Category Archives: Advertising

Siren Song Evidentiary Documentation: Vast RW Conspiracy Confirmed Right Before Your Eyes

Paul Krugman reminds me to remind you that the VRWC is still fully operational. In fact you can see it playing out RIGHT NOW in “The Great (Fake) TeaBag Caper“.

[I]t turns out that the tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects. In particular, a key role is being played by FreedomWorks, an organization run by Richard Armey, the former House majority leader, and supported by the usual group of right-wing billionaires. And the parties are, of course, being promoted heavily by Fox News.But that’s nothing new, and AstroTurf has worked well for Republicans in the past. The most notable example was the “spontaneous” riot back in 2000 — actually orchestrated by G.O.P. strategists — that shut down the presidential vote recount in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.

This is, of course, precisely the technique they used to drown the newspapers of 1983 in letters and demonstrations and (canned) phone calls demanding that they stop “picking on” St Ronnie. Paul may only go back as far as 2000 but I go all the way back to the beginning.

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The Myth of Christmas

Reprinted from 12.24.06

This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.

Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival

It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950’s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.

The truth is somewhat different.

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Apparently, I’m Responsible for McCain’s Win

This arrived in the mail.

You too can intimidate, embarrass, or humiliate your friends into voting for Obama by pre-blaming them for a McC win. Just click “Customize This Video for Your Friends” and fill out the form. You can send it to dozens of shirkers li8ke me and nmake them feel really bad. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

The Coke Museum: A Corporation Worships…Itself

The corporatization of American culture has just taken another step toward total immersion.

Tomorrow, Coca-Cola is opening what I think is our first corporate “museum”. Called, modestly enough, The World of Coca-Cola, it mimics a real museum in every respect with exhibits, Coke-related art, historic “artifacts” (their word), and dioramas. There’s even a movie theater where you can watch old Coke commercials, no doubt while a stentorian voice in the background drones on about the cultural significance of Coke ads. Other companies have built paeans to themselves stocked with “memorabilia” but Coke is the first one I know of to dedicate an entire building to itself and call it a “museum”. It replaces the old WoCC near Atlanta’s underground, a much smaller place that never had museumistical pretensions.

Not content with slapping their names all over everything in sight in exchange for cash, our corporatocracy is now attaching to itself the same mantle of historic and cultural significance as, say, the Smithsonian or the Huntington, equating its ads with folk art and its Art-Deco lunch-boxes with Egyptian ceremonial jars.

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This is the top of the Globe business news this morning:

As of today, that’s the OFFICIAL Cheez Doodle of the


I’m so proud I could just bust.

Advertising Is Stronger Than Life

A lot of people don’t know this but the first three of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks’ five 2000-Year-Old Man albums each had a few other routines on them. In one of those routines, ‘The Ad Man’, Brooks aimed his satiric eye at Madison Avenue. After explaining that since menthol was the latest rage (this was 1961) his company planned to introduce mentholated bread (which would be the blue kind because the green kind looked like mold), Reiner asked him what would be next? His newest client, Brooks replied, was The American Cardiologist Society. ‘We’re going to put cholesterol into the American heart.’ When Reiner expressed doubts that people would fall for that, Brooks answered:

“Sure they will. Advertising is a lot stronger than life, you know.”

As prescient as that statement was, Brooks didn’t go far enough. We have now reached the point where advertising isn’t ‘stronger than life’–it is life. Advertisers, who have found themselves smack up against a wall of cynicism and ridicule as the result of their relentless, pounding, wall-to-wall tactics, are opting for an insidious new strategy that don’t just blur the lines between advertising and life, it erases them.

In order to breach a consumer’s “initial headset barrier” against advertising, he said, the sales pitch must be “embedded” in something more palatable, such as a TV show, a sporting event, a video game. It must woo with charm and empathy. [President and chief executive of the National Assn. of Advertisers Robert] Liodice laid out the strategy: “First, capture the consumer’s attention in human, intriguing and emotional ways. Then, embrace the consumer. Get him or her to feel comfortable with you. Finally, make the sale without really selling. Let the consumer know, hey, we’re always there when they need us.”

