Marketing Humanity

by Jan Baughman


November 29, 2004   


(Swans - November 29, 2004)   Marketing is a powerful and skilled tool to influence and manipulate the truth. It has convinced us that military assault vehicles are the cool cars of choice for running urban errands. It brought us catch phrases for programs such as "No Child Left Behind" that cons consumers into thinking it leaves no child behind, while education funding is slashed and burned; and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" that is not spreading freedom and democracy, but the destruction of an entire country, and destabilization beyond. It sterilizes human suffering and death in the non-human toll of "collateral damage," while branding our enemy "insurgents" and "enemy combatants" so as to delegitimize their cause (self defense) and justify their destruction (murder); while we label ourselves and our ally "freedom fighters." The more a phrase is repeated, the more it becomes familiar, and the more it becomes familiar, the more it is accepted as "truth." The marketers wasted no time in establishing 57 million votes against their candidate (or a net 2.8% in his favor) as a national mandate -- capital to be spent on such continued deception and further spreading of an agenda with "the truth."

Of course, consumers don't analyze sound bites, the fast food of news. They take a bite, swallow it, and expel it out the other end with only a vague recollection of what was eaten. But the next time that sound bite appears, it does so in the form of something familiar and comfortably reproducible, just like a commonly known fact, or a Big Mac and fries.

On the other hand, the marketers use another neat trick to dupe the consumers into a false sense of information overload -- a three-dimensional assault with visual and auditory sound bites such that nothing is retained except for a feeling of news bombardment. Watch CNN Headline news, with its main story read by the anchor while secondary stories are captioned near the bottom of the screen, and ever-changing bits of sports scores or stock prices appear at the very bottom. With sound bites galore, who can ask for anything more? The consumer is left feeling news-satiated. There's no room for inconsequential sound bites such as "Leaders embed anti-abortion measures into Federal spending bill," which might actually whet our appetite for additional information.

The marketers lead us into spending beyond our means -- because we can (0% financing for 5 years!), because we should (it's patriotic) and because we cannot NOT (unless we don't have [insert object] we aren't [insert adjective]). All this leads to an average American debt that is 40% of "disposable" income, and a savings rate of less than half of one percent of that "disposable" income. Meantime, the marketers tell us that we (responsible financiers) should have control of our own Social Security funds. The spin? It should be oursto squander, (thereby stimulating the economy), not save, (thereby being available when needed...) Would you trust your retirement funds with an investor that flaunted a minus 39.5% return on investment?

So why can't we have a Madison Avenue PR firm that uses all the tricks, from the subliminal to the blatant, to help debunk the propaganda, and change our attitudes from "what's in it for me, today?" to "what's best for the planet and the good of humanity?"

There was a time in America when the roads and freeways were lined with even more trash, and we didn't blink an eye when people threw their fast-food garbage out of the car window. Iron Eyes Cody stood on the side of the road and someone in a passing vehicle threw trash at his feet...a single tear ran down his face...the message read, "People start pollution, people can stop it."

Imagine the new ad campaigns:

A teenage boy is alone in a dark auditorium looking up at a listing of his school curriculum, displayed in the form of an airport flight status monitor, which class by class reads:

Music: Cancelled
Art: Cancelled
Physical education: Cancelled
Reading: Cancelled
Language studies: Cancelled
History: Cancelled
Geography: Cancelled
Army ROTC: Now boarding

His youthful face is ashen and trembling; he looks around the room desperate and confused as if this must be some kind of mistake.

Caption: Give children the tools to live, not to kill...

In another ad: "US insurgents fired their weapons of mass destruction at Iraqi men, women and children, who struggled to save their lives and homes from destruction while Iraqi freedom fighters made desperate attempts to defend them from the occupying forces. Scores of Iraqi civilians were burned, maimed or killed, while US collateral damage was not reported."

Pan to a likeable middle-aged woman turning her Chevy Suburban into the driveway with its "Support Our Troops" bumper sticker; she descends gaily from the truck to collect her spoils of a successful day at the mall; the music turns dark and somber as her eyes catch the soldiers waiting anxiously at the front door; she drops her bags and falls to her knees at the side of the truck knowing that the greatest, deepest fear of her daily life has come true. A single tear rolls down her cheek and the caption reads,

"People start war, people can stop it."

We need an ad agency for humanity. We need to have a gut-wrenching response to every human killed in war instead of dismissing "collateral damage" as if it were a broken vase. We need marketing counter-intelligence to help us recognize the fallacies of our daily lives and the realities of the havoc we are wreaking on this world and its people. We need to represent the hungry and impoverished, such that we see their faces, rather than a number we simply cannot fathom. We know the talent exists -- it manipulates our lives, every day.

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Actions & Ideas to NOT play the Game on Swans

America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Jan Baughman on Swans (with bio).

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Published November 29, 2004
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