Category: Marketing

Marketing’s totalitarian dream

Perhaps this is a waste of brainspace and furthers BMW’s viral ambitions (a common lament on this blog), but I can’t pass on commenting about this horrendous excuse for invasive marketing. As you can see from the video’s presentation, audiences were subjected to the old afterimage trick of burning an image into their retinal cones so as to produce a floating BMW in their vision. This was one of the first experiments conducted by Descartes that led him to formulate his famous aphorism, “Cogito ergo sum” (I think therefore I am). He noted that the afterimage proved that all mental images were internal physiological impressions which could only mean that any thoughts we have would be essentially visual representations of reality– the same kind of thinking that dominates a mechanistic view of cognition.

In terms of marketing, it follows, then, that if the advertiser can impress in your mind its brand, it can then program your choices and thoughts. This kind of totalitarian view of humanity should send shivers up our collective spine. But instead, these kinds of tactics are hailed as revolutionary and worthy of awe. In BMW’s own hype-machine voice (“Involve me. And I will understand.”), the campaign wants to “astonish” the viewers, which is supposed to translate as some kind of empowerment. The ad gets even creepier when the motorcyclist says he pursues power because it is his dream, one presumably implanted by BMW like an “inception” (from the movie of the same title). The subtext, if anyone is paying attention, is that the dream of personal power and velocity (never mind the consequences for the environment and our culture of speed) is enabled by BMW’s invasion of our dreamspace. BMW wants its dreams to be ours, while letting us think the dream is our own.

Really? It makes one wonder what BMW means by “understand.” Luckily this vision of how the human mind functions in the environment is actually not what happens. From the view of ecological intelligence and communication, ideas are “disturbances.” They trigger responses, but don’t control them. Such was the case when I saw this video; the ad caused an oppositional response as opposed to the preferred reading that BMW intended (indeed, the anti-BMW responses on the video’s YouTube page are quite funny and telling). This won’t be the case for lots of people, but through education and interventions like this, perhaps the stupid conjuring of over-paid cognitive magicians will end up in the digital dustbins of history.

Branding stream of consciousness

The Multiproduct Commercial from Therefore Productions on Vimeo.

What if every thought was tied to a brand? Though this video is intended to parody a recession-hit ad industry, I find it a humorous vision of a dystopic world in which every impulse and desire has an associated brand remedy. Additionally, it captures the fleeting loyalty of a product saturated reality. Shattered attention and the decentered world of marketing leads to a reality mash-up with little coherence except for displacement that can only be stabilized through consumption.

Talk about a bad feedback loop.

CNN’s lesson in branding history

CNN’s recent re-branding effort, “Go Beyond Borders,” presents a bit of a conundrum for me. On the one hand this is a brilliant marketing campaign that is also educational and interactive. On the other hand, it really bleeds the line between marketing, history and interpassivity–designing carefully controlled parameters of interactive media that are “free” in aesthetic only.

Here CNN re-brands itself as “borderless,” yet it’s not just any border. It carefully chooses an event whose symbolism as the triumph of capitalism cannot be ignored. At a time when capitalist ideology should be challenged by media, CNN intrenches itself as the premiere network of capitalist dogma, incorporating the various signs and trademarks of the system’s triumphs– the fall of communism, art, marketing and networked technology–to bundle them into their own nifty little neoliberal package.

Is this something to be concerned about? Commercialism has penetrated every aspect of public life. I know I’m old school when I argue for a clear line between the public good and corporate interests, whereas others would say, what’s the big deal? Maybe it shows that corporations are responsive to the public good. Yet, as is the case with BP, it’s one thing to brand yourself and side with a particular outlook, it’s another thing to practice it. Given a choice between CNN and Fox, I would certainly prefer CNN, but I would hardly call the network virtuous. It certainly remains a primary propaganda arm of global capital. This is not a conspiracy, just business. After all, which “side” do you think Time Warner Inc. is on? Wall Street’s or yours?

I suppose the world is more nuanced than my cartoon, punk rock version of it, yet it’s still hard for me stomach this marketing ploy couched as a history lesson.

BP games Google and chemical disbursements for the mind

(Check out Greenpeace’s re-brand BP page)

An interesting item from the Huff Post: BP is greenwashing Google searches through paid ad placements. I haven’t commented yet on the spill because this catastrophe is so huge, I can’t seem to contain it. A quick thought, though, related to this post’s lead: I think it’s interesting (and predictable) that BP’s history of greenwashing would translate as actual clean-up strategy. The use of chemical oil disbursements, for example, eliminates the visual scourge of oil slicks while poisoning the ocean bottom and doing little to stop the underwater oil plumes. Is this not a perfect metaphor for the psychic effects of greenwashing?