In fact, advertising is more deeply embedded in our culture than ever before. Almost nothing is excluded from branding — not our cities, our museums, our schools. Even our private lives are being co-opted by corporations desperate to reframe their images as “authentic.”

“Stealth” strategies are essential to disarm our cynicism, advertisers say. So teenagers are hired to study trends among their peers and develop ways to reach them — known as “peer-to-peer” or “viral” marketing. Actors are hired to shill product while posing as consumers in Internet chat rooms or on city streets — in the name of creating “organic” brand awareness. Logos and slogans are “seamlessly” integrated into the story lines of films, video games, even textbooks.

Consumer activists call this “ad creep” and predict an Orwellian corporate takeover of society. But advertisers herald this movement as the future. Soon, they say, advertising will so effectively impersonate the ideas we use to define ourselves that we won’t even consider it selling.

“Advertising,” says Jeff Hicks of the Crispin Porter + Bogusky agency, “will disappear.”

And, consequently, virtually no experience will be commercial-free.

If you’re wondering what they meant by that, here’s an example: Remember that nice Japanese couple you met in Seattle who asked you to take their picture with their cel-phone and then told you all about it? Plants.

[Sony’s ad agency hired actors to play] “tourists” in Manhattan and Seattle asking passersby to photograph them with their new Sony Ericsson camera phones.

The ‘rap group’ you saw in the Frisco BART that you were suspicious of because they were turning Beatles’ lyrics into an ad jingle for AT&T? Or the ‘spoken-word poets’ who performed along with a Nissan commercial you had to sit through in that Santa Monica movie theater you payed big bucks to get into? Yup: more plants. In Blade Runner, Ridley Scott imagined a future where advertising was plastered over every available surface. We reached that plateau a decade ago.

Advertisers are hiring companies that do nothing but “outsource the influencer,” which means finding the hippest person on every block and sending “street teams” to “seed product” to them, creating “organic” buzz. Magazines are hosting branding events — celebrity parties, concerts and fashion shows — paid for by their advertisers, whose products end up in the hands of the “cultural influencers” attending.

Brands are also creating their own product-themed content. BMW, American Express and Nike have produced short films, often broadcast online, and hired major Hollywood filmmakers to direct them. Jeep has created more than 20 video games, two network reality shows and a magazine.

As arts funding disappears and tax cuts threaten local governments, advertisers are paying to brand institutions once considered sacrosanct. New York City has declared Snapple its “official soft drink.” Coca-Cola is the “proud sponsor” of the National PTA. Orkin has sponsored an exhibit — the O. Orkin Insect Zoo — at the Smithsonian Institution. And at Walt Disney Concert Hall, an auditorium is named for the Ron Burkle Ralphs/Food 4 Less Foundation.

Now they’re turning people into ads–and ads into people–

In this reality, brands are personified. They are “living, breathing entities that have DNA,” says Jeep’s vice president of marketing, Jeff Bell, who describes his company’s brand as “more of the singer-songwriter, but it also feels great on the beach…. It’s the only brand I know of that’s very, very comfortable in camouflage fatigues and also at Woodstock.”

Ad agencies develop “ethnographic” and “psychographic” profiles of their brands — whether snack crackers or luxury cars — before conceptualizing the campaigns. Once the “personality” is determined, a series of decisions follows, such as which events to sponsor, which celebrities to sign as spokespeople, which genre of movie to be featured in.

‘Shame’ has never been in Mad Ave’s vocabulary. As LAT reporter Gina Piccalo points out, this latest trend in advertising privacy invasion began…in our schools.

The Channel One Network, owned by New York-based Primedia Inc. and produced in L.A., pioneered this approach in 1990 and now beams news and commercials via satellite to 8 million teens in America’s middle and high schools. Late last year, ABC partnered with MindShare North America to create programs showcasing the agency’s clients, including Sears and Unilever; the first program, “The Days,” debuted in July. And GE Healthcare Systems and NBC’s Patient Channel, a 24-hour network broadcast in hospital rooms, delivers a captive audience of 6 million patients and their visitors to drug makers.

