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Tipping point-counterpoint
January 29, 2008 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Yet another buzzword for the dustbin. Tipping Point. Exploitable phenomenon or total load of crap.

Seems anecdote isn't evidence.
posted by Toekneesan (87 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
exploitable load of crap, perhaps?
posted by boo_radley at 12:19 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


This article was one of the reasons that furthered my love of Fast Company, especially since the Tipping Point is such a FC book.
posted by drezdn at 12:21 PM on January 29, 2008


Total load of phenomenon. Bit sweeping to reject the idea based on specific computer simulations of taste-forming, the pathways of which are presumably complex and poorly understood. (He says having just read the magazine article, not the research.)
posted by ~ at 12:26 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nothing here that invalidates the idea of tipping points from a general perspective, just the narrow definition of tipping points as defined by the book Tipping Point. So I think there's still buzzword potential here.
posted by davejay at 12:28 PM on January 29, 2008


I think the pertinent question is: Do we add Hush Puppies to the Hipster Bingo card?
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:29 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't the marketing world's sudden about-face WRT The Tipping Point only serve to prove that The Tipping Point is indeed a real phenomenon?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:33 PM on January 29, 2008 [2 favorites]



The article is more about the specific "Rule of the Few" in The Tipping Point than it is about a take takedown of the whole premise of tipping points (which was really just cribbed from Thomas Kuhn).
posted by drezdn at 12:35 PM on January 29, 2008


Nothing here that invalidates the idea of tipping points from a general perspective, just the narrow definition of tipping points as defined by the book Tipping Point.

Or, more exactly, within the field of marketing...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:36 PM on January 29, 2008


It's been awhile since I read Gladwell's book, but it seems to me that this quote from the fastcompany article:

In general, the 'best' songs never do very badly, and the 'worst' songs never do extremely well, but almost any other result is possible," he says. Why? Because the first band to snag a few thumbs-ups in the social world tended overwhelmingly to get many more. Yet who received those crucial first votes seemed to be mostly a matter of luck.


...is pretty much right in line with what Gladwell was talking about.
posted by dersins at 12:37 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


I started to read the article but with each sentence, the eternal words of Bill Hicks kept getting louder and angrier in my head until I couldn't take it anymore. The last straw for me was "But a growing group of marketers believes Watts is radically altering the way companies attempt to produce trends."

So in the words of Bill Hicks:
    By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself. No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers. Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you're going, "there's going to be a joke coming," there's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, "he's doing a joke..." there's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a Yank friend - I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking makinations. Machi... Whatever, you know what I mean. I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, "Oh, you know what Bill's doing, he's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart." Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! "Ooh, you know what Bill's doing now, he's going for the righteous indignation dollar. That's a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We've done research - huge market. He's doing a good thing." Godammit, I'm not doing that, you scum-bags! Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet! "Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill's very bright to do that." God, I'm just caught in a fucking web. "Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market - look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar..." How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don't you? "What didya do today honey?" "Oh, we made ah, we made ah arsenic a childhood food now, goodnight." [snores] "Yeah we just said you know is your baby really too loud? You know?" [snores] "Yeah, you know the mums will love it." [snores] Sleep like fucking children, don't ya, this is your world isn't it?
posted by chime at 12:37 PM on January 29, 2008 [13 favorites]


Ditto, chime. It's hard to imagine how these people can be so glee about being manipulation technocrats.
posted by limon at 12:41 PM on January 29, 2008


I would like to think that in 99.9% of all other simulated 1982s, Madonna would never have made it to radio and our world would be a vastly better place.
posted by uaudio at 12:43 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


People want to believe that the things that happen around them are discernable and understandable. So they eagerly latch on to an idea of mono-directional change which can be seen to reach a single point where things start going completely the other way and then put events into a whole new paradigm. Knowing equals the ability to control a phenomenon.

Unfortunately, things just ain't like that.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:44 PM on January 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


Man, if only I had a dollar for every time that Bill Hicks rant was posted on Metafilter.
posted by psmealey at 12:57 PM on January 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


So Bill Hicks was an Influencer?
posted by jouke at 12:58 PM on January 29, 2008


Here's the youtube of the above.
posted by whir at 1:05 PM on January 29, 2008


Hey, thanks! I thought the tipping point was the time at the end of a meal when the waiter gave you your bill.
posted by Postroad at 1:08 PM on January 29, 2008


You'd have eleven dollars, psmealey
posted by MythMaker at 1:13 PM on January 29, 2008


Wait, can I reprice those hits at a different CPM?
posted by psmealey at 1:14 PM on January 29, 2008


Here's the twelfth buck -- video.
posted by ericb at 1:17 PM on January 29, 2008


I vote for "explodable load of crap"
posted by papercake at 1:18 PM on January 29, 2008


So the thing is, I finished reading The Tipping Point with the impression that Gladwell explicitly said that you cannot create a viral phenomenon on purpose. That it's random what gets picked up, but we can learn some interesting things about how they do spread once something rises out of the general babble. This guy might be shooting down what Gladwell said about those mechanics, but they don't disagree about whether some scummy marketer can force something to blow up into a fad. He and Gladwell both say no, and anyone with half a brain would come to the same conclusion by simply paying a very small amount of attention to the world.

I thought it was weird that the marketing industry didn't quite read that part of the book, and seemed to be taking it as a viable program for pitching stuff. But then I thought "Marketing people must be illiterate morons... Oh. Right," and it all made sense.
posted by rusty at 1:18 PM on January 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


It should be noted that the guy profiled in the article is an employee of Yahoo! who is propagating his own ideas on how to market to people. This is not purely academic research, it has a very real application and as such needs to be treated differently.

A classic way to get attention, of course, is to tear down something popular. In this case it appears that one pseudoscientific experiment is competing with another.
posted by cell divide at 1:20 PM on January 29, 2008


As a marketer, one whose company intentionally engages in a soft, friendly, "we're not marketing, advertising or selling anything"-style of marketing, advertising and sales, it's warming the cockles of my cold black heart to see the vehement anti-marketing sentiment here. As long as everyone continues to hate marketing and advertising, I'll have a job.

It's when society grows indifferent to it that I'm fucked.
posted by pineapple at 1:22 PM on January 29, 2008 [6 favorites]


I haven't read The Tipping Point, but after reading the descriptions of both theories I don't think it would be impossible to reconcile the "tipping point" theory, which is sort of an epidemiological model of ideas, with Watt's assertion that there isn't some elite caste of tastemakers out there, hauling the rest of the world around.

In fact, the two sort of go together. If there aren't any 'gatekeepers,' and we're all basically (un)likely to spark the Next Big Thing, the tipping point goes a ways towards explaining why ideas suddenly come out of nowhere and sweep through the public sphere very quickly. Just like a disease doesn't require a small number of hyper-connected people in order to become an epidemic (it just needs to infect enough average schmucks), that a similar tipping point for ideas might exist even in the absence of Connectors seems logical.

In the FC article about Watts, it mentions that not all of The Tipping Point may be bunk, only the part that the marketing zombies fastened onto, because they really liked the sound of it:
Gladwell's book laid out many other factors that can "tip" a trend. ... But as The Tipping Point climbed the charts, marketers fixated on Gladwell's Law of the Few, his suggestion that rare, highly connected people shape the world.
So even if you get rid of the Connectors hypothesis, it might not gut the book's premise, and certainly not the idea of tipping points generally.

Looks like I've got something else to add to my reading list.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:23 PM on January 29, 2008


pineapple sort of underscores my personal sense of -ZZZZzzzzzzz- over people who are so rabidly anti-advertising. It's oh-so-precious to hate it and build your little adblocking Firefox extensions but at the end of the day most of humanity doesn't care and the rest of us recognize that there's good and bad applications of advertising. The suggestion that there's something somehow inherently wrong with connecting people who want stuff with awareness of stuff they might want is just... childish.

Every time I see that Hicks rant I want to convince myself that he was being disingenuous and lampooning the rabid hatred of all things advertising that so many of his over-the-top fans embraced. He was in some says such a smart guy that it's hard for me to accept the idea that he ranted without irony against advertising during a live performance, a type of commerce that can't exist if you don't advertise its happening. I doubt a single one of his fans who went to see him regretted that they'd been exposed to the advertising that informed them of his performance in time for them to buy tickets and show up.