Finally, more fodder for the doublethink department: I’m increasingly concerned that the Right is using this spill to attack environmentalists, using their PR witchcraft to power an unconscionable noise machine. As always I hope that people will see through this, especially when oil starts raining down on rich coastal communities during hurricane season. Golf courses and McMansions offer no shelter from evil.

It reminds me of a scene in Three Kings when the Iraqi soldier pours oil down George Clooney’s throat while berating him: “You want oil? Here’s you’re oil!” (I’m paraphrasing here.) This will surely be a test of the addict’s denial mechanism. Will this be the bottoming out in which a life-changing turn-around commences for the addict? Will we enter into collective OA (Oil Anonymous)? Will this be our Chernobyl cum Berlin Wall moment?

As they say, denial ain’t a river in Egypt. It’s a big, fat ink blot on the region whose circular depression was created by an ancient meteor believed to have caused our last global extinction. Its legacy is the fuel that drives our entire economic system: decomposed dinosaur.

The sport of mindfrakking, or how my pointless outrage helps spread another ad virus


The pith* theory of advertising.

* Pithing is when you stick a needle in the brain of a live frog. The goal is to scramble its brain in order to immobilize it for dissection while it is still alive. When applied to advertising a paradox or insult is used like a needle to confuse and conquer unwilling media gawkers into immobile rage. In protest I won’t post a link.

Ciao amigo, buy me


This is an interesting ad that blurs the lines between self-reflexivity, DIY and marketing. You can click each element and it explains why it’s there. I think it works because it offers to teach something you may not know, all the while offering a way to further your curiosity. I’ve noticed that a lot new media has a very buttoned down, let’s hang out and chat kind of discourse. Does this mean we have reached the end of empire in which we are told what is good for us? Or is this just a more relaxed version?

Untamed Two, unleashed

(watch the videos in order)

Do you want to frak this car?

One of the key themes of Carolyn Merchant’s The Death of Nature is the loss of a cultural restraining ethic in our dominant global paradigm, one that limits “progress” and prohibits the over-exploitation of land. Up to the Renaissance it was commonly held in European cultures that it was sinful to plunder Earth. With the scientific and industrial revolutions, that ethic of restraint has become a heresy, in particular if it inhibits capitalism’s primary product, growth. As I write this, though, I see how “growth” is actually a gross misnomer because what “grows” is financialization, and hence disimbedding from the constraints of nature, while simultaneously diminishing the biosphere’s diversity and “budget of flexibility,” to put in Gregory Bateson‘s words, which makes ecosystems so resilient to disturbances. Bateson likened the situation to a tightrope walker’s balance pole getting increasingly smaller. We’re on the verge of whittling ours down to the nubs of our hands.

Given this context, we should be weary of popular buzzwords like “unleash.” From the Enlightenment perspective, unleashing the autonomous self on a global scale is a virtue, but from the view of a constraining ecological ethic, “unleashing” is akin to cutting loose the ego pitbull, which has been designed not to cooperate or participate in the cultural commons, but to terrify neighbors and to destroy a sense of community, best expressed by Margaret Thatcher, who said there is “no such thing as society, only individual men and women.” She added, “Economics are the method, but the object is to change the soul” (P. 23 from David Harvey’s Brief History of Neoliberalism (highly recommended!)).

Thus we come to Untamed Two, stand-ins for two new Mini Cooper models (two new *models*, get it?). This is a fairly clear example of the merger between culture and car industries in the current waive of branded entertainment. Gleaning the ad’s imagery and banal disco-pop soundtrack, the images at best a parody of the worst kind of Euro-trash bourgeois aesthetic, “aesthetic” being a kind word given the state of the world.

Part one’s mirror motif is reminiscent of a tale told by Borges. In it he refers to an old Chinese legend about an emperor’s battle against a race of specular beings from the mirror world who had previously lived side-by-side with humans. Upon losing the war with the Yellow Emperor they were banished back to the mirror world, and forced to imitate all our movements. The legend warns that one day the people inside the mirror will return, and we’ll know of their eminent arrival when we hear the clanking of their weapons from behind the mirror. I liken the mirror people to our fractured and shadowed unconsciousness, the disembodied observer self common to people who experience extreme trauma. In our collective Western psyche, with linear perspective and later the Industrial Revolution, we pushed away from our Earthen bodies as we increasingly mass mediated our lives, disembedding ourselves from a grounded and sacred relationship with the Gaia. The mirror world starts to replace the one we evolved in.