The Channel One Network (or CON–for once an accurate acronym, if unintentionally so) is more than a cultural embarrassment, it’s an evil encroachment in territory where it doesn’t belong. There are schools where their contract stipulates that CON can’t be turned off in the cafeteria or the tv monitors in the halls as long as school is in session. Teachers still control whether or not to use it in their classrooms, but for how long? CON is pushing a new stipulation that would require teachers to use at least one CON program a week per class.

There’s a reason why it started there. Everybody over the mental age of 13 knows enough these days not to go into a movie until the previews are on so they don’t have to sit through the ads. Adults get pissed about paying to see advertising; kids don’t know any better. To them, it has always been this way. When I was a lot younger, back in The Old Days, the desirable audience for advertisers was 25-55. The low end was desirable because they were starting families and could be convinced that they needed to ‘buy stuff’ for ‘a good life’; the upper end because they actually had money to spend. Now the target audience is 18-29.

The advertising industry has offered a lot of explanations for why they made the switch but there are two compelling reasons they don’t talk about: 1) consumers over 30 have been so bombarded with ads for so long that they simply tune them out. They’ve learned how to ignore even onslaughts of ads; kids haven’t. The age that is still vulnerable to advertising is sinking lower and lower, and advertising is sinking with it, aiming more and more of its pitches at younger and younger kids; and 2) if adults are themselves highly resistant to insistent advertising, as parents they’re highly vulnerable to their kids–who aren’t. Robert Bernstein, the inventor of the McDonald’s Happy Meal, was even bragging about it on the HM’s 25th Anniversary the other day.

Happy Meals lure millions of children to McDonald’s restaurants and also bring in sales from parents who pick up a Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets for themselves when they stop in. Happy Meals are served at 31,000 restaurants in more than 100 countries and have made McDonald’s the world’s biggest distributor of toys.

Marketing experts agree that it was brilliant.

Happy Meals proved that you could actually ‘brand’ a meal and make kids harass their parents for it,” said Adam Hanft, president of Hanft Raboy & Partners, a New York advertising and marketing firm.

Exactly as Bernstein had planned.

“My feeling was if you get the children to think about McDonald’s, mom would bring them there,” he said. (emphasis added)

From the LAT again:

Advertisers bank on teenagers being “brand loyal” by age 15, hence campaigns such as McDonald’s “McKids” clothing and videos for toddlers, and sixth-grade math textbooks published by McGraw-Hill that feature references to Nike and Gatorade. (Branded textbooks were banned in California in 1999.)

The problem with all this–besides its unethical manipulation and total disregard for any human value that doesn’t have a $ attached to it–is that they’ve taken it about as far as it can go. From here on, everything they try to sneak into our lives risks a major consumer backlash from people old enough to have had enough, and that age is shrinking, too. The brightest teenagers, leaders on the streets and in the schools, are seeing their music, their clothes, their preferences in film, tv, fashion and even speech, co-opted by a corporate culture bent on turning everything into profits, and they’re getting as cynical as their parents–more cynical. That’s what punk and grunge were about; that’s what tattoos and body piercing were about; that’s what the shindogu phenomenon in Japan was about–trying to find a self-identifier that was so far out that the hordes of merciless corporate omnivores would be incapable of subsuming it. They all learned a valuable lesson–the hard way: there’s no such thing. And they’re angry.

“Advertisers are plainly getting more aggressive in their deployment of advertising in every nook and cranny of our culture,” says Gary Ruskin, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Commercial Alert. “And people are getting more angry at that.”

“There is an underside to this strategy,” says Kalle Lasn, founder of the aggressively anti-corporate Adbusters Media Foundation and Adbusters magazine. “You may have success, but bit by bit by bit you’re painting yourself into a corner…. Many of the real street kids, the real activist types, for them, it is further proof that their culture is so easily being hijacked…. It’s a technique whose success is in diminishing returns and is actually creating more cynicism.”

That anger is forcing them further and further underground. Ad agency execs are turning into covert operatives, spying on us and reporting back to HQ.

After years of media overload, today’s consumers have become just as marketing savvy as the folks here. If they catch a whiff of commercialism, they tune out. So advertisers are turning to the experts — psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, neuroscientists — and employing a sensitivity and intuitiveness that most of us don’t expect from our own families, let alone our favorite brand of soap.