So I try to tell myself that he was kind of having a laugh about that bit of hypocrisy, but I can't quite believe it. More likely he was just a victim of the same kind of short-sightedness that so many people suffer from. They hate advertising when it exposes them to things they don't like but love when it shows them things they want, hate group dynamics when it raises Madonna to celebrity but love the shit that DIGG finds for them to read every day.
posted by phearlez at 1:45 PM on January 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


Throw that Fast Company font in there with it.
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 1:51 PM on January 29, 2008


I don't think "The Tipping Point" needs to prepare for the dustbin quite yet. First of all, the concept of "Connectors" is just one small component of a much larger theory, so even if Gladwell was (slightly) off on that one concept it's not as if it disproves the larger, overall point of his book. Nor do I think the fact that one guy's experiment contradicts another guy's similar experiment is definitive proof that one theory is clearly more true than the other.
posted by The Gooch at 1:52 PM on January 29, 2008


cribbed from Thomas Kuhn

I thought it came from epidemiology?

Though I've more often heard it in the context of a social tipping point - for instance, when a profession goes from being overwhelmingly male, and the number of women increases slowly for a very long time, and then (rather quickly), suddenly the genders are equal, or the profession can even become female dominated (as in biology). But the person I like who really likes the phrase "tipping point" is the son of an epidemiologist.
posted by jb at 2:02 PM on January 29, 2008


Honest, creative advertising, I don't mind. Insincere, pandering, poorly-targeted or badly-made advertising, or advertising for bad products? There's just so goddamned much of it that it drowns out a lot of the good ads. The number one reason I use Adblock is because shitty flash ads either have sound I don't want or slow down my computer. I still don't buy ANYTHING advertised through pop-ups, and have contacted companies to let them know that even though it cost me a little more, I went with a competing product because they didn't fuck up my computer.

Back to the tipping point, I'd argue that a large part of influence is the ability to reach a broad audience, which would dovetail with both Watt and Gladwell's argument—I certainly notice that in covering rock music, there are a few critics whose opinions I tend to consider more carefully, but it's just as effective to have a huge seed out there.

(I will also say that this viral marketing bullshit, man, has got my place of business astroturfing blogs and I've tried to explain why this is evil and counterproductive, but I've been dismissed.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:13 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


"If society is ready to embrace a trend, almost anyone can start one--"
- a trend like tipping points?
posted by MtDewd at 2:13 PM on January 29, 2008


I agree with Rusty and Kadin2048. As Gladwell himself says in the article, Watts' work does not disprove the theory of tipping points. Watts' point is that nobody knows who the Influencers are going to be. As I recall, Gladwell never said that one could know. As Watts himself says, "... nobody will go around talking about the exceptional properties of the spark that started the fire." It didn't have particularly exceptional properties. It was in the right place at the right time, but in advance, it's an extremely difficult problem to predict when and where that will be, even for relatively simple things like fire, where we know that X temperature applied to A+B+C mix of compounds will ignite it. Even a spark in a forest is, from this perspective, a broad brush. A pattern of heat from a tiny ember, hottest in the middle, gets applied to a whole square millimetre or so of forest floor material. Somewhere among the millions of compounds in that square millimetre, there will be flammable material that will turn into a spark itself, and some of these sparks will be surrounded by more flammable material, and so on.

So Gladwell asserts that trends occur because special people do them, and others around those special people copy them. Watts asserts that for any given trend, we don't know who those special people will be, and for any given special person wanting to start a trend, we don't know which trends they may start. So more broadly speaking, under this theory, all of us are running around "offering" all of our "trends" (which includes our tastes in clothing, our personalities, our opinions, even our contagious diseases) to everyone we encounter all of the time. Now, this seems a reasonable philosophical perspective to have, although obviously it is not the whole truth, and it only applies to trends that are "contagious" (ie, tautologically, trends that are capable of being passed on in this manner).
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:14 PM on January 29, 2008


I also really like a lot of Madonna's tunes, and see the knee-jerk hate there as rockist bullshit.
posted by klangklangston at 2:17 PM on January 29, 2008


Does Gladwell GiveWell?
posted by ericb at 2:18 PM on January 29, 2008


The suggestion that there's something somehow inherently wrong with connecting people who want stuff with awareness of stuff they might want is just... childish.

Actually, childish would be your interpretation of that rant. People aren't up in arms about advertising that conveys information, phearlez. It's the more insidious stuff that angers. The really psychological stuff that gives people eating disorders, or uses subliminal techniques, or is focus grouped to death, etc.

Advertising is not a clinical conveyance of information about new and exciting products, and to suggest otherwise is shockingly naive.
posted by butterstick at 2:20 PM on January 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


I thought "tipping point" was that time of the evening when you must leave your waiter/waitress a gratuity...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:28 PM on January 29, 2008


The suggestion that there's something somehow inherently wrong with connecting people who want stuff with awareness of stuff they might want is just... childish.

There's something inherently wrong with creating artificial desires in the gullible and telling carefully fashioned manipulative lies. That's the kind of advertising that people hate, and the kind that requires an entire advertising and marketing industry to create.

It's fine when a restaurant puts out a chalkboard that says "PASTA SPECIAL $6.00". That's advertising that creates an awareness of something. I don't think too many have a problem with that. It's not fine when you're McDonald's puts pictures on posters and TV that are not edible food or not food at all, and bear little resemblence to the product you can purchase. The admen behind that are the ones who Bill Hicks wants to off themselves.

Regarding Digg, is there a word yet for the phenomenon where some asshole writes three inane sentences about a cool thing, links to it on his blog with tons of ads on the side, and then puts that on digg, probably through gaming the system, instead of the cool thing itself? That guy can go off himself too.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:29 PM on January 29, 2008 [4 favorites]


The rant advises people in advertising to kill themselves with no discrimination between the creative advertising klang says he's okay with and the really loathsome stuff that conflates body shape with self-worth. My assertion is the exact opposite of what you seem to have interpreted it as: advertising, in its generic and encompassing definition, is connecting people with information about products in all those forms, from loathsome to unvarnished and everything in between.

People who say "advertising sucks" or conflate all advertising with feeding arsenic to children are the ones being naive and simplifying things beyond Sturgeon's Law and ignoring the nuances of reality, not me.
posted by phearlez at 2:30 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


But then I thought "Marketing people must be illiterate morons... Oh. Right"

It's not that marketing people didn't understand Gladwell's conclusion that a tipping point can't be inorganically created, it's that they knew it wouldn't make sense to sell that part to their clients. They may have believed it, but they ignored it to keep themselves in a job. That's why they leave it out of their Power Point presentations.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 2:35 PM on January 29, 2008


The Hicks rant doesn't criticize advertising; it criticizes marketing -- specifically the marketing of products with no beneficial qualities, or of products known to be harmful. (It's unfortunate that Hicks was still nonetheless rabidly pro-smoking.)
posted by Sys Rq at 2:36 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Speaking of pasta.
posted by basicchannel at 2:44 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


There's something inherently wrong with creating artificial desires in the gullible and telling carefully fashioned manipulative lies. That's the kind of advertising that people hate, ...

You obviously haven't been following the US primaries.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:51 PM on January 29, 2008


I don't have a problem with the Hicks rant. I have a problem with the fact that it gets trotted out automatically in every goddamn thread about advertising. Something tells me that he would not have approved.
posted by psmealey at 2:55 PM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


None of you know it, but just now you all have benefited from an unusually strong surge of self-control on my part. I have deleted the four-page diatribe against marketing I've just written to post here. None of you deserve to be subjected to the bile I long to spew. In its stead, I humbly offer these observations:

If the people writing these books and offering these opinions were mathematicians, they would most assuredly see that trends are Chaotic. Chaotic with a capital "C" as in Chaos Theory -- trends are sensitively dependent on initial conditions. While not random, they are in fact fundamentally unpredictable. Therefore, while perhaps well meaning, those who tell you they can influence trends in exchange for a big marketing budget are running a rainmaker con.

Furthermore, I suspect any scientist who took even a cursory glance at the subject could tell you that the Marketing hypothesis is not falsifiable, and is therefore garbage. How many counterexamples (of companies who spent big marketing dollars and failed or spend no marketing dollars and succeeded) do you need to be shown?
posted by sdodd at 3:05 PM on January 29, 2008


Also, I hereby promise not to post about The Dismal "Science."
posted by sdodd at 3:07 PM on January 29, 2008


For those who say, hey, he's only describing a phenomenon. He's not promoting its use. That it can't be inorganically created.

From the interview with (I guess) himself on his site (1st link):

7. What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

One of the things I'd like to do is to show people how to start "positive" epidemics of their own. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly.

Epidemics have virtues. Who knew?
posted by Toekneesan at 3:17 PM on January 29, 2008


Oh, and I'm in marketing.

