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words and politics

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From Krugman’s column today:

But something else struck me as I looked at Republican arguments against the board, which hinge on the notion that what we really need to do, as the House budget proposal put it, is to “make government health care programs more responsive to consumer choice.”

Here’s my question: How did it become normal, or for that matter even acceptable, to refer to medical patients as “consumers”? The relationship between patient and doctor used to be considered something special, almost sacred. Now politicians and supposed reformers talk about the act of receiving care as if it were no different from a commercial transaction, like buying a car — and their only complaint is that it isn’t commercial enough.

Sounds like the work of Luntz to me… (Actually, here’s a summary of his 2009 memo on health care). See how this works? You preemptively and subtly rework the terms of the debate simply by changing the words that are used.

Both the facilitating situation and ultimate effect of this sort of rhetorical gamesmanship can be found in another article from the NYT today on a new national poll:

[S]lightly more Americans approve than disapprove of a proposal by Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin to change Medicare from a program that pays doctors and hospitals directly for treating older people to one in which the government helps such patients pay for private plans, though that support derived more from Republicans and independents. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll that found 65 percent opposed Mr. Ryan’s plan, suggesting results can vary based on how the question is asked.

Twice as many respondents said they would prefer cuts in spending on federal programs that benefit people like them as said they would favor a rise in taxes to pay for such programs.

Yet more than 6 in 10 of those surveyed said they believed Medicare was worth the costs. And when asked specifically about Medicare, respondents said they would rather see higher taxes than see a reduction in its available medical services if they had to choose between the two.

Arggh! Replace Medicare with vouchers, because it costs to much, but Medicare is also worth the costs. Cut spending on programs like Medicare rather than raising taxes, but also raise them to keep Medicare…. Obviously there’s, as always in America, sharp ideological polarization at play, but at least some – or actually probably a large percentage of respondents, when you think about it – who are answering questions in diametrically contradictory ways….

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April 22, 2011 at 10:00 am

keep the interesting in business: helen dewitt

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I’m not sure that all of my US readers (sounds like the UK ones maybe can’t) shouldn’t try to help Helen DeWitt out if they can. The Last Samurai is a very interesting novel; Helen is a very interesting novelist. The world needs more interesting, especially the literary part of the world. And she’s mentioned in a now-deleted post involving Neurathian isotype in her next book – which all AWP readers should understand and support.

(Just to be clear – the better end result from any interest this may spark in you is not to buy a used copy of her novel from Amazon, which will do you but not Helen any good. Unless I’m wrong, a new copy from Amazon would maybe do the trick… But better yet, follow her instructions…. You can pretend you’re paying me for my years of hard toil keeping all of you entertained and educated and such… We’re talking about somewhere in the environs of $15, so come on for chrissake!)

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April 16, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Posted in dewitt, marketing

tough love

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Democrats Set Bailout Conditions as Treasury Chief Rallies Support – NYTimes.com

But Mr. Paulson said that he was concerned that imposing limits on the compensation of executives could discourage companies from participating in the program.

“If we design it so it’s punitive and so institutions aren’t going to participate, this won’t work the way we need it to work,” Mr. Paulson said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Let’s talk about executive salaries. There have been excesses there. I agree with the American people. Pay should be for performance, not for failure.”

But he quickly added: “But we need this system to work, and so we — the reforms need to come afterwards.”

Sorry, I don’t follow. I thought, you know, the banks desperately needed this help. I thought that was, you know, the point. We’re worried that they’ll turn their backs on our bouquet and box of chocolates and then do what exactly? Is the idea that if we don’t let the executives keep their packages, they will intentionally destroy their companies rather than take the fed’s gift money?

Um, the fix is in kids….

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September 22, 2008 at 10:14 am

Posted in crisis, marketing

bêtise

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The New York Observer is to the realm of print journalism what Cops is to television programing. Both are born of utter rot. Both primarily feed and water the worst impulses in their audiences. But interestingly, both, because of their malignant rottenness, are venues for the near-exclusive exposure of the truth of American cultural life and its decay today.

I’ll leave you to troll through youtube looking for Cops examples, but here’s one from the Observer.

Dana Vachon, the 28-year-old banker turned blogger turned novelist about town, was not wearing socks. Just loafers. A buttery brown leather pair that may or may not have been Gucci and cocooned his feet to reveal just the manliest hint of hair-sprinkled skin. Set against an outfit of cobalt blue jeans, gold-coin cufflinks, and a gold-buttoned blazer, they perfected the look of a fresh Welton Academy grad who had just arrived for cocktails at the club.

As it happened, Mr. Vachon wasn’t sipping cocktails but herbal tea, and he was reclining at a table at the 1990’s trend-spot Balthazar—a restaurant that is, in theory at least, not a private club. It was an intriguing choice for a young scribbler whose first novel, Mergers and Acquisitions, is being promoted as the spiritual and stylistic heir to Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney’s coke-powered chronicle of early New York yuppiedom.

(snip)

He began by freelancing for magazines like The American Conservative, which led, at the suggestion of his B.B.F. (best blogger friend) Elizabeth Spiers, to a blog about the “life and adventures of a 26-year-old investment banker,” which led to his discovery by power-agent David Kuhn, which led, in the spring of 2005, to a deal with Riverhead Books. A big deal. Mr. Vachon would get $650,000 to produce two novels for the imprint. That he was a first-time author who sealed the deal on spec, with just a 70-page taste of his novel-to-be, made him irresistible to lit gossips.

(snip)

“I wanted to set down a portrait of this generation. Period,” he continued. “What’s the great Flaubertian quote? ‘All it takes for a member of the bourgeoisie to be happy is good health, selfishness, and stupidity, but the first two will get you nowhere if you don’t have the third’?” he said, slightly misquoting the author. “I love that.”