They’re going deeper into our psyches than ever before, analyzing such banal rituals as the amount of time we steep our tea bags, the type of mouse pad we prefer or the source of nostalgia behind our choice of soft drink. They’re identifying how the feminist revolution and our parents’ divorces influence our choice of dog food or sports car or Internet service provider.

“The intellectual side of what we do is becoming more and more complex and more and more necessary,” says Suzanne Powers, director of account planning. “Anthropologically speaking, we’re digging into a brand’s roots as well as society’s roots.”

In other words, they’ve learned to lead by following. It’s invidious and culture-destroying and they’ve only just begun. They have brought those same techniques to political advertising: poll heavily, figure out what people want to hear and then sell it to them as if it were your idea. Rove used that approach with great success in Junior’s 2000 campaign; it may have been the only reason the election was close enough to steal. Stealth advertising leads to stealth political campaigning and stealth candidates.

But just as Lasn said, the irony for ad agencies–and politicians–to beware of is that their tactics for bypassing this rising rage are only going to create even more rage, even more cynicism, even more resistance. The radical right is facing the same dilemma–even as they exploit our anger to divide us into blocks opposing each other, a resistance to that devisiveness is building up under the surface. All it needs is the right spark and that anger will explode

Got a match, John?

McCain Denounces Republican Ad

The anti-Kerry ad Karl Rove rolled out this week is one of the most shameful tricks they’ve ever pulled, right up there with the smear campaigns against Max Cleland and McCain himself, and he’s not having any.

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, called an ad criticizing John Kerry’s military service “dishonest and dishonorable” and urged the White House on Thursday to condemn it.”It was the same kind of deal that was pulled on me,” McCain said in an interview, comparing the anti-Kerry ad to tactics in his bitter Republican primary fight with President Bush in 2000.

The 60-second ad features Vietnam veterans who accuse the Democratic presidential nominee of lying about his record as a decorated Vietnam War veteran and betraying his fellow veterans by later opposing the conflict.

The ad, scheduled to air in a few markets in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin, was produced by Stevens, Reed, Curcio and Potham, the same team that produced McCain’s ads in 2000.”I wish they hadn’t done it,” McCain said of his former advisers. “I don’t know if they knew all the facts.”

Asked if the White House knew about the ad or helped find financing for it, McCain said, “I hope not, but I don’t know. But I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad.”

“I deplore this kind of politics,” McCain said. “I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is, none of these individuals served on the boat [Kerry] commanded. Many of his crew have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. I think George Bush served honorably in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.”

Yeah, well, one out of two ain’t bad.

Bush Admin Stoops to VNR’s

The use of VNR’s (Video News Releases) has always been questionable. What’s a VNR? It’s a tape of what looks and sounds and purports to be a “news story” that is produced and written, usually, not by a tv news outfit but by a company or industry that wants to get a favorable report of its products or actions on the air. In other words, 2-3min commercials pretending to be news. In the last decade or so, these things have become a tidal wave washing over strapped local tv stations who often play them without identifying the source of the VNR–another way that tv “news” proves that it’s no such thing.

As far as I’m concerned, VNR’s are totally unethical and totally unacceptable and there’s no excuse for any tv station anywhere at any time to use them. They are bogus “news”, usually making false claims, and at a minimum stations ought to be identifying their producers and charging to run them just like they would any other ad.

As ethically questionable as corporate VNR’s are, how much more unethical is it when the VNR’s come from an incumbent’s govt agency during a political campaign? From today’s NYT:

WASHINGTON, March 14 — Federal investigators are scrutinizing television segments in which the Bush administration paid people to pose as journalists praising the benefits of the new Medicare law, which would be offered to help elderly Americans with the costs of their prescription medicines.The videos are intended for use in local television news programs. Several include pictures of President Bush receiving a standing ovation from a crowd cheering as he signed the Medicare law on Dec. 8.

The materials were produced by the Department of Health and Human Services, which called them video news releases, but the source is not identified. Two videos end with the voice of a woman who says, “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting.”

But the production company, Home Front Communications, said it had hired her to read a script prepared by the government.

