<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Untitled Document

Mark Miller...advertising as propaganda

As advertising per se has come to encounter more and more sales resistance -- which is understandable, as people become more and more distrustful of these messages and harder and harder to stimulate, more and more blasé -- the advertisers have tried ever stealthier means to implant in your mind, in your soul, the urge to drink this or eat that or whatever it is. So you've got all kinds of methods that border on what people [in] spycraft call "black propaganda"; for example, folks who are paid to go to bars and chat up a new cigarette brand or brand of beer as if they were real people spontaneously celebrating this thing. You've got TV shows that are ostensibly ad-free, but they have logos and buildings and so on worked into the story so that the whole thing is really a commercial.

So we're moving away from advertising per se towards a more fundamental kind of pitch, which is what propaganda, generally speaking, always wants to do anyway. Advertising is just a commercial form of propaganda. What propaganda has always wanted to do is not simply to suffuse the atmosphere, but to become the atmosphere. It wants to become the air we breathe. It wants us not to be able to find a way outside of the world that it creates for us.

A certain kind of intense experience, an intense dramatic or aesthetic experience, tends to make advertising look like what it is, which is trivial; which is just a pitch, just trying to sell you something. What advertising is doing is trying to addict us to products, trying to get us to see consumption as the only way to live and ourselves as consumers as the only way to be. So the problem with an advertising-friendly cultural environment is that anything that's intense in any way is at risk of being erased, so that the usual smiley face of advertising, with all of its special effects, can dominate your consciousness.

The same thing has happened in the world of news. Decades back, the TV networks would themselves, at times, produce extremely powerful documentaries. CBS, in its heyday, did this great documentary about migrant farmworkers called Harvest of Shame. In the early '70s, they did this very powerful documentary about the military-industrial complex called The Selling of the Pentagon. Well, no advertiser wants to have his ad come up in the middle of or after a show like that. It's too sobering; it's too much about reality; it's too troubling; it's too much of a bummer. So the news, too, becomes increasingly magazine-like. The stories are more and more tacitly censored -- not necessarily explicitly censored, but they just don't seem to play properly -- so that the news has to become an adjunct to advertising as well. This is no way to have a functioning culture in a democratic society. It's a way that turns all the content of all the culture industries into [a] mere continuation of advertising.

Well, it's profoundly skewed. This argument is deeply wrong in a way that some of the greatest founders of this republic would have understood immediately. The political realm and the realm of consumption are two very different things. Take a look at advertisements. What is their ideology? What is their message? What do they value? What do they ask of us? Commercials say to us endlessly: "You come first, and you can only be empowered if you use this, you buy this. You come first."

Now, what republican democracy requires is what some have called civic virtue; that is to say, a willingness to sacrifice anything, any advantage, any pleasure, even life itself, for the greater good. This is an old, old ideal that comes from the Roman republic. There is a contradiction between that notion of service to the greater good, that kind of patriotism, that kind of self-effacement, that kind of self-sacrifice and the sort of sociopathic self-gourmandizing, the constant feeding, constant acquisition. The fact is, there's an antisocial dimension to aggressive consumption.

And that, I think, points to the key flaw in that claim by the champions of advertising that this is a form of democracy. It's not. It only has to do with a very narrow realm of daily life. I don't mean to say that material life is unimportant, but which product you buy is a fairly trivial question. In the political realm, democracy involves a lot more than going shopping. It involves participation; it involves dissent; it involves trying to improve the world you live in; it involves taking your civic responsibility seriously. So you can't really say that there's anything truly democratic about advertising.

Moreover, there's a flaw in the argument in that advertising can't be democratic, because it can only appeal to the people who can afford to buy the things that they're selling. So it's already addressing only that sector of the population that has a certain amount of disposable income. All those people who can't afford to buy personal computers, long-distance phone service, cable TV, you name it, what, they're not a part of the democracy? Well, according to the advertisers they're not, because the democracy is a big shopping excursion where we all get to buy whatever we want.