Too.
posted by Toekneesan at 3:19 PM on January 29, 2008


Basically sour grapes. Tipping point, broken windows, whatever else you want to call it, it's real (often) and these guys mostly attack him because he's a neocon. He's a bit loose in his ideas, kind of like Thomas Friedman from the Times, so he is ripe for attack, but I would not give up on his ideas entirely just because his promotion far exceeds his rigor. Criticism of them is valid, yet dismissal is just as narrow minded.
posted by caddis at 3:34 PM on January 29, 2008



I believe Watts is a mathematician-- or at least, he's a systems or network theorist which, i think goes beyond chaos theory into how trends actually plays out in networks. i could be wrong.

but i know i'm right that his book isn't "new"-- I have a 2003 paperback of it in my house so it's gotta be from at least 2002 originally.

I think the debate is really over whether cool people or ordinary people are more likely to start trends. Watts says anyone can randomly become cool when everyone else suddenly decides to mirror them because what they are up to is attractive at that particular time; Gladwell says you are better off targeting existing cool people because they will bring more other people along if what they do does catch on.

They could both be right in that given that the number of cool people is presumably significantly smaller than the general population-- so as Watts' work shows, most trends will start with ordinary people simply by sheer math. But a trend that *does* start with cool people will be larger because they are better connected.

what makes it all especially problematic is that someone might be "cool" in one area but not cool in another.
posted by Maias at 3:54 PM on January 29, 2008


from the article:

identifying people highly active in their communities, an elite 10% that engage in advice-giving conversation up to five times more frequently than the average American. "They're fonts of word of mouth," Keller insists. And ahead of the curve, too: In the 20 years he has been polling them, Keller has found they began using computers...and the Internet years before the mainstream.

In my experience early adopters of computer technology weren't all that socially connected...
posted by Samuel Farrow at 3:59 PM on January 29, 2008


As they say at the end of the Fast Company article - 'mass marketing works', because you are more likely to reach either that 'Influential' or that 'accidental Influential'.
posted by tellurian at 4:13 PM on January 29, 2008


The profit motive destroys everything.
posted by batmonkey at 4:24 PM on January 29, 2008


The profit motive destroys makes everything more efficient.
posted by caddis at 4:37 PM on January 29, 2008


The profit motive destroys makes everything more efficient profitable.

Fixed that for both of you.
posted by butterstick at 4:47 PM on January 29, 2008 [3 favorites]


Once I had to help him restart a computer.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:48 PM on January 29, 2008


Jokes that use <strike> make me want to strike people mildly unhappy.
posted by ~ at 7:24 PM on January 29, 2008


------------------
posted by caddis at 7:51 PM on January 29, 2008


pineapple: "As a marketer, one whose company intentionally engages in a soft, friendly, "we're not marketing, advertising or selling anything"-style of marketing, advertising and sales, it's warming the cockles of my cold black heart to see the vehement anti-marketing sentiment here. As long as everyone continues to hate marketing and advertising, I'll have a job.

It's when society grows indifferent to it that I'm fucked.
"

The thing is we are fucking forced to hate you, you are everywhere, we turn TV on, you're in, we open a book, you're in, we watch a movie, you're in, we read an article in The New England Journal Of Medicine, you're fucking in, we drive on highways, you're in. LEAVE US THE FUCK ALONE FOR FUCK'S SAKE you're fucking everywhere, fuckers.
posted by zouhair at 4:08 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


So much marketing hate. Geez. You're just bitter because we (err, future we) can use underhanded manipulation skills of influence to get what we wan. Nyeah.

I don't know, maybe I'm naive. I did like The Tipping Point, but it didn't really feel as innovative as everyone is making it out to be. Maybe it's because I'm so used to the effects of the whole concept of 'tipping point' that I'm indifferent to it, or because the opposition has sucked up my brain, or something. Why people make a huge deal out of attacking Gladwell's theorems I don't really understand. I thought Blink was a much better read, and much more interesting/daring. But that's just me. How we do it Canada.
posted by Phire at 6:10 AM on January 30, 2008


Hi zouhair, welcome to a market economy. First visit?

First some brief introductions, this is Capitalism, his cousin Laissez Faire (never does a damn thing, that one), and of course Globalization over there in the corner. Though, as always he's leaving for the airport in a few minutes.

We're going to give you some books to get started. Some Adam Smith, de Tocqueville, Weber wouldn't hurt. Have a look at this Hayek. Maybe some Friedman. Remember, you don't have to agree with all this, just try to understand it.

Anywho, we'll see you after orientation. Your first task will be food and shelter. Study up and good luck. And as always, thanks for shopping our market economy.
posted by Toekneesan at 6:18 AM on January 30, 2008


LEAVE US THE FUCK ALONE FOR FUCK'S SAKE you're fucking everywhere, fuckers.

You want to be left alone? Go off the grid. Give away your things, get rid of all your little machines and gadgets that receive the big, bad commercials and ads from the big bad marketers, and move out to the woods somewhere. Stop buying books, stop turning on TV, stop watching movies.

Because you don't get to both be a part of the entertainment and literature and media machine and reject the advertising. Who do you think underwrites your television? How did you hear about the movie in the first place? What made you pick up any one book over another in the store or the library?

zouhair, I'm guessing that phearlez was right: that you (and others) just want to rant because it seems like The Thing to Do in this thread. But the total irony is that you are sharing that rant from your computer, on the internet, presumably in a First World country. You are a willing part of the constant relationship between the advertisers and the advertisees. Inasmuch as anyone chooses to be part of any society, you are choosing to be a consumer, and you are electing to receive the messages.

Decry the bad ones, the ones that make 10-year-old girls feel ugly, and that incite violence in teens who really only needed a hug. Bitch about the pharmaceutical propaganda planted in "advertorials" masquerading as news stories, and don't forget also to rant to the publications who would settle for that low standard of journalistic integrity. Rage about the kind of marketing susceptibility that allows an entire country to buy the idea of a "war" that doesn't exist against a foe no one can define for a reason that never really happened.

But "wah, when I want to watch Prison Break on TV, I am 'forced' to watch COMMERCIALS, oh noes...." is a silly argument.
posted by pineapple at 6:25 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


phire, pineapple, Toekneesan: Wow, way to dispel that myth of marketers being total douchebags.

These attempts at rebranding advertising as some kind of benevolent provider is the most egregious bullshit I have seen in a good long while. Medical journals don't need ads; their entire subscriber base makes a minimum of six figures a year.

Why do we have this glut of advertising? Because there's a glut of advertisers with no real clients, that's why. So what do they do? They market themselves. New forms of advertising and marketing and salesmanship inundate the goods and services sector, convincing them with 'numbers' and 'research' that such-and-such a demographic responds especially well to one kind of marketing, while another demo responds to something else, and after awhile these marketers have every business convinced that its 'brand' will collapse if it isn't bolstered with complete saturation. "Brand awareness, man..."

We do not need to be bombarded -- how's that for a buzzword -- with ads. We get it. You want us to buy stuff. Yeah. But you know what? When saturation reaches a certain level, it's like you're trying too hard, like you're desperate to make a sale. Everything begins to look a little like snake-oil and used Hyundai.

YOUR BUSINESS MODEL IS DOOMED.

People might give you more respect if you, you know, didn't ruin everything we've ever enjoyed.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:22 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, way to dispel that myth of marketers being total douchebags.

Right. Of the people behaving like douchebags in this thread, it's definitely the minority of us trying to inject a bit of reality into this frothing, moaning "all advertising is the spawn of Satan" discussion. I invite you to review the thread, and actually figure out where the generalizations and blanket attacks are coming from. My point has only ever been that advertising is an inextricable part of the Western consumer experience, and if you want to opt out of that you sure can... but you can't have your cake and eat it too.

These attempts at rebranding advertising as some kind of benevolent provider

Who is doing this? Cite, please.

Why do we have this glut of advertising? Because there's a glut of advertisers with no real clients, that's why. So what do they do? They market themselves. New forms of advertising and marketing and salesmanship inundate the goods and services sector, convincing them with 'numbers' and 'research' that such-and-such a demographic responds especially well to one kind of marketing, while another demo responds to something else, and after awhile these marketers have every business convinced that its 'brand' will collapse if it isn't bolstered with complete saturation. "Brand awareness, man..."

"Wow" is certainly applicable here. What does any of this even mean? Is this one of those "it sounds good and aligns with my worldview, and therefore it must be the truth, man" sort of arguments? I really want to know where this comes from, or if it's made up or what; please tell us how you come by this belief.