Your Corporate Govt in ACTION! The same tricks they used in business because they don’t see a difference between working for profit and working for the people. If it’s caveat emptor in business, it’s caveat citizen when they’re in govt. SOP, right? The only problem is, these ads are probably illegal, though proving it could be a bitch. See, the BA is claiming the VNR’s are meant to be educational.

Kevin W. Keane, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said there was nothing nefarious about the television materials, which he said had been distributed to stations nationwide. Under federal law, he said, the government is required to inform beneficiaries about changes in Medicare.“The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” Mr. Keane said. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” (emphasis added)

Uh-huh. So these ads, which consist mostly of Bush being cheered by crowds while actors playing phramacists, doctors, and reporters talk about how wonderful the new law is, are “educational”? The VNR’s don’t tell people how to sign up, don’t really give them any information about how it works or what to expect from it or what it will cover. They tell people what a terrific guy Bush is, and these are “educational”? BS. This is like when Bush I’s tame FCC declared that The Jetsons qualified as “educational children’s programming” so the poor networks wouldn’t have to do any real programs for kids.

Mr Keane, by-the-bye, is a “dark-side hack”, reporter-jargon for a news reporter who switches over to “the dark side”–public relations. He was, for a short–very short–time, a reporter for a small Wisconsin weekly before he got scooped up by HHS Sec Tommy Thompson when he was WI’s Gov and put in charge of Tommy’s “Dept of Public Communications” (read: TT’s PR shop). Good Soldier Thompson no doubt gave Kevin his marching orders, and at this point we know what they were without being told because they’re always the same, no matter what govt agency we’re talking about: “Make sure all PR materials Praise Our Glorious Leader.” Whether that’s appropriate or not.

The source of the materials was uncovered by GAO lawyers. In the past, the GAO has clamped down on VNR’s that seemed more campaign-related than education-related.

Federal law prohibits the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. In the past, the General Accounting Office has found that federal agencies violated this restriction when they disseminated editorials and newspaper articles written by the government or its contractors without identifying the source.

But this time, they don’t think there’s anything wrong even though the same provision has been violated in exactly the same way.

In a report to Congress last week, the lawyers said those fliers and advertisements were legal, despite “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials said the television news segments were also a legal, effective way to educate beneficiaries.

You know, there used to be two govt agencies that were generally considered to be completrely, even defiantly, non-partisan–the CBO and the GAO. The Bushies appear to have successfully subverted both to their radical agenda. There is now NO govt department or agency free of rabid right-wing partisanship. They have politicized Science, the Census, Math, and now this.

Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, expressed disbelief that any television stations would present the Medicare videos as real news segments, considering the current debate about the merits of the new law.”Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” Mr. Kovach said. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.”

Not according to the GAO Legal Dept, Bill. It’s fine, just fine. Everybody back to your homes, there’s nothing going on here.

RNC Warns TV Not to Run Ads

In what has to be considered a startling new departure from democracy, CNN reports that the Republican National Committee has sent a letter to tv stations around the country telling them not to run ads critical of the President or risk being sued.No, kiddies, I’m not making this up.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Republican National Committee is warning television stations across the country not to run ads from the Voter Fund that criticize President Bush, charging that the left-leaning political group is paying for them with money raised in violation of the new campaign-finance law.”As a broadcaster licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, you have a responsibility to the viewing public, and to your licensing agency, to refrain from complicity in any illegal activity,” said the RNC’s chief counsel, Jill Holtzman Vogel, in a letter sent to about 250 stations Friday.

“Now that you have been apprised of the law, to prevent further violations of federal law, we urge you to remove these advertisements from your station’s broadcast rotation.”

The GOP is so arrogant now that their threats are no longer implied, they’re made boldly, explicitly, directly. Criticism of Our Great Leader is not only traitorous and un-American, it’s very possibly illegal if it comes from the wrong place. We probably have to put up with critical ads from Kerry’s campaign; after all, he’s a candidate. But criticism from left-wing terrorist organizations like and the Teacher’s Union? organizations dedicated to the downfall of Our Great Leader? No, we don’t have to stomach blasphemy from the likes of them. That has to be illegal….. Doesn’t it? Money only buys free speech when it’s right-wing money and right-wing speech, why don’t people understand that?

