Reality In, Garbage Out


Despite having its moments, The New York Times squarely remains The New York Times, of course:

Mr. Chávez changed Venezuela in fundamental ways, empowering and energizing millions of poor people who had felt marginalized and excluded. But his rule also widened society’s divisions.

Translation: By reducing society’s divisions, Mr. Chavez infuriated society’s overclasses, at home and abroad. They felt less happy, so therefore “society” was more polarized. Overclass = society, in other words.

R.I.P., and muchas gracias, Hugo…

But, Of Course

snake The latest trend, per Advertising Age? The “political” advertising agencies that run what we call “politics” are now being retained to work on regular commodity pushes:

[T]he sea change in marketing brought about by social media has undeniably made the core competencies of political agencies — speed and nimbleness — more alluring to brands. Now that brands are trying to execute an “always on” digital strategy to better engage with their consumers, while also avoiding being caught asleep at the wheel when a crisis unfolds, political agencies have a loftier position from which to pitch their business.

On the Romney side of the one-inch-wide “aisle,” those who manage “political agencies” think of them as “the ultimate beta testers.” On the Zerobama side, they are seen as as a “big data shop, from a CRM [customer relationship management] perspective.” Democracy in action!

The results:

Take Blue State Digital, the agency that made its name through its work on the first Obama campaign and widely cited as the backbone of the campaign’s hugely successful digital grassroots organizing and fundraising strategy. The shop was acquired by WPP in late 2010 and has substantially diversified its client roster, taking on “blended” assignments from brands such as Ford and Godiva that also work with other WPP digital shops.

Can’t you just wait for Campaign 2016? “Pledge your vote to Hillary (she promises to withdraw our troops from Tehran by 2025!) and receive 2 free movie downloads, a half-price electric car charge, and a Super Big Mac from Time Warner Comcast NBC Universal General Motors McDonalds!”

The Toothpaste Factor

If you know what you’re looking for, reading the professional “how-to” business press is an excellent way to track reality. It often beats the conventional corporate “news” sources.

Take the recent Advertising Age piece by Elizabeth Wilner, “VP of Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks and analyzes broadcast TV advertising content, placement and spend.” Wilner recounts her recent conversation about political marketing with “a semi-retired political strategist who helped engineer one of the more imaginative blue-chip marketing campaigns of this century.”

At base, my friend offered, selling a candidate is no different from selling toothpaste.

Let’s start with market share. A brand of toothpaste can succeed with a small share, but in a two-candidate race, even a 49.9% share is a loss, plain and simple. Put another way, for toothpaste, the difference between 49.9% and 50.1% is nothing. In politics, it’s everything.

Political advertisements are patches in a crazy quilt, created and targeted to stitch together diverse audiences into a coalition that comprises the winning market share.

Naturally, Wilner and her friend never stop to wonder whether political marketing is compatible in any way with democracy. They couldn’t do that, of course, because the obvious answer is “NO.”


snake If you’ve been around here before, you probably know that the word “consumer” and its conceptual offshoots are definitely one of the bats who live in my belfry. The explanation for that is here.

Lately, I have dabbled at trying to point out the problem to an Irish comrade over at Climate & Capitalism. Alas, without success, as you can see.

The exchange does, however, give a rather clear view of the (il)logic adopted by those many lefties and greens who contend that “consumerism” is at or near the heart of our age’s many dire troubles.

In replicating that familiar contention, the would-be social critic complains that people nowadays foolishly and/or greedily engage in “consumerism,” thereby wrecking the planet and the culture. “Consumerism,” in this usage, means to behave as if the acquisition and using up of commodities were the point and purpose of human existence. The would-be social critic intends his or her use of the word “consumerism” to itself serve as a scold. How could you do that? Why don’t you wake up and smell the real meaning of life?

The interesting part, at least to my eye, is the fact that such harangues are literally never accompanied by an underlying concern over the rank capitalist bias, rotten history, and Procrustean hacks that reside in the label “consumer.” Instead of explaining how the rise of the word “consumer” reflects the triumph of corporate capitalist priorities and projects, the would-be social critic ignores the root bias, then proceeds to scold his or her audience for their purported “consumerism.” In the process, the screamingly obvious point — that getting people to behave as if the acquisition and using up of commodities were the point and purpose of human existence is one of the main institutional priorities and managerial activities of modern capitalism — goes unmentioned.

As such rote thoughtlessness passes for serious social analysis, capitalists are laughing all the way to the hedge fund.