Now, Republicans are very good at propaganda. They happen to be very good at "propaganda," as we use that word negatively. We often think "propaganda" is a synonym for "lies"; we often think that "propaganda" is a synonym for "manipulation." Well, as a matter of fact, the word, when it was coined by the Vatican in the 17th century, was all about spreading the truth. In fact, any systematic attempt to move large numbers of people to some action is propaganda. Trying to get people to quit smoking, propaganda; to wear their seat belts, same thing.

Now, it is possible to have good propaganda that is good not only in that it's effective, but it's good in that it's promoting worthy ends and doesn't lie. One of the greatest works of propaganda in our history is Tom Paine's Common Sense. The Declaration of Independence is pithy, moving, portable, sells an ideology and so on. It's a work of propaganda, among other things. The truth that's out there about all these issues is dramatic enough. The trick is to find ways to simply convey the magnitude of the problems, and to do it without resorting to trickery or distraction.

Citizens and consumers are two entirely different things. They have nothing in common. I mean, we happen to be citizens, and we happen to be consumers. But citizens are participants in government. Citizens are equals. Citizens are the equals of politicians. Citizens have to be taken seriously because they theoretically have the power in a democracy. Consumers are feeders. All consumers do is consume. All they do is munch grass. They're like sheep or lambs. They are not equal to the politicians. They're not equal to the politicians' handlers. They're being manipulated necessarily. They're being manipulated to think only about the grass that they're chewing and nothing else, and manipulated into thinking about ways to get more grass. They're not operating on a sufficiently high level to participate in a democracy, at least as it was envisioned by Jefferson and Adams and those people.

Naomi Klein...branding

So what brands started selling was a kind of pseudo-spirituality -- a sense of belonging, a community. So brands started filling a gap that citizens, not just consumers, used to get elsewhere, whether from religion, whether from a sense of belonging in their community. Brands like Starbucks came along and talked about their brand as itself being a community, the idea that Starbucks is what they like to call a "third place," which is not their idea; it's the idea of basic citizenry needing a place that is not work, that is not home, where citizens gather. And they have privatized that idea in a way, and that's really what is behind a lot of these brand meanings: a privatized concept of what used to be public.

Most of it does actually, ironically, have to do with a longing for public space. If you think about Disney, for instance -- one of the most successful brand builders of all time -- they really are selling an idea of a lost American town where there was a town square and your kids were safe to walk in the streets. And they first built that in their films, then brought it to life in their theme parks, and expanded it into cruise ships and things like that, holidays. And then they took it further, of course, with [the planned community] Celebration, Fla., where you pack up the kids and move inside the brand. I find it really interesting that Disney describes Celebration as a tribute, a celebration of public space. What's interesting about Celebration, Fla., is that there are no brands there. Once you actually achieve brand nirvana, what you want to do is you want to seal the exits. There's no competition, and you've got full synergy, full vertical integration, and there's no need for marketing.

It's one of the ironies of our branded age, that unbranded space. Public space, or pseudo-public space, is now a luxury item that is only really available to the very rich. Once you move up the class hierarchy, things get a lot more tranquil and quiet, and you sort of pay not to be marketed to. HBO is the same in a way. You pay extra not to be advertised to. Bahamas bans McDonald's. When rich people get together, they want to be protected from the brands that they got rich creating.

It turned out not to be true. It was true for some of the classic brands like Frito-Lay, Kellogg's, Philip Morris. They actually were getting beat out on price. But what people who watch these trends noticed was that there were a handful of brands that were actually soaring, even during the recession. These were the superbrands like Nike, Starbucks, The Body Shop. And what they noticed these brands had in common was that they were engaging in a sort of pseudo-spiritual marketing. And they had flatly refused to engage in any [advertising] saying, "Buy our product because it's better than our competitor," or, "It's higher quality; it's cheaper." None of that. It was The Body Shop talking about a socially conscious company. It was Nike talking about being the very embodiment of sports, and more than that, being the very embodiment of the spirit of sports, which Nike said was the spirit of transcendence itself. These brands that were telling these quasi-religious stories were somehow exempt from the "brand crash."