The Bushies better be careful, though, because their trumped-up rationale cuts both ways, and the side facing them is a lot sharper.

The RNC charges that because the ads are designed to help defeat President Bush, the group cannot pay for them with unlimited “soft money” contributions but only with contributions raised in amounts less than $5,000.Although is a so-called “Section 527” organization that is legally allowed to raise soft money in unlimited amounts from donors, the new campaign-finance law prohibits the group from using those funds to pay for ads that directly attack Bush, Vogel said.

It’s ironic (but predictable) that the first time this provision of the CFL was invoked it was against a progressive group, because it was written to stop the proliferation of right-wing attack-dog PACs funded by wealthy Pub supporters that have been carrying the RNC’s water for the past 25 years. All by himself, Richard Mellon Scaife funded dozens of such committees and paid for their ad campaigns excoriating Democratic candidates so the RNC could side-step responsibility for controversial, not to say liabelous, ads and still get them out there.

The section of the law they’re referring to is going to make it much harder for right-wing groups to comply than progressives. Progressive money almost always comes in small doses (with one or two exceptions, rich people are Pubs)–

But says it has raised $10 million for advertising from 160,000 donors, in amounts averaging $50-$60. It is running two ads in 67 TV markets in what its Web site describes as 17 “battleground” states.”It’s not surprising that [RNC Chairman] Ed Gillespie continues to make false claims about the legality of our campaign in order to silence us,” Wes Boyd, president of the voter fund, said in a statement. “Our lawyers continue to assure us that our advertising, and the small contributions from tens of thousands of our members that pay for it, conform in every way to existing campaign-finance laws.”

–while right-wing money tends to be a single-payer system. Do the Pubs really want to force their myriad corporate and tycoon-funded PACs to prove how narrow their base is?

Besides the obvious goal of shutting off criticism in the one media they think people pay attention to–television (you’ll notice they didn’t send the same warning to newspapers and magazines)–part of what’s behind this is, I think, pure projection: the Pubs believe that because they have no broad-based public financial support but have to depend on corporate sugar-daddies extorting money from their employees, so then must progressives have the same problem. Their conclusion is that if a progressive organization has $10M dollars to spend on anti-Bush ads, it must have gotten the money the same way–

The RNC has complained that though it is no longer allowed to use soft money for campaigning, is accepting large soft money contributions from a cadre of wealthy donors, including billionaire financier George Soros and film producer Steven Bing, in its quest to defeat the president.

–and why, they figure, should progressives get to use their billionaire’s resources when the right-wing can’t access the resources of its many billionaires?

The last part of what’s behind this is that the RNC is likely laying the groundwork for yet another assault on whatever advertising efforts the unions make this year. They are powerful enemies of the right (though not so powerful as they used to be, thanks to Reagan) with big war chests. If the RNC can frighten the networks from airing critical progressive ads, as they did when they kept’s ads off the CBS SuperBowl schedule, then they have a chance to short-circuit the ad campaigns the unions intend to run, which may be the real goal behind this latest outrage. The unions have been a major target of Publican whining for a long time–they have been fighting the legality of union political advertising since 1980, and heavily since ’92–and they want to find a way to get the unions out of elections, period. This is just one more tactic to achieve that goal.

Not that it’s a particularly good one–union money ultimately comes from the dues paid by its individual members and not even Hollywood unions charge in excess of $5000–but the goal isn’t to win a legal action, it’s to scare nervous network advertising execs with the spectre of $$Millions$$ in lost revenue from Bush’s corporate sponsors if ads critical of Our Great Leader are allowed to air. Ordinarily, simply telling them that’s what would happen would be enough, but we’re still pretending to be a democracy where everybody has the right to say their piece and this is a supposedly democratic election, so the execs have to have a legal excuse the station’s lawyers can run with.

The excuse the RNC came up with is awful weak–and clearly inappropriate to the case of–but then, tv stations and their networks aren’t very strong. They’ve buckled under every demand the BA has made, no matter how ludicrous or unethical–scripted news conferences, interviews with Junior in which they weren’t allowed to quote him (that still blows my mind)–and given the BA no real sense that there’s a line that can’t be crossed. Maybe there isn’t as far as they’re concerned. I have a feeling we’re going to find out over the next few months.