People might give you more respect if you, you know, didn't ruin everything we've ever enjoyed.

People might give you more respect if you, you know, could speak about this particular business sector with level-headed clarity and a position rooted in anything besides your own kneejerk emotional response. You might also reconsider speaking for the whole consumer world; I know plenty of people who are smart enough to ignore marketing and advertising, to tune it out, turn it off, avoid it and keep it from constantly invading their senses. Those people might find your dramatic "EVERYTHING we've EVER enjoyed is being RUINED!!!", not exactly applicable.

There are a lot of businesses and activities in the world that are a "necessary evil." I hate that there is a need for people who dispose of the corpses of those who die alone with no family or proper burial. I hate it that children need therapists, that there is a guy whose only job is to slit the throat of a living animal to exsanguinate it before it goes to slaughter, that there are people who have to taste-test birth control pills, that there are people who do nothing but call other people and tell them that they didn't get the job or the book deal or the college admission. I hate that putting one's child in the best public schools in America often also requires suburbanization. I hate it that public servants now have to be politicians too; that sweet tasty alcohol can make me do dumb things and also kill me; that we can't compel people to be organ donors, or at least offer them tax breaks for it; that we have to pay people to do nothing but pick up the litter tossed thoughtlessly from a car window by other stupid people. I hate that there are animals that used to live freely and prolifically across this country that I now can only see in zoos. I hate that to allow another American their constitutional rights means to allow them to burn the American flag (or any country's flag, which I find inhumane and disrespectful), or spread hate speech about homosexuals or non-Christians.

I hate that the whole world isn't Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory plus Pleasantville plus Mayberry. But because I am a realist, and I don't live in a fairy tale, I understand that there are some critical aspects of a free market economy which won't always be the most pleasant or appealing to examine. If you don't understand that, can't get your head around it, feel free to pursue the alternatives. I'm sure North Korea would be happy to put you to work.

Or, you could always just accept a dose of reality: All marketing and advertising uses psychology and human nature to separate consumers from their cash. Some marketers do that more ethically than others. That doesn't make all marketers scum-sucking douchebags, nor does it mean that all advertising is snake oil and candy-coated arsenic. All consumers have a say in how they receive their advertising. If you are receiving advertising and marketing messages in a way you don't like -- or are too weak to make the lifestyle changes that reduce or eliminate those messages -- that's on you. But stop with the hand-wringing and myopic lambasting.

In the immortal words of noted 20th century philosopher Tracy Marrow: "Don't hate the player, hate the game."
posted by pineapple at 9:36 AM on January 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


What does any of this even mean?

It means exactly what is says. Marketers, salespeople, ad agencies -- call them whatever you want -- they "sell" stuff, yes?

Well, no. They sell themselves, their business, their services. And they're very, very good at it. The only reason a company needs to advertise is to compete with some other company's ads. More and more money goes to more and more ads, until it's nothing but a screeching feedback loop.

Actual products and services -- the things the ads advertise -- continue to get shoddier, and the companies providing them continue to get shadier. Why? They need to spend more and more and more on marketing. They close down their domestic operations and relocate overseas, and invest in more marketing. Workers, now out of work, need money. "The banks are practically giving it away," says Mr. Marketing. "Yes, please," says Ms. Worker. "Oops, we have to foreclose on your house," says Mr. Banker. "Looks like a recession's a-brewin'," says Ms. Economist.

"Thanks, Advertising," says nobody.

There's your Tipping Point.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:59 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The only reason a company needs to advertise is to compete with some other company's ads.

Spoken like a person who has never made something for sale.

Also completely incorrect.
posted by phearlez at 11:08 AM on January 30, 2008


Sys Rq, I am dumbfounded even further by your additional "clarification".

With complete and earnest sincerity, I will say that your position is beginning to sound like the delusional raving of the guy who stands on the street corner with the placard, haranguing passersby about the end of days.

Let me see if I'm following you:

No one actually sells stuff, they sell themselves, and advertising only exists to compete with other ads? Which leads to the degradation of product quality, leading in turn to "increased shadiness" in businesses in general... Which leads to offshoring and outsourcing and closing down US plants? and putting workers out of jobs? Which leads to (hang on, I'm getting confused, give me a minute)... banks loaning lots of money to unemployed people? Which causes foreclosures, and therefore the recession.

Would this be an accurate paraphrasing of the justification you provided for your statement that *I* am the "total douchebag" spewing "egregious bullshit" and worthy of zero respect?
posted by pineapple at 11:29 AM on January 30, 2008


No one actually sells stuff, they sell themselves,

Ad agencies. Ad agencies sell their services. You're denying this?

advertising only exists to compete with other ads?

As one multinational corporation ramps up its ads, its competition must do the same. What's so difficult to understand about that? They spend hundreds of billions every year in the US alone.

I will say that your position is beginning to sound like the delusional raving of the guy who stands on the street corner with the placard, haranguing passersby about the end of days.

I feel the same way about ad agencies. Funny that.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:47 AM on January 30, 2008


Sys Rq, I am genuinely curious how you suggest a company who is in the business of providing customers with some sort of product or service make customers aware of their existence.

To give a real life example instead of a theoretical one:

I am a small business owner (real small- less than 10 employees). My company sells various products and services.

Beyond targeted advertising that lets potential clients know that we exist and what our capabilities are (currently our most successful method of earning new business), how exactly would you suggest my company stay afloat and let those who may benefit from our products and services know that we provide them?
posted by The Gooch at 11:55 AM on January 30, 2008


"Well, no. They sell themselves, their business, their services. And they're very, very good at it. The only reason a company needs to advertise is to compete with some other company's ads. More and more money goes to more and more ads, until it's nothing but a screeching feedback loop."

Are you huffing paint? Seriously, there's so much wrong in your screed that I'm amazed you're able to capitalize your letters.

You've really never worked selling anything, or dealing with publicity at all, ever, have you?
posted by klangklangston at 11:56 AM on January 30, 2008


Ad agencies sell their services. You're denying this?

No, but this is a conveniently dishonest representation of your original statement. Your statement was: "Marketers, salespeople, ad agencies -- call them whatever you want -- they 'sell' stuff, yes? Well, no. They sell themselves, their business, their services." So in order to make your point, you lumped marketers (who sell products) and salespeople (who sell products) in with ad agencies (who sell advertising, which is also a product, but a different product than the others for the point of your argument).

Conflating people who sell widgets for Worldwide Widget Corp. with people who sell advertising product such as airtime, print ads, commercials, and whatever other media you want to add in -- for the sake of broadening your brush for tarring -- is intellectually dishonest.

As one multinational corporation ramps up its ads, its competition must do the same. What's so difficult to understand about that?

[Since last I checked, even mom-n-pop locals like to advertise, why throw in the phrase "multinational corporation" here? Was that to add a subtext of fear to your statement? Since everyone knows that "multinationals" are big and scary, right? Hmm, looks like us marketing douchebags aren't the only ones who try to manipulate with our communications.]

Nothing is difficult to understand about that. The problem, yet again, is that your quote here has little resemblance to your actual original statement of "The only reason a company needs to advertise is to compete with some other company's ads."

The reason a company needs to advertise is to sell its product. If it is selling less of that product than a competitor, there are many directions to go in response, some of which have zero to do with advertising. (For example, it might lower prices. It might change or improve the product in some way. The company might decide to offer the product in new regions.) Nothing forces any one company to "ramp up its ads." But the allegation that advertising is a self-perpetuating negative cycle that wouldn't have reason to exist except for us douchebags who just want to make a quick buck by bilking those poor susceptible folks out there is just silly. As is the total lack of any cites or references for the accusations you made. As is your trying to re-frame and soften your original statement now, despite us all being able to clearly read it right above.

I'm done with the free Intro to Business course, Sys Rq. I'm happy to discuss advertising, marketing, The Tipping Point, Gladwell, Givewell, Endwell, Wendell, whatever else -- but having to explain what "product" means and that there is far more to "marketing mix" than just "promotion"... well, I'm not your professor, and this isn't B-school, and you're not paying me enough.
posted by pineapple at 12:18 PM on January 30, 2008


Oh, for Christ's sake, I'm talking of BIG advertising. Multinational campaigns for multinational corporations. I'm not talking about flyers for local pizza joints. And, Gooch, less big advertising is better for small businesses.

And looking back, pineapple, it seems I never called you a douchebag in the first place. Why would I? I don't even know you. I said -- jokingly, in reference to your and others' pouncing on zouhair for barely three lines of dissenting views -- that there was a stereotype of marketers being douchebags, and you weren't doing anything to clean up that presumably incorrect generalization. You still haven't.

