Wednesday, February 6, 2008

....And We're Off!

Thanks to those who have inquired about my silence on this blog lately. I've taken a break from blogdom for a few weeks - not reading any, not writing any, hoping that the blog muse would sing to me again after an absence. Aries are not known for their constancy when the shiny newness wears off of an interest or passion. But, Lord, who can resist blogging on the day after Super Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras? Shirley, not I.

I'm just positive that in two hundred, five hundred, nine hundred years or so, after our artifacts have been unearthed by alien anthropologists, some pointy-eared, web-fingered, duck-footed, carbon dioxide-breathing professor type will conclude that the science and art of marketing/advertising was the single-most influential factor of American civilization.

Marketing has been around in some form or other since Eve traded half an apple for a designer fig leaf, but it really worked up steam in the last half of the last century, when our over-productive economy began selling everything to everybody. Here, Wikipedia tells me that in 2006, US spending on advertising reached 156 billion dollars, worldwide it was 385 billion, and the 2010 expenditures are expected to be half a trillion dollars.

Old print and TV advertisements, old actors in costumes, old familiar trademarks have become iconic and generate instant nostalgia when resurrected. I'll always have a warm spot in my heart for Wonder Bread, with its colorful polka dots on its fresh white wrapper -- the wrapper that, unfortunately, has more nutritional value than the white bread inside. Today, those Happy California Cows tempt me to push the envelope on lactose intolerance, even though I think most cheese is disgusting. And just look at the millions (yes, you too) who tuned in to the Super Bowl, not just for the game but for the entertainment of the gazillion-dollar commercials. For heaven's sake, when Dick Wilson (the Charmin toilet tissue spokesman) died, he rated mention on national news -- now that's product recognition and consumer loyalty.

Marketing isn't all bad, of course. Religious, charitable, educational and health-care institutions all reserve a large chunk of their operating budgets for "communication", i.e., marketing. Would we know smoking is a serious health risk without the health marketers who tell us so? On the other hand, would we even BE smoking without the marketing that brought us Lucky Strike Goes To War, Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man?

Now there's the question. Would we be doing or thinking anything at all without marketing? It's certainly one of our primary sources of information, and I don't mean just paid marketing. It's one of the most important ways our culture is modeled to us -- it's where many of our cultural myths come from, where we learn what to expect (inaccurately, all too often) from Life itself.

Hollywood has done its share of marketing the fantasy of the American Dream. Marital bliss, extra-marital bliss, the Happy Family, the princess wedding, teenage angst (did teenagers even exist before Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland?), women without cellulite and sagging breasts, strong, able MEN who run businesses, solve the world's problems and inhabit the White House. I don't even want to think what Disney has sold to generations of kids since the 1950's.

Wiki also talks about public interest advertising, cause marketing, social marketing and, God help us, political marketing. Which brings me to the point of this blog on this day.

By the time the professional marketers are finished with us in November, we won't have one clear idea who really stands for what, whose background facts are valid, who knows or means what he/she says. What we will know is exactly and only what the pros want us to know. (Remember Bill Clinton's "It's the economy, stupid!" Well, it worked, didn't it.)

Every speech, every article, every appearance, every sound bite will be geared to a precise audience that has been analyzed to death by its demographics. Each of us will have been sectioned and cross-sectioned in so many ways we'll look like we've been mashed through a potato ricer.

How many demographics describe you? Think: Age, race, marital status, income, education, employment, ethnicity, children, religious and political party affiliation, sexual orientation... all of which are only the tip of the melting iceberg. Practically every move we make, every health issue, every purchase, every vice and virtue, every interest, every problem and concern, every facet of our lives can be quantified by someone who never met a statistic they couldn't manipulate.

All of this -- ALL OF THIS -- will be fodder for the coming months' politicking. You can bet that if you're watching a candidate's speech or debate, your issues will be spoken to in the exact language they think you want to hear -- not in cold truth, not in objective facts, but in phrases tested for their palatability by focus groups representing your demographic.

Even though our "free press" is idealistically supposed to be free of influence, we all know it's not. (If you don't think that is an accurate statement, could it be because your views are the same as the media's?) Don't look to the major media outlets for any objectivity in the coming months. You may get two sides of the story presented in the same 90-second coverage, but bias will be present in the language, in the attitude, in the smug and arrogant presentation that, in the end, will showcase the media's choice to the best advantage.

In this blog post I wrote about the lack of objectivity I find in the media at all levels. I stand by that post, and I personally dread the months to come. Because we are so susceptible to marketing, and so bombarded by it in every arena, I know that the person who takes the oath of office next January will be the candidate with the slickest marketing campaign -- the one who will be sold best to the American public, exactly the same as the "real cheese from the happy California cows."


annie kelleher said...

its good to see your pixels again :)

Intelwmn2 said...

Good to see you back in strong form once again, hitting the proverbial nail on the head.

When big city newspapers are being bought out by real estate moguls, laying off insightful, bright reporters, media giants will win the war on on cyber think. Why dirty our hands with truth in print when we can push back the
computer chair, or barcolounger, for the news on the boob tube?

Just For Fun (with a guaranteed smile)