McLuhan writes of the Narcissus myth as an allegory for our amputated selves transported into this mirror world. Failing to feel anything in our own bodies, we look to the media to re-stimulate and reawaken our machinated corpses (see Romanyshyn’s Technology as Symptom and Dream for a great discussion of the transformation of our living bodies into corpses, machines, robots and now astronauts). The more we call upon media to awaken us, the more we turn ourselves over to the mediation of our very bodies so as to avoid feeling the pain of the world.

Which brings us to the next two installments of the Mini Cooper ads. In them we see quasi-David Lynch horror edits that jar the nerves, exemplifying how media evolve to make us feel (something), thereby satisfying the viewing public’s increasingly desensitized need for amped-up nerve stimulation, the clawing, animalistic growls an allusion–and nod even–to the repressed animal-being in all of us. Not surprisingly, it’s the “wild” woman–not the rational man who is to buy the car–who invokes in the male gaze a broken mirror of the ancient, “primitive” self. She smashes a pastoral scene with cows, an ironic image given that many believe that it was the domestication of animals and plants that initiated our separation from a holistic connection to the land and each other. So the deeper shadow of our long-lost carnal selves is there, but it’s so twisted and deformed, its benevolent and mutual aid nature has been mutilated beyond recognition.

Unless you pay attention.

Sacred disasters

Adorno said “writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” The updated version could have been, “marketing after 9/11 is uncivilized,” but alas, the American response to 9/11 was more advertising and to shop as much as possible (at least this was Bush’s command). But in some cases the dictum still stands; thus a major dustup over a “spec” ad made by DDB Brazil to drum up business with WWF. Both organziations deny any connection to the ad.

Here is a print version:

Tsunami-9 11-1

There is major condemnation coming from all quarters calling the image “offensive.” Presumably it’s because 9/11 has a sacred aura that must not be tampered with– unless you are a politician trying to motivate a reluctant public to go to war. I realize that seeing the event trivialized in the ad is potentially traumatic to the viewing pubic. After I got mugged at gunpoint I felt any ad with pistol pointing at me was traumatizing, which made walking through Manhattan impossible. But if we are going to criticize the ad on these grounds, let’s at least be consistent. I know some critics of the ad were also critical of the Republicans for using 9/11 to run their campaigns on, but 9/11 has been so desacralized by mediation the claim that the event is beyond parody or artistic interpretation is no longer valid.

But let’s look at the message itself. I think it’s a valid point to juxtapose the tragedy of 9/11 with those caused by global climate change. The Tsunami, however, is a terrible example. It was the result of an earthquake. We could do far better by pointing to the number of lives destroyed by wacky weather, technology and human-made natural catastrophe. But more to the point, are we advocating social change for the environment to save human lives? Or is there a greater cause at stake, namely that the biosphere does not exist primarily for humans? It’s true that we often don’t take action unless there is a direct impact on our lives (that is, one that is visceral and clear), but shouldn’t we be advocating for a broader sense of justice, one for the planet and all its inhabitants?

On this point, I think the following image does a much better job (it reads, “For nature, everyday is 9/11”–go here for a larger version):


To be fair we are making metaphorical comparisons in which the situations are ultimately not analogous. Terrorism is a political tool targeted at other humans designed to “disrupt business as usual.” It’s a kind of media with very real, violent results. The destruction of the biosphere is less shocking because it is so pervasive and normal that it garners little attention. Is the Tsunami Earth terrorism against humans? Hardly! But Katrina? To say a hurricane has intentions is to move into a class of wingnuts like Pat Robertson, however we could say that Katrina was actually a human created disaster that revealed a structural form of state violence.

I suppose images of environmental destruction don’t garner equal outrage when compared to images of terrorism because the latter is a violation of our sacred trust in the stability of the system and state, whereas through the lens of technocratic media the environment has lost its sacredness, so much so that to call the biosphere sacred would relagate a commentator to the luny bin of public access TV or the Internet, far from the sane discourse of the evening news and trade papers.

Unmarketing sacred cows

One of the strategies of culture jamming is to “uncool” brands. Although I don’t believe that this tactic in and of itself is the be-all of environmental activism, I do like how Greenpeace is taking on sacred cows of consumer culture, such as Kleenex, and now Nike (and other sneaker companies).