My being a douchebag, or a raving lunatic, or whatever, is neither here nor there. I have some beliefs. You say they are wrong. Maybe they are. Unless you are willing to write anything resembling an actual argument, rather than irrelevant distractions like your sympathy for birth-control taste-testers and flag-burners, I will cling to my wrong beliefs all the more.

Didn't they teach you anything about persuasion in ad-wizard college?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:45 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I will cling to my wrong beliefs all the more.

Knock yourself out. Like I said, folks like you make my job easier, both in real life and in MetaFilter conversations.
posted by pineapple at 1:44 PM on January 30, 2008


These attempts at rebranding advertising as some kind of benevolent provider

Who is doing this? Cite, please.


You did it, two comments upthread:

Because you don't get to both be a part of the entertainment and literature and media machine and reject the advertising. Who do you think underwrites your television? How did you hear about the movie in the first place? What made you pick up any one book over another in the store or the library?

I, for one, am fascinated to learn that prior to the advent of commercial advertising, there was no literature or entertainment. It must have been a real drag for people to want to get together and entertain each other, but have nobody they could pay to tell each other that it was an option. Thank goodness for Advertising! Without its benevolent intervention in our miserable and meaningless lives, we'd all spend our evenings sitting at home staring at a blank wall. You know, if we were lucky enough to have somehow found shelter with a wall to stare at.

I used to work providing support to the advertising and marketing industries. I made widgets that helped place advertisements, and I wrote software to provide analysis of ad campaign effectiveness. And in the end, what burned me out was the knowledge that I was providing absolutely zero real benefit to anybody. I wasn't making something that people enjoyed for itself. We provided a service to people who provided a service to people who sometimes made products, but more often provided services themselves.

Is advertising necessary? Only for products that don't sell themselves. When I go to the farmers market, I'm not going because the farmers have been sending me flyers about how good their produce is. I'm going because I want to eat this week, and I know that food is available there. I don't need a viral web video to make me want to buy carrots or kale. Vegetables sell themselves. When I go to the library or bookstore, I don't choose a book to read because I've seen a billboard advertising that book. I do read the jacket copy, which could be considered advertising, but the key distinction is that it's attached to the product it's advertising. And if the jacket copy weren't there, I could flip through the book itself and see if it looked like something I wanted to read. Books sell themselves. When I call up some friends to get together for dinner and parlor games, or a jam session, I don't need four-color glossies blanketing the neighborhood. We can entertain ourselves just fine without advertising. Commerce can take place without advertising.

Large scale commerce may not be possible without advertising. But so what? Just because that's what we have now, that doesn't mean it's the necessary condition.

I find it really interesting that you would call your line of work a "necessary evil", even indirectly. In my experience, people who refer to themselves as a necessary evil have a skewed sense of what constitutes both "necessary" and "evil". I also find it amusing that the only people who say "Don't hate the player, hate the game" are players. I mean, if I hate the game, how is that not supposed to inform my opinion of the people who don't just accept the game, but embrace it?

Do I benefit from advertising? Of course I do. Or, at least, of course I think I do. After all, that's an opinion that's being sold to me by Advertising. And it turns out to be really, really hard to opt out of that campaign.
posted by hades at 3:29 PM on January 30, 2008 [2 favorites]


>> Without its benevolent intervention in our miserable and meaningless lives, we'd all spend our evenings sitting at home staring at a blank wall. You know, if we were lucky enough to have somehow found shelter with a wall to stare at.

You can try to make my statement something it wasn't, but the fact remains that the media and entertainment industries as they function today, relevant to this conversation, relevant to all the people upthread here complaining about how their movies and telly are just RUINED,

are dependent on advertising.

I never said that this makes advertising some benevolent provider -- Sys Rq used those words. But neither am I going to just let everyone blithely go, "Oh, hand that feeds me my stories and movies, I bite thee -- because it is trendy and intelligentsia to do so!" Look at the Bill Hicks rant, always trotted out and happily telling the "fucking evil scumbags" to just kill themselves, as a perfect example. Like phearlez said,
"it's hard for me to accept the idea that he ranted without irony against advertising during a live performance, a type of commerce that can't exist if you don't advertise its happening. I doubt a single one of his fans who went to see him regretted that they'd been exposed to the advertising that informed them of his performance in time for them to buy tickets and show up. ...So I try to tell myself that he was kind of having a laugh about that bit of hypocrisy, but I can't quite believe it. More likely he was just a victim of the same kind of short-sightedness that so many people suffer from. They hate advertising when it exposes them to things they don't like but love when it shows them things they want..."
It's exactly that hypocrisy that is killing me here: people who are benefiting from advertising right this second, still taking the time to call anyone who works in the industry a sleazy opportunistic thief.

>> Is advertising necessary? Only for products that don't sell themselves.

This is crap. It's surprising to me that someone who worked as close as you did to the advertising industry doesn't know that. How does a product "sell itself"? I'm really interested to hear some products available today, not 100 years ago, that do zero advertising or marketing and yet "sell themselves." Please enlighten me. And don't cry "word of mouth," which is advertising.

I'm sorry that you got jaded and burnt out at your job, I really am. But do you realize that you are making the argument that as long as everyone can just eat fresh vegetables from their farmer's market or call up some friends to go play parlor games, therefore advertising isn't really necessary? That's a fairly classist perspective.

>> Large scale commerce may not be possible without advertising. But so what? Just because that's what we have now, that doesn't mean it's the necessary condition.

Then by all means, work to change it. And in the interim, imagine your ad-free utopia all you like, but until things change, wishing it to be doesn't actually make it so.

>> And in the end, what burned me out was the knowledge that I was providing absolutely zero real benefit to anybody. I wasn't making something that people enjoyed for itself. We provided a service to people who provided a service to people who sometimes made products, but more often provided services themselves.

This is a whole separate argument, Lloyd Dobler. You want to go on about how everyone on this planet deserves a job that makes them feel good and also provides enjoyment to people and also beautifies the world, go ahead. You think that what's best for you is to be a painter or a sculptor or a stay-at-home-parent or a ice cream truck driver, then go do it.

But stop alleging that a service is not also a product, which is just crazy wrong. By your argument, realtors, dentists, dry cleaners, designers, landscapers and ditchdiggers are all "providing zero benefit" to anyone, because ain't nobody enjoys getting a cavity filled. Again, I'm finding this to be a pretty classist argument: the idea that the rest of the world -- which might not have the financial cushion, or a plethora of skills or education, offering the luxury to allow them to pick a fulfilling job that best suits their hearts and psyches -- should follow in your footsteps occupationally, or else they are somehow morally or ethically inferior.

>> I mean, if I hate the game, how is that not supposed to inform my opinion of the people who don't just accept the game, but embrace it?

I don't like the practices of Big Pharma and the corporate health industry, but it doesn't mean I'm rejecting modern medicine. And it doesn't mean that I think my friends who are doctors and drug reps are disgusting manipulative douchebags who deserve to burn in hell (or whatever the popular epithet has been). I don't know... maybe I'm just better at critical thinking, and at synthesizing complex ideas like how the big pictures of Work and Commerce fit into this messy stew we call modern society in the First World.

>> After all, that's an opinion that's being sold to me by Advertising.

This was poignant, but the only response I can muster is "get some backbone." If you're renaissance enough to play parlor games and have jam sessions with your friends, you're mentally sophisticated enough not to also have to suck down every message you're given. You can't argue for both sides.

>> it turns out to be really, really hard to opt out of that campaign.

That's in the eye of the beholder, and not really anyone else's fault. Like I said upthread, I know plenty of people who don't feel beaten down by The Man simply because they see commercials on TV or see billboards on a bus. They find ways to check out. I'm sorry that you haven't also.
posted by pineapple at 4:28 PM on January 30, 2008


Oh, so it's just about the telly and movies? Well, that's easy enough. And here I thought we were supposed to, let see...

Give away your things, get rid of all your little machines and gadgets that receive the big, bad commercials and ads from the big bad marketers, and move out to the woods somewhere.

Which is it? Marketing is an integral part of the world as we know it and can only be avoided by moving into an unfurnished woodland burrow, or marketing is easy to avoid?