I don't think there's a way out of this until we actually -- not to get too New Age here -- but I think we really need to ask ourselves what we're honestly shopping for when we're shopping. Sometimes you're really just shopping because you need something, but shopping is now the primary leisure activity, the primary family activity, and a lot of it is extraordinarily un-fun and unsatisfying. And I think that it is important to ask yourselves what you're actually shopping for. If you are shopping for community, if you are shopping for democracy, you actually are not going to get it at the mall. And you will only be cured of this particular malaise if you find ways to fulfill those desires elsewhere. That's certainly the only way I kicked my shopping habit.

Advertising and Emotion

The goal of any marketing manager should be to create loyalty beyond reason for their product, to create loyalty beyond reason, because that means you can appeal to heavy users forever. You make all your money with your heavy, committed users, not through new users. Toyota makes its money by selling to people throughout the range, from a Scion through to a Prius to a Lexus -- customers for life. You want lifetime customers, and you want them to have a love affair with you so that no matter what the competition do, no matter what Wal-Mart is offering cheaper, they will stay with you and they will pay a premium, just as you will stay with your wife or your husband over 30 years because you have towards them loyalty beyond reason, something bigger than a product attribute, bigger than a brand benefit, OK? That's the role of marketing.

The deepest emotion of all is love. It's not trust, it's not respect; these are table stakes. You need those, so you need to trust and respect your brand. You've got to have fantastic performance. But what will ultimately differentiate Nike, Adidas and Reebok is not their performance, and it's not their athletes; it is the emotional connection they can build.

I'll give you an example: Nike. Nike started life as a product -- a lighter running shoe. [Bill] Bowerman introduced that at the University of Oregon versus Adidas. And so athletes, Steve Prefontaine and these guys, frankly ran faster. It soon turned into a trademark because they put the swoosh all over it, and then it turned into a brand with great advertising from Wieden & Kennedy and "Just do it." Some of the best advertising I've ever seen.

And then one act with Nike turned this into a Lovemark, an emotional connection, and that was Michael Jordan. He single-handedly took Nike from being a brand to being a Lovemark. He took the price of Nikes from $70 to $200. People didn't care anymore; you had loyalty beyond reason. And Michael retired, and then all this Asian sweatshop drama came into play, and the love ebbed. So probably today Nike is a very powerful brand, but it hasn't yet found the next emotional connection after Jordan.

Some people are getting there now. Some people understand the power of the reptilian in a very gutsy way. They don't do all the analysis of the three brains, but [they get it]. For example, the Nextel campaign, "I do, therefore I am." Right, bingo. This is not "I think, therefore I am." And the campaign for the Hummer -- the Hummer is a car with a strong identity. It's a car in a uniform. I told them, put four stars on the shoulder of the Hummer, you will sell better. If you look at the campaign, brilliant. I have no credit for it, just so you know, but brilliant. They say, "You give us the money, we give you the car, nobody gets hurt." I love it! It's like the mafia speaking to you. For women, they say it's a new way to scare men. Wow. And women love the Hummer. They're not telling you, "Buy a Hummer because you get better gas mileage." You don't. This is cortex things. They address your reptilian brain.

When I look at Apple and I look at Volkswagen, obviously they both have great products, but there's something about, you know, the humor and the irreverence of those things that I identify with. I kind of think their end of the commercial should say, "We know you're out there." I love that they're irreverent, I love that they're intelligent. I love that they're smart and they're innovating and they're doing things. Apple for example, it's definitely product advertising but it's so much brand advertising. The iPod advertising is great, it's all about a product, but it's doing it in such an interesting and emotional way.