I’m a little skeptical that depicting the disgusting practices of leather production will succeed– I think most people turn away from ugly images that don’t conform to their reality. But, I do find it useful to make the connection between the making of shoes and environmental destruction, especially for youth who are increasingly environmentally conscious and the primary consumers of brand-name sneakers.

PS I’m still of vacation and am only blogging occasionally. I hope everyone out there is enjoying the summer break (if you are a teacher or student, that is).

Sustainable marketing

Diana Verde Nieto of Clownfish writes an interesting piece in AdAge about “sustainable marketing”– a double entendre because usually these kinds articles have to deal with how the profession survives the economy, as opposed to how does marketing become relevant in a world that demands sustainable behavior. I think she’s on the right track. The key I look for in any manifesto is global ethics, which is often left out of survival pitches made by ad agencies. But if companies want to survive (literally– because you can’t sell products to an extinct species), then point one– credibility– should be the buzz word of the century.

As she points out, credibility is earned, not a figment of the marketing imagination. We are in an increasingly transparent environment and the fact is that it’s harder for people to get away with shit. In New Mexico people say, “look how your are” if you start behaving foolishly or amorally. I think it’s time we look at companies straight in the eye and tell them, look how you are. I’m glad to see some in the biz are starting to point the mirror at each other. ’bout time.

How Sustainability Marketing Can Help in Recession – GoodWorks – Advertising Age:

Credibility: This means no more fluff. Communications have to be underpinned by robust, verifiable technical data. This may not sound exciting, but it’s important, because sustainability communications without substance are being singled out by nongovernmental organizations and are even being banned. In the U.K. in 2007, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that 19 ads should be withdrawn for making misleading green claims, a rise from the 10 banned in 2006.

Clarity: Clear, genuine, authentic messages promote transparency, and research shows there is a positive correlation between transparency and trust. This means that instead of making vague statements about being “eco-friendly,” touch points need to be tangible. According to Shelton Group, 88% of consumers have a positive association with the concept of energy efficiency, while only 62% feel the same way about “green.” Eco-labeling, while sometimes helpful, does not always provide clarity. When Boots, a British retailer, surveyed its consumers after labeling a line of shampoos with its carbon footprint, they found that 28% didn’t know that a product’s carbon footprint was related to climate change.

Consistency: Sustainability is not a trend. In fact, at Clownfish, we believe it’s the business model for the 21st century. Sustainability is systemic and not about tackling single issues. As such, it should be applied consistently across business processes. Companies need to develop long-term sustainability strategies that are matched by rigorous business discipline and create a movement, not a campaign. Consistency is also important in the sense that messages must resonate with the company’s existing voice in the marketplace.

Conversation: In the old world of the Mad Men, the brands that won were those that told the best stories. But digital is changing that. In the new world, the brands that win will be those whose consumers and other stakeholders tell the best stories. It used to be a one-way narrative, and now it’s a two-way conversation. Tap the interactive potential of the internet to engage your critics as well as allow your fans to get penetration into the blogosphere and create a clear call to action for your consumers.

Candy is not community: more marketing anthropology

This slide show is definitely worth giving this presentation a whirl (press the green button to hear the narrative). It’s interesting how marketers and media theorists read the same books, but the difference is what people do with the information. In this presentation by John V Willshire at PHD Media, he breaks down the major media revolutions described in Benkler’s Wealth of Networks, but comes up with some bizarre (but not surprising) conclusions.

For example, I don’t agree with Willshire’s definition of community. It is very mechanistic. Communities are not just people who communicate with each other, they are people who have shared meaning and symbols. Talking about a product is not shared meaning. However, I do think there are some good ideas here, particularly about attracting people through engagement and giving them something useful (for free) as a way of drawing people into the kind of services you offer. I just hope it is something more meaningful than a candy bar.

The first one is always free..

Upon reading Ann Elizabeth Moore‘s awesome polemic, Unmarketable, I’m tempted to create a new blog category, “clusterfrak.” This would be necessary for posts in which I feel compelled to document nefarious marketing practices that have infiltrated the counterculture, but in doing so am forced to give free publicity to the offender. What is one to do?

Moore’s book is a passionate plea for the return to integrity. As a former Punk Planet writer and most excellent journalist, Moore brings in her passion as an activist who believes strongly in community spaces free of corporate marketing. She laments (as do I) the inevitable commercialization of community spaces that she holds dearly. She decries further the willingness of scenesters to sell out their peers for a buck, noting that in her own social experiment that she was able to get zine-makers to give away all their rights to her in exchange for free candy.

