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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

without ads

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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

city without ads

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Amazing little piece in the Times today, reporting that São Paulo will ban outdoor advertisements of every sort come January 1:

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Imagine a modern metropolis with no outdoor advertising: no billboards, no flashing neon signs, no electronic panels with messages crawling along the bottom. Come the new year, this city of 11 million, overwhelmed by what the authorities call visual pollution, plans to press the “delete all” button and offer its residents an unimpeded view of their surroundings.

But in proposing to transform the landscape, officials have unleashed debate and brought into conflict sharply differing conceptions of what this city, South America’s largest and most prosperous, should be.

City planners, architects and environmental advocates have argued enthusiastically that the prohibition, through a new “clean city” law, brings São Paulo a welcome step closer to an imagined urban ideal.

The law is “a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash,” Roberto Pompeu de Toledo, a columnist and author of a history of São Paulo, wrote recently in the weekly newsmagazine Veja. “For once in life, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”

As you might guess from the title of this site, I have a somewhat ambivalent relationship to advertisements, but this seems like an amazing, almost revolutionary idea, at least to this American.

….but then again, one might start to wonder how exactly the Paulistanos will find a way to navigate the city…

(think I’ve posted that video before… sorry if so…)

(There’s an update here…)

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December 12, 2006 at 9:32 pm

serving size

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From an interesting interview with Geoff Manaugh, the guy behind BLDGBLOG, at Ballardian.

Ballard’s book don’t sell well in the U.S., but that’s entirely a top-down problem. I think the American publishing industry is in a state of free-fall, marketing all the wrong books in all the wrong ways. Trying to market Ballard would never occur to them. They want to sell people John Updike novels in hardcover — despite the fact that no one wants John Updike novels, and hardcover books are completely obsolete as a format. So they ‘experiment’ by publishing 900-page hardcover epics about farm life in 1920s Nebraska — and then still seem surprised that no one’s reading fiction in this country.

Short, good, fairly priced, intellectually progressive paperback books — that’s all you need.

Just so. If, seriously, I can’t bring myself to read those monsters – and I’m a professional for god’s sake, who exactly do they think will?

Xmas presents, xmas presents, and stuff for pretentious college-aged New Yorker readers… But not for immediate and actual consumption…

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November 12, 2006 at 11:38 pm

Posted in literature, marketing

hors-texte

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Perhaps “on n’a pas besoin de” rather than “il n’y a pas de,” in this case:

(There’s a better version here).

via City of Sound, where a commenter nails it: “That’s wonderful. Amazing to realize that you could pretty much navigate this context–a train station–entirely by media/logo/ui.” The fact is, we don’t feel entirely lost while watching this film, despite the fact that the unwritten world has faded to black…

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September 3, 2006 at 10:37 pm

Posted in distraction, marketing

my american adolescence as congealed within a braniff airways tv ad from the decade of my birth

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When you’ve got it, flaunt it!

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August 22, 2006 at 3:21 pm

Posted in america, marketing, sport

voigt-kampff test on youtube

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No, seriously, how grating, how absolutely symptomatic, of the slip of paranoid resistance under the fold of herbal essence “cool” in this video, friggin urban outfitters truckstop simulation, as it flashes from Dick himself, grubby and incessantly ticing, to these, what are they? Do we even need the missing labels?

Seriously, seriously. It’s a brilliant video. The human correlatives of Dick’s maddening prophesies respond to prophet himself with all of the inanity that he might have expected, feared…

UPDATE: Sorry. Was I unclear? My wife didn’t get wtf I was talking about either. I think it was my fault. But finally, after expanding a bit on my QEDing this video, she pointed me toward this, which is everywhere. Yes, that’s sort of what I meant. Am I being mean, a bit bitchy? Oh yes. But, really, it’s not just that. Rather, come on now, like the Foer that she is already incessantly compared to, the issue is what they’re picking for the big bucks, the mega-sophisticated marketting campaigns, our corporate guardians of culture. Pretty face, young, sure. But what troubles is the lack of interventional import, timeliness, human response. (It’s not in them. Look what happens when they try.) Bleach washing the f’d up stuff of the past, post relevance, to ensure a completely winterfresh and saltine reading xperience. Dick. Nabokov. Alan Moore. You name it. I mean, these are the big vehicles. I don’t know why I expect anything better, but… God, the cleanliness of these people. We are sure, at least, that they won’t make trouble. Spawn of the meritocracy (uh oh – getting close to home now), they multitask, they moon, they Brittany-up before the Obvious Issue. No. I just don’t know why I expect any better,here in ‘merica.

(META-UPDATE: Sorry, been struggling thru Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory at whole pages / hour. I think it’s starting to rub off on me, a bit.)

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August 17, 2006 at 12:27 pm

close reading

Ron Rosenbaum’s upset that the NY senators have failed to lead on gay marriage. (Behind the NY Observer’s paywall, unfortunately). Check out the mot juste triangulation that he sniffs out here:

So let’s look at little more closely at why New York’s liberal Senators are not taking a leadership position on this. Hillary Clinton’s extremely guarded statement on the subject can only be called classic Clintonism: She has limited herself to the somewhat cryptic formulation that “I think a marriage is as a marriage has always been: between a man and a woman.”

Cryptic because it could be taken as merely descriptive. As if, 100 years ago, someone had said that “voting is as voting has always been: something done by men” – not necessarily an endorsement of one-sex voting. Or is it meant to sound prescriptive, a dog whistle to potential red-state Presidential voters: Marriage should continue to be as it “has always been: between a man and a woman.”

It’s remarkable, isn’t it – with the Clintons, everything always seems to come down to the ambiguity of what “is” is. Here, is “is” an observation or an affirmation.

