium methosulfate in your heated appliances and on your clothes is one of “the simple things in life.”

Etrade: Selling Stocks With Racism

racismWhile stuck watching the profoundly moronic and outdated Belmont Stakes in my apartment’s exercise room last weekend, I encountered E-Trade’s notorious “black baby” commercials.  I almost fell off my treadmill.

Watch this appalling shit here and here.

As the white baby controls all aspects of the situation and voices all the reasoned thoughts, the black baby sings, trips out, echoes white logic, and makes a sexual come-on.  Can you imagine these ads getting made and aired if the skin colors were reversed?  No chance in hell.

I guarantee you that all of this was carefully planned by E-Trade’s marketing team.  As I documented in my book, The Consumer Trap, big business marketers are extremely sensitive to racial stereotypes, and are driven by the logic of their enterprise to exploit and perpetuate, not challenge, them.

The other important aspect of this blatant neo-racism is that it is targeted at elite audiences, who absolutely eat it up, not least because they think it’s a great thing for they themselves to be willing even to look at and possibly, maybe interact with a black person (both acts they have only recently begun to contemplate).

The truth, of course, is that contrary to long-running claims that Joe Sixpack is the source of all benightedness, our lovely overclass has always held by far the worst and least accurate view of human beings and human affairs.

The Continuing War on Schooling

marie
Let them eat training!

Among the multiple disasters being perpetuated by Obama is the lack of anything but the status quo ante on education. Like basically everything else, schools are clearly in for more of the same under the reign of the 2008 Marketer of the Year.

But let’s stop to ask about the real reasons our schools are “failing,” shall we?

The consensus answer among our overseers is that educational failure is internal, not external to schools themselves.

For those susceptible to this standard Business Party line, I would not only remind you that, in the USA, we spend more than twice as much money on big business marketing than we do on all forms and levels of education combined, public plus private.

I would also refer you to the recent statement of Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Killiam Klinton, and spokesperson for the far left end of the “serious” politicians. Here’s Mr. Reich’s explanation of the inherent limits of education in this, history’s richest and most powerful empire:

Not all of our young people can or should receive a four-year college degree, but we can do far better for them than we’re doing now. At the least, every young person should have access to a year or two beyond high school, in order to gain a certificate attesting to their expertise in a particular area of technical competence. Technicians who install, upgrade, and service automated and computerized machinery — office technicians, auto technicians, computer technicians, environmental technicians — will be in ever-greater demand.

So, why can’t we all go to real college? Because, as Reich knows but cannot say (for fear of losing his cushy, undeserved elite academic gigs and his insider connections), that would constitute a mortal threat to our overclass, which relies on “matching” our brains and expectations to the structure of employment, entertainment, and politics produced by corporate capitalism’s market-totalitarian logic. Too much knowledge and self-confidence is simply intolerable to that order. It literally couldn’t be handled.

The truth, of course, is that this is nothing like an equal opportunity society, despite the frequent incantations to the contrary. Equality of opportunity requires equality of condition, from zero up to the starting line for grown-up life (which brain biology now shows to be something like age 25). We have nothing of the sort, and Obama is making excuses, not answers, for that.

Schools are merely one symptom, not a cause, of our terrible disease. To the extent they could help cure the disease, they are intentionally barred from doing so.

Pubic Hair & Market Totalitarianism

pubes If you’ve been fortunate enough to see — one way or another — much private anatomy in recent years, you’ll be aware that we live in an age of de rigueur pubic (that’s p-u-b-i-c, not p-u-b-L-i-c) shaving. Supposedly edgy and hip rather than creepy and infantilizing, this practice is truly rampant, from what I’ve (ahem) seen.

How hip and independent is it, really, though, to shave your junk?

Not so much. Not so much at all.

Take a look at this viral marketing video from the Gillette Corporation.

Note the instructions to “make sure” to use shaving cream not soap, the very latest 5-blade razor (one wonders where this bit of the marketing race will end — 57 blades?), and, of course “moisturizer” (the substance formerly known as “lotion”). All these just happen to be products made by Gillette, so what might a rational soul make of its chummy, flattering, “hip” shaving “advice”?

The real story, of course, is that the existence of body hair has now become a great marketing vehicle for the shareholding class, complete with the standard tools of big business marketing: false promises (larger penises and more “fun” will result for those who do as they’re programmed to do by Gillette and the “viral” “culture” it is sponsoring) and threats (if you don’t use the newest Gillette Fusion razor, you might shave off your vitals).

As in so many areas, all this speaks to our howling need to make the 2010s into a new and improved 1960s.

Along the way, why not lose the shave-bot programming and the sponsored pseudo-hipsterism? Why not lose the chains of corporate babydom and cull the living, hairy, grown-up flower?

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.