Tag Archives: marketing

A Question on Appropriate Analytical Tactics

This question came to me during breakfast while watching a morning “news” show. I’d like to think they were doing a segment on consumer advocacy or reports, but it’s just as likely this thought came to me out of the blue:

In a consumer culture such as ours, is a Marxian analysis of the means and mode(s) of production still relevant? When the emphasis is so heavily on the consumer side, is it even useful to think of power in terms of who controls production? Or is the real power more in the hands of the hegemony, which convinces most of us that it is consumption that counts? And in any case, what does it say about our socio-economic system, about the state of things, that our main source of “power”–or at least the source most consciously realized and discussed–is consumptive?

In a sense, that’s not even power at all…although this is where I tend to slip back into Marx (is there a way to avoid it?)…but it’s not “real” power because it’s not just consumer demand that dictates production and makes companies rise and fall–it’s capitalist interest. That elusive yet pervasive “good” that we discursively (and mentally–subconsciously?) glorify yet only understand through well-worn metaphors and (misguided) faith. And it’s marketers who influence consumption patterns, by studying and exploiting them. It’s all related in a convoluted chain of powerful influences in the (ultimate?) service of increasing capital. And we consumers–the identity that all of us are encouraged to wear like a badge of honor–don’t have nearly the power we think we do.

But this does little to answer my original question about the relevance of a Marxian analysis in the face of our overwhelmingly consumerist society, because I just slipped so easily back into Marx up there. Almost too easily…Marx may be useful if only because he helps us dispel the hegemonic myths about the culture in which we live: a Marxian analysis helps us to see the production side of things that tends to be obscured, even as it is vaguely glorified in the “jobs” trope that is so in vogue right now. And of course there is always commodity fetishism, a big part of our consumer culture. But the working class has yet to come to mass consciousness, and I still want something that’s a better fit to describe what’s going on at the consumer level that’s so in the forefront of our national consciousness, while at the same time taking into account what is obscured by this focus on these gargantuan myths of the power of this hegemonically imposed and nearly-universally embraced identity. I want it all revealed and deconstructed and fit back together in a contemporarily sensical way.

Perhaps I need more Gramsci to understand what’s going on, but what I really want is an analytic that is for us–that is grounded in this culture and this time, not imposed from another, however appropriate or partially relevant it may seem. However well we try to make it fit. It just doesn’t do enough to completely understand what the hell is going on, here. And there probably is at least one, I’m just having some difficultly remember what it is. A little help, folks?

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Filed under Commodification, Contemporary, Power

Theme Parks and You: How to Consume Efficiently and Be Your Own Advertisement

As I stumbled around in 100 degree heat toward the next ride, futilely adding another layer of sunscreen to my saturated-yet-sun-dried skin, I was struck by an idea that doubtlessly countless others have had before*:

Amusement parks are a study in infinitely fractal, self-referential marketing and cross-promotion. Our presence as the willing public is their greatest opportunity, for we are a captive audience. Captives who have paid to be trapped in an endless barrage of merchandising. (A barrage made up of attempts clever, clumsy, and blatant alike. Often within what could be isolated as a single “pitch.”) It really is extraordinary (and also perhaps expected or mundane, which itself says a lot about our culture) the different levels on which this marketing happens.

The imitated voice of a famous rabbit Muzaks its way into our somewhat offended ears, telling us that now is the perfect time to upgrade to a season pass…so we can come back and keep hearing him give us these little tips and spend more time awash in a sea of themed advertising. Stores sell all sorts of products with the park’s logo on it, characters that the park is affiliated with, merchandise with the names of various rides, comic book character capes: everything you could ever want and very little you “need.” The rides are named after current, recent, or upcoming movies, reminding the public to go see them and be part of the national summer blockbuster conversation.

Perhaps this isn’t as extraordinary or complex as all that, and others have analyzed this phenomenon in more depth and with more care**, but when you start pulling back the layers, it certainly seems to be. Even while entering and exiting rides, patrons are reminded to go eat a turkey leg at a nearby snack bar, or visit a different ride or attraction. Everything is designed to remind the visitor about different aspects of the theme park’s financial interests so that they can support these interests by buying commodities that have been fetishized nearly beyond recognition and functionality.

Is that post-modern punk kid wearing that super-hero cape ironically, or seriously, or because it struck him as the appropriate thing to don while experiencing the corresponding ride? Are we playing these carnival games because we like that it involves hitting a representation of that pesky cat who always tried to kill the bird on the Saturday mornings of our youth, or because it involves the chance of winning an oversized plush doll that represents an entirely different cartoon character? Are we just pawns in several large, incestuous companies’ schemes to make sartorial advertisements out of us–soon all we’ll have to do is look in the mirror, and our shirts will subconsciously remind us that we really do need to go see that new super-hero movie. And then go buy a ticket and pay for parking so we can go ride the ride, and then buy a pen or hat or coffee mug to commemorate all of this.

Maybe none of this matters. It is what we’re paying for, after all.

Thoughts? Further unpacking? Anyone want to call “shenanigans”?

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Notes:

*Therefore, all of this could, indeed, be a product of sun-stroke.
**See, for example, a discussion of Disneyland in Postmodernism: a reader by Thomas Docherty; Satisfaction Guaranteed by Susan Strasser; Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World by Jane Kuenz; and Advertising the American Dream by Rolland Marchand.

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Filed under Commodification, Contemporary