"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 28 April 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Come Again



Ask the Liggett Group: Customer

loyalty has never had a higher

price tag. When it comes to

consuming, recidivism isn't a

crime, it's a virtue (or at

least grounds for a lawsuit),

and companies have turned to

increasingly intrusive and eerie

programs hinging upon the idea

of coming back for more.


[Sprint Dime]

The airline industry pioneered

the concept with their

frequent-flier programs in the

heat of '80s deregulation,

cashing in on the ancient truism

that 50 percent of all gift

certificates never get redeemed.

Deregulation has a way of

encouraging such open-market

shenanigans. Not long after the

airline industry was loosed on

itself, the phone industry got

the same opportunity to

unilaterally whore itself for a

few moments of customer loyalty.

Hence all the stupid telecom

tricks of the past decade. We

feel pretty safe in saying that

if you're calling one person

often enough to qualify for one

of these programs you should

probably shit or get off the

phone: Either marry the schmuck

or dump him. But the first step

is to eliminate the third point

in this bizarre love triangle by

pulling the plug on your

long-distance carrier.


Those of us who lack sufficient

romance in our lives to be

flying and phoning all over the

country can always direct our

loyalties to that other

fundamental American fixture,

the automobile. There was a time

when Chevy owners were as rabid

as Ford owners, and each would

consummate their loyalty by

buying this year's model. Since

that's become financially

imprudent, there isn't a

showroom in the country where

you can't lease instead of buy.

Now here's the ultimate dry hump

of customer loyalty in a

post-divorce culture: a

three-year relationship without

obligation that ends in a

penalty for excess mileage, your

only asset being a willingness

to do it all over again.



Of course, as we pointed out,

smokers are some of the most

notorious and irrational brand

loyalists around. How else do

you explain the staying power of

something as noxious as menthol

100s? Still, at a time when the

tobacco industry sags under

political and legal hassles that

put the "shun" in "litigation,"

they're more desperate than ever

for consumer loyalty. But with

48 million confirmed and

committed smokers in this

country - one thing you can say

about Americans: They aren't

quitters - you gotta wonder what

the world is coming to when an

intractable physical addiction

just doesn't say "I love you"

the way it used to.


[It's the Camel]

The macroeconomic ironies are

rich: While corporate America

practically pleads for loyalty

from its customers, it's

unceremoniously unloading

lifetime employees from the

payroll like shit out of a

chicken. Which points up the

fact that it isn't ultimately

customers they care about at

all. These days, they're far

more interested in dropping the

soap in front of their




A fine foil for all this nonsense

is the venerable tradition

established by the IRS more than

50 years ago of mandatory

withholding. This cornerstone of

democracy stems from a corollary

of customer loyalty: punishing

inconstancy. It's hard to beat

the ignominy of being a deadbeat

dad these days, but tax evasion

is a pretty sure bet for lowest

common denominator. Still, the

IRS has a way of making even a

perfectly legal refund feel

wrong, not even bothering to

thank you for the interest-free

loan. Considering the fact that

they've scaled back their

auditing exercises - this year

about 1.2 million taxpayers can

expect to have a jealous auditor

checking up on them, compared to

almost 2 million last year - the

IRS seems to be losing interest

in questioning our involuntary



Truth be told, inconstancy is

what grew this country from 13

pathetic British colonies, and

turned Tories into

Revolutionaries. The Louisiana

Purchase was Thomas Jefferson's

only really important

extra-geographical flirtation.

And if we'd been happy putting

Standard gas in a Ford Falcon

into perpetuity, we never would

have beat the Russians to the




If Americans suddenly became a

dependable, loyal, predictable

lot ... well, we can only guess

what the ramifications would be.

Why, consider the impact on

country and western music alone.

The mind reels.

courtesy of E.L. Skinner

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The Fish

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The Barrel
[Predictions by Suck]

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The Gun

Fish Teaser

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Other Work By
E.L Skinner
Fresh Fish