As it happens, I have stopped turning on the TV, almost never watch movies, and eschew commercial radio. I found it pretty easy; after a while, you stop giving a damn about mainstream media culture. I find there's really not much out there that's worth the cognitive parasitic load of advertising anyway, not to mention the actual dollar cost of cable. As for books, I generally learn about new authors through word of mouth and librarian recommendations. I can't remember ever buying a book directly based on an advertisement or even a print review. (People do that? How odd of them.)

I'd recommend to anybody that they try that for a year or so. It's remarkably soothing. And, sheesh, you really don't miss much.

you're mentally sophisticated enough not to also have to suck down every message you're given

I think you're being a wee bit naive or disingenuous here about how well people ("sophisticated" or not) process information, particularly information that's repeated ad nauseam.
posted by sculpin at 5:31 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's surprising to me that someone who worked as close as you did to the advertising industry doesn't know that. How does a product "sell itself"? I'm really interested to hear some products available today, not 100 years ago, that do zero advertising or marketing and yet "sell themselves."

The vegetables at the farmer's market I mentioned. Are you claiming that their presence on a table--their very existence as inherently desirable objects--constitutes advertising? Because if that's the case, by definition, commerce cannot exist without advertising, and we're arguing in circles. Or do they not count because they were also available 100 years ago?

I didn't go to business school, so I may be laughably naive here. But it seems to me that if my direct inspection of an object is what entices me to purchase that object, that object has sold itself. There may be some marketing theory which says that just the placement of the object itself in my field of view counts as advertisement, in which case, whatever, you win, everything is advertising. But I think of advertising as a step removed from the direct act of inspection and purchase.

And don't cry "word of mouth," which is advertising.

Are we talking viral word of mouth, with people being paid to talk about products in bars? Or are we talking about my friend enjoying something, knowing that I might also enjoy it, and telling me about it? Because while the former is clearly advertising, I don't accept that the latter is. If all communication is advertising, then "advertising" is something so nebulous that I don't see how there's any constructive way to talk about it.

the fact remains that the media and entertainment industries as they function today, relevant to this conversation, relevant to all the people upthread here complaining about how their movies and telly are just RUINED, are dependent on advertising.

Oh, were we only talking about media and entertainment? Hrm. Well, I won't speak for everyone else. But when I say that advertising ruins things, I don't mean the entertainment which wouldn't exist without advertising. I mean things like my peace of mind, and my sleep. When I'm enjoying an Entertainment Product brought to me by the Media Machine, I accept that it's sponsored by someone. It isn't ruined. When I'm taking a nap and someone throws a telephone directory that I've tried repeatedly to opt out of receiving onto my doorstep, waking me up, that's advertising ruining something. I don't want ten pounds of advertising on dead trees to arrive at my house in one large package, thanks. I don't need it, either.

But stop alleging that a service is not also a product, which is just crazy wrong.

Yeah, I knew that omission would come back to bite me as soon as I posted it. Look, I'm still in the service industry. I still support people who themselves provide a service. But now, the service provided by those people is something useful. It's scientific research and education. The people I support do useful things that help others. They don't sell services to people who sell other services back to them. This makes me happy. Maybe it's a meaningless distinction. I don't think it is. And I know for a fact that I benefit from advertising--my bandwidth is paid for by Google AdSense. The irony is not lost on me. But I'm also having this conversation on a site that I heard about from a friend, using a computer I bought on the recommendation of a friend, through an ISP that I found out about through a friend. Not through "word of mouth" from a stranger.

I know plenty of people who don't feel beaten down by The Man simply because they see commercials on TV or see billboards on a bus. They find ways to check out. I'm sorry that you haven't also.

I don't feel beaten down by The Man because I'm aware of being marketed to. And I'm curious to hear about how they've managed to check out. Have they gotten rid of their phones and postal service, cut off their internet access, moved to an isolated island and become subsistence farmers? Because that's about the only way I can think of to opt out entirely. I do what I can to avoid being marketed to, and I have opted out of some of the benefits that come with living in an advertising-saturated environment. I'm not saying I can't find a way not to be bothered by the constant barrage of advertising; I'm saying that it's nearly impossible to avoid the barrage.

The charges of classism are interesting. I'll try to address those later, when I come back from a class I found out about from my wife, who found out about it because the business moved to our neighborhood and she walked past their location one day.
posted by hades at 5:37 PM on January 30, 2008


Is advertising necessary? Only for products that don't sell themselves. When I go to the farmers market, I'm not going because the farmers have been sending me flyers about how good their produce is. I'm going because I want to eat this week, and I know that food is available there.

Good thing you and all the other shoppers have that magic ESP voodoo that tells you where the market is so you know to go there to buy your veggies. After all, flyers or postcards and stuff advertising where and when it is would ruin everything.

And by the way:

The vegetables at the farmer's market I mentioned. Are you claiming that their presence on a table--their very existence as inherently desirable objects--constitutes advertising?

Do you think the farmer simply slops the stuff out on a table willy-nilly or s/he washes and presents things in a manner better suited to entice sales? Because as someone who has sold crafts at art fairs and markets I can assure you I've personally applied a lot of mental effort to figuring out the best way to market (a close cousin of the evil fucker, advertising) my goods and so has every other vendor I've met and hobknobbed with.

But I see you've decided now that word of mouth is the only acceptable way for people to hear about stuff; Personally I'm glad I don't have to limit myself to exposure in life only to the things my direct contacts do. I have the self-confidence in myself that allows me to hear about things from different sources with different credibility levels and then draw my own conclusions about their worth, either by trying it myself or doing some basic research.
posted by phearlez at 6:18 PM on January 30, 2008


Good thing you and all the other shoppers have that magic ESP voodoo that tells you where the market is so you know to go there to buy your veggies.

God forbid I should ask my new neighbors where they get their groceries. Or walk/bike around the neighborhood to find out for myself what businesses are nearby. Do you really get every piece of information about the world through unsolicited advertisements? If you go on vacation somewhere unfamiliar, do you only visit locations and stores about which someone has been paid to tell you?

Magic ESP voodoo? Really? Boy, as soon as you know I don't want to play your game, I become an un-person to you, don't I? That's just... wow. Thanks. I don't often see the open contempt; usually it's more veiled. Your honesty is refreshing.

After all, flyers or postcards and stuff advertising where and when it is would ruin everything.

You know, a flyer or postcard would be fine. But it's never a flyer. It's five postcards a day, every day except Sunday, and someone on every downtown street corner shoving a flyer at me. So I look at the amount of paper that goes straight from my mailbox into the recycling, even after opting out of as much of that crap as possible, and I multiply that by a few hundred million, and... yeah. Ruining everything.

But I'm not saying that advertising has no value in any form, in any situation, anywhere, any time. I've certainly bought things because of advertisements, and been happy with the transaction. I like being able to look in a shop window and see what they've presented to entice me inside--how else am I to know, standing there, if what they're selling is something I might want? And if I am in a place of business, I have no problem with vendors applying marketing techniques to try to sway my decisions. But there are ways for me to get information about things I might wish to purchase which don't involve someone else paying you to tell me about them. Your open contempt and dismissal of those methods and anyone who prefers them is part of the reason your field is so widely disliked, I think. That, and telemarketers. And spammers.

Do you think the farmer simply slops the stuff out on a table willy-nilly or s/he washes and presents things in a manner better suited to entice sales?

I must be missing a piece of advertising theory which would help me understand this line of thinking. In advertising, is the map really the territory? Are the carrots an advertisement for themselves? Or am I unclear on the distinction between advertising and marketing? Which is the farmer doing?

But, ok, she's marketing her wares. In a place I have chosen to visit. She's not calling me at home and trying to convince me that my life is incomplete without carrots. It's not that subtle a distinction; context is everything. When I'm in a commercial context, I have no problem with advertising or marketing. When I'm not in a commercial context, I resent the intrusion. What I object to about marketing as a profession and advertising as an omnipresent cultural artifact is that it's predicated on the belief that there is no context that is not commercial.

But I see you've decided now that word of mouth is the only acceptable way for people to hear about stuff

No, I've decided that I would like to be able to choose how I get information about stuff. To be able to pull, rather than be pushed to. You've decided that I shouldn't have that choice, or that it should be prohibitively difficult to exercise that choice. I don't care how other people choose to hear about stuff--if you prefer your life to be mainly informed by advertisements, who am I to tell you you can't do that? I'm reworking my spam filters tonight; I could send all the unwanted offers I get to you instead of /dev/null, if you want.

I won't send you all my spam, of course, because that would be unspeakably rude. And I doubt you care much for spam, or spammers. But at least spam is contained to the computer. Other forms of marketing and advertising are everywhere.
posted by hades at 10:03 PM on January 30, 2008 [4 favorites]


This discussion started off with the lament that the Bill Hicks rant is so often quoted.