(Thanks to devoted reader eagle for the tip)

Direct Mail Marketing and Politics

Dave Johnson at Seeing the Forest, in a post titled “The Arrogance of the Informed”, goes through the ABC’s of marketing in an attempt to educate the clueless. It’s a noble effort and certainly welcome as a first step. Unfortunately, Dave is rehashing an argument that was all but settled 50 years ago. But he’s a software engineer, and we can’t expect him to know that.

There is a REASON that direct mail is all so similar and reads the way it does. BECAUSE IT WORKS! Because they have been doing it for decades and have studied it and refined it and refined it and tested it and refined it again, and it makes money – more money than other things they have tried because more people respond to it. And by extension, I came to understand that there is a reason that there are all those stupid ads on TV that we all hate, and ads in magazines, and billboards, and posters in subways, and huge ads on the sides of buses. And I came to understand why big companies spend BILLIONS on advertising when they are otherwise so cheap they ration pencils to their employees. BECAUSE ADVERTISING/MARKETING WORKS!

And I came to understand why they use such stupid appeals that are insulting to me. Because it works on most people, even if it does not work on me. And this is because I am informed BUT MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT.

This came to Dave as a blinding flash of unexpected insight, and good for him, but anybody who has ever lived in the trenches with the people at whom those pitches are aimed figured that out ten minutes after they landed. Yes, mass marketing does work on the masses of the uninformed, and no, more sophisticated and honest and less irritating and stupid marketing does NOT. Vance Packard told us that 50 years ago, and he told us how and why Mad Ave did what they did. None of it is exactly a secret, except maybe from software engineers.

Dave wants his audience to understand and accept the fact that not everybody knows as much as they do–a good point–and that they have to begin to be willing to use the same techniques the other side uses because they WORK:

The people behind the Republicans…are people who DO understand regular Americans. We should learn from them. That bulge in Bush’s flight suit and the Marlboro man are are both designed to convey simple, basic, short messages on an emotional level to specific target audiences. That’s marketing.

Simple, basic, short messages that reach the target audience on an emotional level, repeated and repeated.

I fear that we online consumers of news suffer the arrogance of the informed. I think we all, bloggers and readers alike, might benefit from taking a step back, seeing a bigger picture – one that encompasses millions of less informed voters – and trying to understand what THEY think and how THEY react to things they hear.

And so we would, to some degree, but marketing isn’t nearly as simple as Dave suggests. If it’s just a matter of copying the marketing techniques of the other side, why hasn’t that worked very well for the Democrats, who have, after all, been trying to do it for 30 years? We’ve had some success but not as much or as consistently as the right. Why not?

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Why Isn’t Lauri Fitz-Pegado In Jail?

This is not a rhetorical question.

Lauri Fitz-Pegado was the PR rep at Hill & Knowlton who orchestrated a massive fraud on behalf of her clients, the Kuwaiti govt, in an attempt–ultimately successful–to convince the people of the US to back the First Gulf War. Using real Congressmen friendly to Bush I’s agenda, she rigged a phony “Congressional investigation” of atrocities in Iraq and coached a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family in giving phony “testimony” in which she claimed, among other things, to have seen Iraqi soldiers ripping premature infants from their incubators and impaling them on their bayonets.

Her “dramatization” was a key element in pushing the US into supporting Poppy’s war, but the incidents “Nayirah” testified to never happened and the Congressional Committee which Fitz-Pegado presented as “real” in fact was anything but. It was not discovered until after the war was over that the whole thing had been staged by Hill & Knowlton, an advertising agency. The incident inspired the film, Wag the Dog, and became infamous as the most elaborate–and expensive–political dirty trick on record.

I assumed she’d gone to jail behind that stunt since she’d broken a number of the laws around fraud and misrepresentation. But now I read (via Mark Crispin Miller) that she is still working, this time for The Livingston Group (a Washington lobbying firm with a lot of powerful connections), and that she will be promoting a book by the doctor who helped Jessica Lynch when she was injured.

Considering that she perpetrated a gigantic fraud that started a war, why is this woman not in jail?