Seriously. Please. Stay. Away. From. The. Flaubert. You. Are. Going. To. Hurt. Yourself.

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April 6, 2007 at 2:42 am

adbusters and the “existential divide”

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(xposted to Long Sunday)

Adbusters1.Thumb

I wasn’t quite a charter subscriber to Adbusters, but fairly close to it. Maybe issue 10 or so, if memory serves. I cancelled about a year ago. While it has a certain connection to some of my perennial interests (see the name of my personal blog), I just started to feel increasingly out of touch with, what was it, the tone, the tonal politics, and the plain old politics of the magazine.

Here’s part of a post salvaged from my old site, just about when I wrote Adbusters to cancel out:

I’ve always been unsettled – in the wrong way – by the approach to politics embraced by Adbusters and the like. Seems to me to be an infinitely foreseeable adaptation of left politics to the self-help, self-fulfillment culture that marks the current tidal mark of the American experiment. Marie Antoinette-ism… What the magazine prescribes for its readership is something other than politics, I think. At base, it’s a strange sort of “lifestyle” magazine. It is full of stuff like this, from the current issue…

Here in rural Telemark, Norway, my husband and I have an ancient, 100-acre farm without a road, without electricity, without running water, without a computer or mobile telephone or washing machine or CD player or remote-control carrot-dicer… without corporate products, including Barbie dolls or Nike sneakers. We have a fjord-horse to do most of the heavy farm work (and so on…)

And a subscription to Adbusters, it would seem…

Anyway, they sell the magazine at the snazzy co-op where I buy my food, and the other day I bought a copy to see if anything has changed, either about the magazine or about me or both.

Nope.

Adbusters2.Thumb

Right from the first pages – which feature a “visual essay” by Kalle Lasn, the founder and editor – I found some material that I can only classify as disturbing, symptomatic, symptomatically disturbing. Here are a few snips:

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March 7, 2007 at 12:05 am

amazon hearts apartheid

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(Xposted to Long Sunday…)

It does seem a bit strange – a deviation from standard operating procedure – that Amazon threw an extremely caustic review from the Washington Post up under “editorial reviews” on the page listing Jimmy Carter’s (tremendously brave, from the title on) Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. Neither, if I recall correctly, does amazon usually cite newspaper reviews in this section nor do they allow reviews that run to such a great length above the fold. Go take a look… Here’s a snippet from the review.

This is a cynical book, its cynicism embedded in its bait-and-switch title. Much of the book consists of an argument against the barrier that Israel is building to separate Israelis from the Palestinians on the West Bank. The “imprisonment wall” is an early symptom of Israel’s descent into apartheid, according to Carter. But late in the book, he concedes that “the driving purpose for the forced separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa — not racism, but the acquisition of land.”

In other words, Carter’s title notwithstanding, Israel is not actually an apartheid state. True, some Israeli leaders have used the security fence as cover for a land-grab, but Carter does not acknowledge the actual raison d’etre for the fence: to prevent the murder of Jews. The security barrier is a desperate, deeply imperfect and, God willing, temporary attempt to stop Palestinian suicide bombers from detonating themselves amid crowds of Israeli civilians. And it works; many recent attempts to infiltrate bombers into Israel have failed, thanks to the barrier.

That the WP gave the review to Jeffrey Goldberg in the first place was a questionable decision. He is, in case you weren’t following the league tables, one of the runners up in the contest Judith Miller eventually won to see could deliver the most agitprop via “respected news sources” to the American people. (Here’s a Cockburn takedown from early 2003).

There’s an on-line petition to sign here.

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January 14, 2007 at 1:44 am

Posted in distraction, marketing, war

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So, seriously, did Condi Rice wear camouflage to her hearing before the senate foreign relations committee yesterday?

Wish I could find even better pictures for you. The one on the cover of today’s FT makes it shockingly clear. But a camo-based print certainly is a strange choice, no? Attire parapraxis? Subliminal hint? Acting out? Bald, sticker-on-the-SUV stupidity?

I wonder if it has anything to do with this, which I heard on the radio on the way home from campus Wednesday…

White House press secretary Tony Snow said Bush will try to shore up support for the war by raising hopes for victory and spelling out the consequences of defeat. The White House has sought to frame the Iraq debate as a choice between Bush’s plan and abject failure.

Snow conceded that Bush has a challenge in convincing a war-weary public.

“The president will not shape policy according to public opinion, but he does understand that it’s important to bring the public back to this war and restore public confidence and support for the mission,” Snow said.

The public has heard several previous campaigns by Bush to defend his Iraq policies and show that he is changing with changing circumstances. Since the war’s start in March 2003, there have been at least seven public-relations offensives by Bush on the war, with some of these speech series timed to milestone events and others to dips in polls.

Now, this is very strange talk for an employee of Bush Co., even given the turns that the polls have taken of late. The one thing that it is both easy to forget and essential not to forget is the fact that through every episode of this prolonged debacle, the administration has taken extraordinary steps to tease and/or force public opinion toward support of its policy decisions. It has been incredibly successful in doing so. To the great shame of this country, each and every major action has had the support of a majority of Americans, from the war on down.

But now, with his base gone, and even the once comatosely compliant congressional republicans sniping away, we hear from the press secretary that public opinion is irrelevant, and while, sure, it’d be great if the voters came along on the next leg of the trip, there will be no Rovian / Luntzian mindfucking marketing campaign this time around.

One wonders what’s next. I guess this time we won’t get the elaborate doubletalking rollout that we’ve become accustomed to. But if anything’s more worrisome that the terrifying coupling of an administration that never stops selling and a public willing to buy just about anything, it’s the intimation that perhaps the White House has decided it has no more reason to sell…

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January 12, 2007 at 10:51 pm

Posted in ads, marketing, war