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Posts Tagged ‘advertising

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”*…

In the U.S., more than $250 billion a year is spent on advertising; globally, the figure is more than half a trillion dollars. So, it would seem there’s a basic question worth asking: does all that advertising actually work? The ad industry swears by its efficacy — but a massive new study tells a different story…

Have you ever been puzzled by something that’s supposed to be true, but you didn’t quite believe it — and you didn’t have the evidence to challenge it? But then, one day, the evidence appears! Today is that day. From Freakonomics (@Freakonomics), “Does Advertising Actually Work?

The link above is to Part One, which focuses on television advertising; for a look at the new sheriff in town, digital advertising, see Part Two.

John Wanamaker, pioneer of the modern department store and gifted merchant and marketer who helped define the modern consumer era

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As we ponder persuasion, we might note that, history would suggest that some advertising has worked even better than expected; case in point: on this date in 1959 the Barbie doll was introduced (at the American Toy Fair in New York).  Ruth Handler (co-founder, with her husband, of Mattel), created Barbie as an “aspirational” (i.e., grown up) alternative to baby dolls.  She adapted Barbie from a German doll, Lilli, which was based on a German cartoon strip– and which was sold as a “racy” item, primary to men in tobacco stores…  Amped via Mattel’s sponsorship of The Mickey Mouse Club (Mattel was the first toy company to use television advertising), the figurine was a huge smash…and was followed by Midge, Skipper, and– enfranchising a set of men perhaps beyond those who felt bereft when Lilli became Barbie– Ken.

 Barbie Millicent Roberts™ from Willows, Wisconsin, 1959

“Commercials are about products in the same sense that the story of Jonah is about the anatomy of whales”*…

The Superbowl has, since its inception been… well, the superbowl of broadcasting; this year’s expected audience is over 100 million. Even in this pandemic-challenged economy, 30-second spots on today’s sold-out Superbowl telecast listed for $5.6 million each (though in Scott’s Miracle-Gro reportedly scored a steal at $5.5 million); there’s an extra $300,000 fee to be included in the livestream.

With that kind of investment at stake, and their sights set on the gargantuan audience who will see their commercials, the companies that advertise take their ads very seriously. And as for viewers, many report that the commercials are their favorite part of the show…

Like millions of viewers who tune into the big game year after year, we at FiveThirtyEight LOVE Super Bowl commercials. We love them so much, in fact, that we wanted to know everything about them … by analyzing and categorizing them, of course. We dug into the defining characteristics of a Super Bowl ad, then grouped commercials based on which criteria they shared — and let me tell you, we found some really weird clusters of commercials.

We watched 233 ads from the 10 brands that aired the most spots in all 21 Super Bowls this century, according to superbowl-ads.com. While we watched, we evaluated ads using seven specific criteria…

Superbowl commercials, as only FiveThirtyEight could analyze them: “According To Super Bowl Ads, Americans Love America, Animals And Sex“… sometimes even all at the same time. (Videos included!)

* Neil Postman

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As we contemplate our culture, we might recall that the first organized Mardi Gras celebration in (what is now) the United States was held by French settlers in Mobile, Alabama on this date in 1703.

The first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans processed on this date in 1827 when masked and costumed students danced through the streets.

Mardi Gras 1937- by Eudora Welty (who, before she became a writer, took photos for the WPA)

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Written by LW

February 7, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production”*…

Television fueled the second stage of modern consumer culture, “democratizing” luxury on a scale previously unimagined

The notion of human beings as consumers first took shape before World War I, but became commonplace in America in the 1920s. Consumption is now frequently seen as our principal role in the world.

People, of course, have always “consumed” the necessities of life — food, shelter, clothing — and have always had to work to get them or have others work for them, but there was little economic motive for increased consumption among the mass of people before the 20th century.

Quite the reverse: Frugality and thrift were more appropriate to situations where survival rations were not guaranteed. Attempts to promote new fashions, harness the “propulsive power of envy,” and boost sales multiplied in Britain in the late 18th century. Here began the “slow unleashing of the acquisitive instincts,” write historians Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J.H. Plumb in their influential book on the commercialization of 18th-century England, when the pursuit of opulence and display first extended beyond the very rich.

But, while poorer people might have acquired a very few useful household items — a skillet, perhaps, or an iron pot — the sumptuous clothing, furniture, and pottery of the era were still confined to a very small population. In late 19th-century Britain a variety of foods became accessible to the average person, who would previously have lived on bread and potatoes — consumption beyond mere subsistence. This improvement in food variety did not extend durable items to the mass of people, however. The proliferating shops and department stores of that period served only a restricted population of urban middle-class people in Europe, but the display of tempting products in shops in daily public view was greatly extended — and display was a key element in the fostering of fashion and envy.

Although the period after World War II is often identified as the beginning of the immense eruption of consumption across the industrialized world, the historian William Leach locates its roots in the United States around the turn of the century.

In the United States, existing shops were rapidly extended through the 1890s, mail-order shopping surged, and the new century saw massive multistory department stores covering millions of acres of selling space. Retailing was already passing decisively from small shopkeepers to corporate giants who had access to investment bankers and drew on assembly-line production of commodities, powered by fossil fuels; the traditional objective of making products for their self-evident usefulness was displaced by the goal of profit and the need for a machinery of enticement.