For another post, but not without relevance here: I cringe every time I come across a left / liberal blog with a snippet like “Proud member of the reality-based community” stapled beneath their title. For me, Clinton’s delphic talking point is a perverse or not so perverse instantiation of “reality-based” politics. But that’s for another day…

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July 28, 2006 at 10:02 pm

ballard: the aesthetic, boredom, and neo-fascism

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J.G. Ballard. from a slightly dated (June 2004) interview in the Guardian (again, via BLDGBLOG):

Today’s art scene? Very difficult to judge, since celebrity and the media presence of the artists are inextricably linked with their work. The great artists of the past century tended to become famous in the later stages of their careers, whereas today fame is built into the artists’ work from the start, as in the cases of Emin and Hirst.

There’s a logic today that places a greater value on celebrity the less it is accompanied by actual achievement. I don’t think it’s possible to touch people’s imagination today by aesthetic means. Emin’s bed, Hirst’s sheep, the Chapmans’ defaced Goyas are psychological provocations, mental tests where the aesthetic elements are no more than a framing device.

It’s interesting that this should be the case. I assume it is because our environment today, by and large a media landscape, is oversaturated by aestheticising elements (TV ads, packaging, design and presentation, styling and so on) but impoverished and numbed as far as its psychological depth is concerned.

Artists (though sadly not writers) tend to move to where the battle is joined most fiercely. Everything in today’s world is stylised and packaged, and Emin and Hirst are trying to say, this is a bed, this is death, this is a body. They are trying to redefine the basic elements of reality, to recapture them from the ad men who have hijacked our world.

This opposition between “psychological depth” and the “aesthetic” is truly intriguing. It’s certainly not the way that I usually think of it – that we suffer from deprivation of psychological depth and an overabundance of the aesthetic. And if what I’ve argued recently about Proust – and really I mean eventually to say about most literary modernism in general – could it be that there’s been a reversal in the poles on this front over the past century?

Can art be a vehicle for political change? Yes, I assume that a large part of Blair’s appeal (like Kennedy’s) is aesthetic, just as a large part of the Nazi appeal lay in its triumph of the will aesthetic. I suspect that many of the great cultural shifts that prepare the way for political change are largely aesthetic. A Buick radiator grille is as much a political statement as a Rolls Royce radiator grille, one enshrining a machine aesthetic driven by a populist optimism, the other enshrining a hierarchical and exclusive social order. The ocean liner art deco of the 1930s, used to sell everything from beach holidays to vacuum cleaners, may have helped the 1945 British electorate to vote out the Tories.

Interesting, again, to think of Blair’s appeal as “aesthetic.” We’re familiar with fascism as the “aestheticization of politics,” per Benjamin and others, but neoliberal third way-ism? I sense that Ballard’s right about this too, but how would we describe the “aesthetic” that Blair personifies or plays upon? And this bit about art deco and the advent of the welfare state is wild:

I assume by “ocean liner art deco” he means the advertising posters, available for sale now at the “art store” in every mid-rent mall. What is it about these images, so aggressively futurial and devoid of human mess, that would point the way, in Ballard’s mind anyway, toward the nationalization of utilities and long-distance transportation?

My real fear is that boredom and inertia may lead people to follow a deranged leader with far fewer moral scruples than Richard Gould, that we will put on jackboots and black uniforms and the aspect of the killer simply to relieve the boredom. A vicious and genuinely mindless neo-fascism, a skilfully aestheticised racism, might be the first consequence of globalisation, when Classic Coke® and California merlot are the only drinks on the menu. At times I look around the executive housing estates of the Thames Valley and feel that it is already here, quietly waiting its day, and largely unknown to itself.

So… The distinction between the art deco liner, an announcement via capitalism’s marketing jabber of the possible subsumption of capitalism itself, and the jackboot and shiny leather belt, would seem to be essential. Between the commonplace object, like something out a children’s book, monumentalized and the banalization of the exotically vicious, the hideous adornment of the self in the sartorial correlative of the self’s worst impulses.

In short, an elective psychopathy will come to our aid (as it has done many times in the past) – Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, all those willed nightmares that make up much of human history. As Wilder Penrose points out in Super-Cannes, the future will be a huge Darwinian struggle between competing psychopathies. Along with our passivity, we’re entering a profoundly masochistic phase – everyone is a victim these days, of parents, doctors, pharmaceutical companies, even love itself. And how much we enjoy it. Our happiest moments are spent trying to think up new varieties of victimhood…

Starts to seem as though our task, if we have one, is to combat boredom, but in an (exacty, impossibly) right way….

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March 28, 2006 at 11:17 pm

viral marketing

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Microsoft is in the process of ever so slowly revealing a new product, some sort of handheld computing device called Origami. There have been leaks of photos and old concept videos, and now a website that is an advertisement for a product not yet visible, not yet on the scene.

As everyone keeps saying who follows this stuff, Microsoft is ham-handedly imitating Apple, the master of the suspenseful half-leak, the provocation of consumer desire via disinformation, false hints, and the like. What will the next iPod do? What “one more thing” will Steve Jobs have for us this time?

All well and good, most likely a sign of waning demand for new technotoys – just to throw them out there on the market is no longer enough. The consumer must be romanced.

The viral marketing campaigns, in short, correlate to an awareness on the part of the marketers of the insufficiency of the products that they sell, the fact that the duration of marketability of the product must be extended backwards, back into the time before the products actual – and inevitably disappointing – appearance on the scene. The consumers, if they will buy at all, will buy on the first day of the products appearance and not afterward. Even by a minute.

Such is democracy, such is the “marketplace of ideas,” in which the public will buy the idea but only when unmoored from an actual product.

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March 8, 2006 at 2:27 am

Posted in marketing