I think that ill will towards marketeers stems from the general impression that
1. Marketeers will market anything with no regard to the qualities or benefits to the people.
2. Marketeers will use every technique they can think of to circumvent the rational analytical abilities that people have: playing on their irrational desires, on their magical thinking, on their fears, bombarding them with mindless repetition that's hard to distinguish from brainwashing.

If you manipulate people without their interest in mind because it pays big bucks people will feel resentful.
posted by jouke at 11:01 PM on January 30, 2008


But I'm not saying that advertising has no value in any form, in any situation, anywhere, any time.

Except for all the times when you are. And now you're on to selective quoting and responding out of context. Really, what's the point of such disingenuous non-debate? Does it accomplish something for you?
posted by phearlez at 6:58 AM on January 31, 2008


Does it accomplish something for you?

Well, it made it clear that you don't consider me, or anyone else who doesn't embrace being treated as a wandering cloud of attention to be monetized, a person worth interacting with on a human level. So in that it narrowed the pool of mefites whose opinions I care about down by one, I guess it did accomplish something for me.

What does it accomplish for you?
posted by hades at 9:00 AM on January 31, 2008


>> You've decided that I shouldn't have that choice, or that it should be prohibitively difficult to exercise that choice.

hades: I don't know where you're getting this from, but it certainly shouldn't be from me or anything I've said. My perspective has been consistent throughout, and I'll repeat it again since people keep attributing other positions to me:
All marketing and advertising uses psychology and human nature to separate consumers from their cash. Some marketers do that more ethically than others. That doesn't make all marketers scum-sucking douchebags, nor does it mean that all advertising is snake oil and candy-coated arsenic. All consumers have a say in how they receive their advertising. If you are receiving advertising and marketing messages in a way you don't like -- or are too weak to make the lifestyle changes that reduce or eliminate those messages -- that's on you.
In my real life I am well-documented as being an advocate of pull marketing instead of push. I have written at length on how you can't push anything to the consumers in my industry, for a variety of reasons. And I think that jouke's statement ("If you manipulate people without their interest in mind because it pays big bucks people will feel resentful.") is something that most people in marketing could stand to have taped to their monitors, to re-read every single morning.

But there apparently is little room for any gray in this discussion. Most of the rabid anti-marketing positions here have been rife with generalizations about what ALL marketers do and how bad ALL advertising is and how the WHOLE world would be a better place if we all just killed ourselves.

And it's just not very becoming for thinking people to take that sort of hard line, especially when also rife in this thread are really crazy, silly arguments. I mean, "one flyer is okay but five is bad"? Advertising is responsible for the loud thunk a phone directory makes when it's dropped on the porch? The only acceptable way to decide what ISP to use is to ask a friend, and the only acceptable way to decide what educational opportunities to pursue are to hope you walk past them?

>> But it seems to me that if my direct inspection of an object is what entices me to purchase that object, that object has sold itself.

Sure, but as has been pointed out, how did you choose the grocery store where you purchased that vegetable? When I walk past a shirt on a hanger and I decide the fabric is pretty and the cut is flattering and I buy it, that thing has sold itself, sure -- but to ignore the amount of advertising I had to process to even decide to be in that mall, in that particular shop, in that particular department of that particular shop, and in front of that hanger in the first place, is wildly oversimplifying and reducing the presence and effect of marketing and advertising.

I just don't think it's an intellectually honest way to approach the discussion.

Paying people to advertise your product in a "word of mouth style" isn't what advertisers consider real word-of-mouth. Real word-of-mouth is what you are talking about here: You've used Toothpaste X, it worked for you, you told your wife, she used it, she liked it, she told her friend, who told her husband, and all parties in the equation purchase Toothpaste X based on this flow of personal recommendation. And in this business, we love word of mouth because it's a real endorsement from a real person, and it happens to also be much cheaper than Google AdWords or a SuperBowl commercial. But without some sort of advertising or marketing, there would never be a User #1. And you don't seem to have space for that in your position.

>> But there are ways for me to get information about things I might wish to purchase which don't involve someone else paying you to tell me about them. Your open contempt and dismissal of those methods and anyone who prefers them is part of the reason your field is so widely disliked, I think.

Whose open contempt? Like I said, I'm all for anyone getting any message however works best for them, and I fully, wholly, 100% support the mentality of eschewing advertising and marketing. I've said this repeatedly.

Where the disconnect is entering this exchange for me is the people who continue to say that 100% of advertising is bad, "except for the amount and method that I deem acceptable." That cherry-picking for personal convenience is what keeps drawing my contempt. This is a really complex topic, and yet the sweeping generalizations keep getting in, even when they diverge completely from reason and logic. (hello, telephone-book-ruins-my-nap.)

>> Which is it? Marketing is an integral part of the world as we know it and can only be avoided by moving into an unfurnished woodland burrow, or marketing is easy to avoid?

sculpin: When zouhair went off that he wants all advertisers to just fucking leave him alone, leave him alone, leave him alone, because he is "forced" to view all the messages against his will -- I told him exactly how he could change that... which you then pulled out of context to suggest I advocate that everyone should go off the grid. Take another look at the original exchange, please, instead of misquoting me to suit your point.

There has been a lot of conflating of advertising and marketing in this thread, and it might be helpful for me at least to state how I view them differently, as a reference point. To me, advertising is when the supermarket tells you they have cold beer inside, $4 a six-pack for any brand. Marketing is what makes you stand in front of the cooler and choose Heineken or Bud Light or Pabst or Sam Adams. Marketing makes you favor a certain brand or company; advertising gets you to buy any particular product at any particular time. Advertising is the "will you buy" and marketing is the "from whom."

As evidenced by this comment, a lot of people don't mind advertising but feel manipulated by the marketing that tries to position a brand in a certain way. I get this, I really do; counteracting that instinctive resistance to marketing so that people will want to know about my company is a huge part of my job. But there's also been a lot of conflating of advertising as a business process vs. what forms it takes: the flyers that pile up in the landfills... the phone books that thunk on the porch.

And trying to explain to a group of people (many of whom I perceive to be ranting illogically, for the most part) why this kind is different from that kind -- and that you can hate one aspect of it without indifferently dismissing the whole business, part and parcel -- is what I feel like I'm going #006699 in the face trying to distinguish.
posted by pineapple at 9:10 AM on January 31, 2008


pineapple: my first response was to you, but the rest were to phearlez. This one will be to you.

All consumers have a say in how they receive their advertising. If you are receiving advertising and marketing messages in a way you don't like -- or are too weak to make the lifestyle changes that reduce or eliminate those messages -- that's on you.

Sculpin already picked on this, and you weren't happy with the lack of context, so I'll try to include more context. Zouhair's complaint was that marketing is everywhere. Your response was that "you don't get to both be a part of the entertainment and literature and media machine and reject the advertising." Entertainment and literature and media are big, but they aren't everything. And I think you know that, because your advice on how to opt out of receiving advertising was to "move out to the woods somewhere". The implication is that even if I have accepted that my preferences about advertising mean I don't get to be part of the entertainment/literature/media machine, that's not enough. I don't get to be part of living near other people. I need to move to the woods. As it happens, I have largely opted out of the machine. Not entirely, but I'm ok with the compromise. But what you seem to be saying is that because I haven't become a hermit in the woods, it is entirely my own fault if I think advertising is still intruding on my life more than I would like.

The telephone book thing is silly, yes, but it underscores how difficult it is to opt out. I have called the company that distributes the phone book and asked them not to give me one. They've agreed not to do so. And I keep getting them anyway. You claim I have a say in how I receive advertising? That only works if the advertisers honor my requests. Some do. But some don't, and I don't think it's reasonable to say that because I'm annoyed at their lack of respect for my chosen method of interacting with them (pull vs push), I'm too weak to make the lifestyle choice (move to the woods) that would remove the source of annoyance. They're the ones doing something wrong. Why is it on me to either suck it up and accept their wrongdoing or become a hermit?

The only acceptable way to decide what ISP to use is to ask a friend, and the only acceptable way to decide what educational opportunities to pursue are to hope you walk past them?

No, what I said was that was how I chose to find those particular services. Not--and I want to emphasize this, because both you and phearlez have drawn the wrong conclusion about this--that that is the only acceptable form of marketing for everyone else to use in their own decision making. Or even for me to use exclusively--I thought I was clear about this.

I'm all for anyone getting any message however works best for them, and I fully, wholly, 100% support the mentality of eschewing advertising and marketing. I've said this repeatedly.