“The cardinal features of this culture were acquisition and consumption as the means of achieving happiness; the cult of the new; the democratization of desire; and money value as the predominant measure of all value in society,” Leach writes in his 1993 book “Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture.” Significantly, it was individual desire that was democratized, rather than wealth or political and economic power…

From Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays (and his pioneering of modern propaganda and advertising), through Alfred P. Sloan and General Motors (and the proliferation of choice), David Sarnoff and radio (then television), and now the internet– over the course of the 20th century, capitalism preserved its momentum by molding the ordinary person into a consumer with an unquenchable thirst for more stuff: “A Brief History of Consumer Culture.”

[Your correspondent highly recommends Land of Desire, and as a video “chaser,” Adam Curtis’ remarkable Century of Self (on YouTube here).]

* Adan Smith, The Wealth of Nations

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As we consume consciously, we might spare a thought for Thomas Crapper; he died on this date in 1910.  Crapper popularized the one-piece pedestal flushing toilet that still bears his name in many parts of the English-speaking world.

The flushing toilet was invented by John Harrington in 1596; Joseph Bramah patented the first practical water closet in England in 1778; then in 1852, George Jennings received a patent for the flush-out toilet.  Crapper’s  contribution was promotional (though he did develop some important related inventions, such as the ballcock): in a time when bathroom fixtures were barely mentionable, Crapper, who was trained as a plumber, set himself up as a “sanitary engineer”; he heavily promoted “sanitary” plumbing and pioneered the concept of the bathroom fittings showroom.  His efforts were hugely successful; he scored a series of Royal Warrants (providing lavatories for Prince, then King Edward, and for George V) and enjoyed huge commercial success. To this day, manhole covers with Crapper’s company’s name on them in Westminster Abbey are among London’s minor tourist attractions.

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“This series is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy”*…

A hundred years ago a new theory about human nature was put forth by Sigmund Freud. He had discovered he said, primitive and sexual and aggressive forces hidden deep inside the minds of all human beings. Forces which if not controlled led individuals and societies to chaos and destruction.

This series is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.

But the heart of the series is not just Sigmund Freud but other members of the Freud family.

This episode is about Freud’s American nephew Edward Bernays. [See here.]

Bernays is almost completely unknown today but his influence on the 20th century was nearly as great as his uncles. Because Bernays was the first person to take Freud’s ideas about human beings and use them to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations for the first time how to they could make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass produced goods to their unconscious desires.

Out of this would come a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying people’s inner selfish desires one made them happy and thus docile. It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate our world today…

From the introduction to Adam Curtis‘ remarkable 2002 BBC documentary series, Century of Self, all-too-relevant today– how propaganda, marketing and advertising, political messaging, management techniques all “flowered” from Freud’s seed.

Here is a complete transcript of the series.

Readers can find the (riveting) documentaries themselves at:

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode Three

Episode Four

Hypernormalization, Curtis’ 2016 BBC (sort of) sequel is here.

And keep an eye peeled for What Is It That’s Coming, a (tentatively-titled series, projected at nine parts) on which he’s currently at work.

* Adam Curtis

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As we sort signal from noise, we might consider just how far we have– and haven’t– come, as it was on this date in 1859 that Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species.  Actually, on that day he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life; the title was shortened to the one we know with the sixth edition in 1872.

 Title page of the 1859 edition

“Button, button, who’s got the button?”*…

If something is “fit for the back of a postage stamp,” it’s generally understood as lacking depth and nuance. A similarly sized object, however, has been upending that saying for 125 years. From political campaigns to punch lines to keepsakes, the button has packed bits of incredibly rich history into just a few inches. “It seems like a niche little object, but it really tells a very general American history,” [observed] collector and manufacturer Christen Carter

The wearable item is, in fact, an entry point into the complexities of the past.Carter recently co-authored the forthcoming book Button Power—which is available for pre-order on Bookshop—with notable dealer Ted Hake, who’s been collecting the objects for around 60 years. Through composed displays and black-and-white photos, the tome delves into the item’s history, spanning its invention in 1896 to contemporary usages. “Early on people were wearing buttons, and mostly it’s a temporary thing. It’s a moment in time,” Carter says. “They connected you to something else. One-hundred-twenty-five years ago, images weren’t as prevalent as they are now.” Button Power compiles a diverse array of notable figures, from Shirley Chisholm and the Ramones to Rube Goldberg and Muhammad Ali, each represented through the wearable item…

A medium with popularity perpetually in flux, the button has risen and fallen since its creation and notably surged in the 1960s and 1980s as it was used more widely for countercultural movements and protests. Of course, mainstream efforts from political campaigns, public figures, and large-scale events generally still sought out buttons to share their visions. Many of the slogans and broader undertakings of alternative movements that may have evaded popular narratives, however, also are preserved by the object. “It’s a people’s history, too…

More (and more nifty buttons) at “A New Book Chronicles the 125-Year History of the Button, Its Design, and Its Role in Cultural Change.”

* children’s game

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As we wear ’em with pride, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that Margaret Chase Smith of Maine became the first woman elected to the United States Senate without completing another senator’s term.

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Written by LW

September 18, 2020 at 1:01 am

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