Moore articulates a sound criticism of culture jamming and Adbusters, which echoes my own rants on this blog. Essentially culture jamming ends up creating more mindshare and attention for the brands they intend to criticize. Even a book like Naomi Klein’s No Logo becomes a primer for ad agencies on how to market to the anti-marketers. Talk about a clusterfrak!

I think the one unarticulated irony that results from reading Moore’s book is the fact that punk has always depended on capitalism for its existence. Just as Satanists need Christianity to define themselves, punk depends on an industrialized system to justify itself. With postmodernism that all ends because you no longer have a clear target or something to bounce off of. That is is why I always refer to punk as the last rebellion of the Industrial Age. Note, I’m not saying the “last rebellion,” just one that can claim a distinct space outside of corporate control. Clearly that is no longer the case.

Speaking of which, what initially compelled the writing of this post was another blog post about Groove Armada offering its music for free on the Web, but the catch is that you have to register into a Bacardi social network site to get your “free” stuff (BTW Mog appears to also be advertising the Bacardi ruse– actually, it’s not a ruse at all, which is even more depressing). Unlike Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails who did offer their albums for fee on their own Websites, this is clearly a Bacardi marketing ploy that surely paid Groove Armada well.

At first I felt like ignoring this, not wanting to draw attention to Bacardi who, thanks to me, has a little more free advertising. But because I find it reprehensible that musicians remain blinded to the devil’s pact they make with alcohol companies I feel the need to speak up. Considering how much alcoholism and drug abuse has ravished the music scene, I just find it unconscionable that music magazines and artists continue to support the alcohol industry.

Which leads me to the conundrum of how to draw attention to this without giving Bacardi more air time than it deserves. I suppose the only thing I can do at this point is to warn you that that the Groove Armada track really sucks. OK, I actually didn’t even listen to it, but I’m offering this preventative measure as a last ditch effort to remind you that the first one is always free…

To paraphrase former Homeland Security tzar Tome Ridge, You’ve been warned!

Compelling Amnesty ad

Find more videos like this on AdGabber

Though I’m a big supporter of Amnesty International, I find something a little troubling about this ad. Part of it is based on some resent criticism I’ve been reading about how NGOs tend to work outside the context of the societies they are functioning in, and can inevitably buttress the control mechanisms of empire by advocating for universal rights and interventionism. Hence Bush can take the rhetoric of the NGO as justification for invading Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet, human rights are so intrinsic for international norms that provide a space for justice.

Strangely, though, the creates an odd vicariousness for ones actions in which a fantasy for justice is fulfilled in simplistic terms without allowing for the complexity of a situation. It’s like playing a video game that insulates us from the difficulty of real struggle. There’s certainly more blood, sweat and tears than this push-button kind of justice. Nonetheless, I remain a committed supporter of AI. I just don’t like this unsettled sense of ambivalence abetted by marketing and technology.

Here’s the beef

Burger King is becoming the Ann Coultor of marketers, which means that by reacting to their rediculous marketing strategies, we’re playing into their hands. But in the latest BK social atrocity can’t be missed only to remark on the problem of postirony, which is a sure sign of the end of marketing itself. The problem is simply that if the only way one can survive in this environment is through self-paraody, there surely must be no integrity left to fall back on.

BK ‘Sacrifices’ Whopper Facebook Application – Advertising Age – News:

CHICAGO ( — It all started with a little fun and games, dumping Facebook friends for a free sandwich. Burger King, through agency Crispin Porter & Bogusky, posted a Facebook application last week that promised users a free Whopper if they eliminated 10 friends.

Since then, 234,000 friends have been axed as part of “Whopper Sacrifice,” for a total of 23,400 free lunches — likely to be eaten alone. After all, the application alerted a person’s friend network when someone was dumped over one-tenth of a burger. Generally, when a Facebook user cuts a friend, the person isn’t notified, nor are any of their friends. But because Burger King was essentially singling out users for ridicule, Facebook had a beef with the application.

Marketing anthropology on Gen Y

Continuing with more cultural analysis from the perspective of marketers, we have this interesting take on the Gen Y narrative. To be honest, I’m now getting confused who is Gen Y and who are the Millennials. I guess that goes along with the theme of the slideshow which is increasing ambiguity and fewer boundaries, but I thought that was a Gen X thing. Anyhow, I suggest going through the whole program. It takes about halfway through to get the graphic coherence of the show’s own narrative. This goes along with my general frustration with the current 2.0 trend to leave explanation of new tools in some obscure corner of the Website, forcing us video game style to figure out what exactly the thing is supposed to do (and to register without any explanation as to why we should!).

Via BrandNoise.