Where the disconnect is entering this exchange for me is the people who continue to say that 100% of advertising is bad, "except for the amount and method that I deem acceptable." That cherry-picking for personal convenience is what keeps drawing my contempt.


Either you support people choosing how they get their advertising, or you're contemptuous of them for cherry picking how they would like to get their advertising; I don't see how you can have it both ways.

I suspect that we actually have pretty similar ideas about marketing, at least with respect to pull vs push. But I think there's something inherently slimy about the soft, friendly, "we're not marketing, advertising or selling anything"-style of marketing, advertising and sales. I mean, right up front, it's dishonest in its description. It's a lie. You appear to be ok with that; I'm not.

If I thought that you supported the mentality of eschewing advertising and marketing for any reason other than your ability to make a buck off people who have that mentality, I'd be a lot happier with this thread. As it is, I just end up feeling grimy. And used. Because this is probably somehow helping you tap the anti-marketing market I represent. ("Oh, you know what Bill's doing, he's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart.")

The "one flyer is good, five is bad" thing is illogical, yes, but only because I don't have a real metric for an acceptable (to me) level of advertising. I know that some level of advertising doesn't trip my outrage sensors, and a higher level does. And I think it would be really interesting to try to pin down exactly where the boundary is. But I'll never be able to, because apparently my only options are to participate in human society and accept a level that's too high, or sell everything and move to the woods so I can have none at all. Talk about no room for shades of gray.
posted by hades at 10:46 AM on January 31, 2008


If anybody wants to redirect the discussion from marketing-vs-antimarketing to something less vitriolic, here's some fuel for you, in the form of the original paper by Duncan Watts that was the impetus for the FC article: Experimental Study of Inequality and Unpredictability in an Artificial Cultural Market (use BugMeNot to bypass login).
posted by scalefree at 11:48 AM on January 31, 2008


Clearly some advertising is necessary. I advertise things myself on occasion. But there's just more and more of it and it's getting out of control.

In the couple of years, we've gotten video ads in cabs; we have video ads on the streets (which I think is *really dangerous*); there are ads in front of my face when I go to pee in a bar or restaurant.

I had bad dealings with Time Warner recently (summary -- turns out one of their technicians broke my service for a week, though they blamed it on everything including my wireless router until I had to pull the "I'm an engineer at Google" card (I hate to do this, why should I need to?) At least when the technician finally showed up he was completely honest with me about what had happened -- the previous guy had simply unplugged my wire and never plugged it back in....)

So each time I called them up, I'd wait forever on the line and then someone picks up and starts off with an advertising tagline ("Ask me about our new blah") The seventh or eighth time I politely asked if there were any way the operator had to pass suggestions up to management and then explained:

"Generally, it's considered polite in one's first interactions with people to say things like, "How are you?" or "Thanks for calling!" It's pretty rude to start off selling something without even saying hello; it's particularly frustrating when I'm in fact calling you because my service is broken and aren't feeling like I want to buy things from you."

I was really polite (these guys don't make the rules) -- but I didn't even get an apology. He obvious felt I was nuts.

I also get unskippable commercials on a DVD (first time I got that I returned the DVD to the store, and I did get my money back. I note they don't do that as much any more...); I get endless ads in movies (interestingly, when they started advertising things that weren't other movies, people would boo them -- now if you during a financial services ad before a movie, people will shush you -- so they can hear the ad!)

So I'm also really sick of it. And I understand completely where Bill Hicks is coming from. There's advertising ("My show is on Mondays") and there's a constant noise in your ears that makes it impossible to think.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:30 PM on January 31, 2008


>> Either you support people choosing how they get their advertising, or you're contemptuous of them for cherry picking how they would like to get their advertising; I don't see how you can have it both ways.

You and Sys Rq must be huffing the same paint, at this point. Nowhere have I said anything even remotely resembling your statement here. Let me help you with some Fixing:
Either you I support people choosing how they get their advertising, full stop. or you're I'm contemptuous of them for cherry picking how they would like to get their advertising while also saying 100% of advertising is bad, "except for the amount and method that I deem acceptable."
Zouhair's comment is a perfect example. He wants to watch TV but doesn't want to have ads -- and since that can't be the case, clearly it must have nothing to do with the free market and everything to do with sleazy marketers forcing messages on him. It's an intellectually dishonest way to argue this topic. I've consistently said in this thread that people can elect to do what they want, that there are myriad levels of exposure, that I respect anyone's right to be advertised to in a way that's best for them. I've acknowledged that advertising is omnipresent and hard to dodge. I've acknowledged that there are a wide range of opinions.

>> But I think there's something inherently slimy about the soft, friendly, "we're not marketing, advertising or selling anything"-style of marketing, advertising and sales. I mean, right up front, it's dishonest in its description. It's a lie. You appear to be ok with that; I'm not.

It's not a lie; it's you inferring a lot of stuff from my statement, when you have no idea what you are talking about. This will always come back to difference of opinion.

First of all, in execution of my job, I don't actually say, "we're not marketing, advertising or selling anything." Christ, my title is marketing director -- do you think people are smart enough to maybe deduce from that that I'm engaging in, you know, marketing? I don't hide anything or deceive anyone.

Our formal approach is to make information available about the company and its products, without forcing it on anyone, without pushing it, without doing anything other than making the information compelling, engaging, and available in many formats, so that people come to us and want to know more. It's as hands-off, unpushy, and non-salesy as one can get... but believe it or not, no matter what you want to call that, that's still marketing.

But because I'm not shoving it down people's throats in a way that is unethical or aggressive or unacceptable, my company is perceived in our industry as not really doing much marketing or sales. Am I pleased by that perception? Yes, since it's the objective of our approach to begin with. But are we misrepresenting? Nope, and I know that because I direct the entire public-facing effort of the organization.

You couldn't have known the finer details that I just shared here about how I do my job, so I'm not faulting you for not knowing. But I am faulting you for assuming the worst. This is another example of where, from one brief statement, you decided I'm a slimy, sleazy liar. It tells me is that you aren't ever going to be able to have an objective conversation about this topic; just as I have the baggage of being a professional marketer and therefore in possession of a different perspective than regular consumers, you have the baggage of distrusting me on this subject and refusing to acknowledge the forest for the trees. We're not going to get forward with this.
posted by pineapple at 6:39 AM on February 1, 2008


You couldn't have known the finer details that I just shared here about how I do my job, so I'm not faulting you for not knowing. But I am faulting you for assuming the worst.

Fair enough. I don't know you or your company, outside of what you present here. What I (and Zouhair) saw here was this:

As a marketer, one whose company intentionally engages in a soft, friendly, "we're not marketing, advertising or selling anything"-style of marketing, advertising and sales, it's warming the cockles of my cold black heart to see the vehement anti-marketing sentiment here. As long as everyone continues to hate marketing and advertising, I'll have a job.

Do you see how that might instill in me (and clearly in Zouhair) a tendency to assume the worst? It's basically saying to us, "ha ha, suckers, the more you try to avoid me, the more money I make off you". Which may be true, but reminding us of the futility of our approach is... I dunno. In my mind's eye, there was gleeful rubbing of hands, and eyes with cartoon dollars in. It certainly pushed my buttons. Maybe my buttons need recalibration.

I think yours might too, though. I don't see anybody here (except for Bill Hicks, who's dead) saying "all advertising is the spawn of Satan". You keep rewriting what I see as "there is too much advertising; why can't there be less" into "100% of advertising is bad, except for the amount and method that I deem acceptable." That doesn't even make sense as a rewrite. If there's an exception, it's not 100%, is it? So let me do some more Fixing:
I support people choosing how they get their advertising, full stop. I'm contemptuous of them for cherry picking choosing how they would like to get their advertising while also saying 100% of advertising is bad, "except for the amount and method that I deem acceptable." asserting that they should have the right to choose how they would like to get their advertising.
When you reduce Zouhair's rant, which complained about marketing everywhere, to "wah, when I want to watch Prison Break on TV, I am 'forced' to watch COMMERCIALS, oh noes....", you're being dismissive and insulting. Fair enough, he called you fuckers first. But there's a line between "advertising is everywhere, and I hate that I can't ever avoid it anywhere" to "100% of advertising is bad" that I see you actively trying to blur, which makes me distrust your assertions that you support people choosing how they get their advertising.

I agree, we're not going to get anywhere with this. I don't think you're being honest, and you think I'm huffing paint. Might as well just drop it.
posted by hades at 9:34 AM on February 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


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