S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 7 April 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Déjà Voodoo

 

[hmm, what to put for alt text?]

Those were simpler times. The

public knew not to trust

advertising and knew that ad

forces could pop up almost

anywhere - "The art of publicity

is a black art," Learned Hand

wrote a century or so ago, and

50 years later the voodoo had

turned into science. The

explosive ad theories

popularized by Vance Packard, in

The Hidden Persuaders, and by

economist John Kenneth

Galbraith, in his talk of

manufactured needs and "ruthless

psychological pressure," drove

most of the experts in the

nascent science of subliminal

motivation underground (many

fled to Brazil) by the '60s. And

who can forget the labor strikes

of the '70s, when nearly all of

Madison Ave's best ice-cube

artists put down their air

brushes in protest of the subtle

pornography they'd been forced

to render, against their will,

in year after year of Cutty Sark

and Bacardi ads? By the time

Pico Puente, the renowned Costa

Rican erotic artist, confessed

his role as consultant in the

initial character sketches of

Joe Camel, the tide had turned.

With a nation of consumers

savvy, all too savvy, to the

ways of the industry, the

question switched from the

public not trusting advertising

to advertising not trusting the

public.

 

The history may be a little off,

but this much is true: A recent

Los Angeles Times report tells

us that at least some ad

agencies are now putting a stop

to years of people lying on

surveys and writing frivolous,

obscene couplets on Wendy's

comment cards. What they're

doing goes beyond the simple

focus group - by boring directly

into the hidden subregions of

the brain that construct

consumer response in humans,

they're reading peoples'

thoughts. Using the same method

that supposedly placed the

thoughts in there in the first

place: hypnosis.

 

[let's see here.....]

The LA Times story tells of Hal

Goldberg, an Irvine-based

hypnotist who admits to first

dabbling in the dark art "25

years ago while working for a

small advertising agency in

Minneapolis." Goldberg is seen

turning a luggage-marketing

focus group in Brentwood into a

squad of Incredible Hulk

impersonators: "Don't like heavy

bags ... have to carry through

airport ... think this is the

cheapest store.... Wrinkle-free.

Believe it? No." The hypnotist

plays with dangerously powerful

emotional forces: As he

regresses one male focus-grouper

back to remember his last

experience shopping for luggage,

apparently too horrific to be

retained by the conscious mind,

the man begins to shout, "Get

away! Get away!" The hypnotist

gently gets the man to admit

that he felt pestered by a

luggage salesman during his

remembered experience.

 

After all this time, all those

jokes: They do have ways of

making you talk! Well, actually,

maybe not. Focus-group

researchers who weren't clever

enough to think of this idea

first pooh-pooh the relevance of

hypnosis to the Times' reporter.

Even genuine hypnotic

researchers question whether a

hypnotic trance is really

effective at finding repressed

memories of luggage-shopping

experiences. "Hypnosis is not,

in fact, a memory-enhancement

technique," says a hypnosis

journal editor Edward Frischolz.

 

[alttext, alttext, alttext]

Then again, neither are focus

groups. Frustration with the

typical focus group experience

led the big boys at Andiamo

luggage to hire Goldberg in the

first place. The weird science

of hypnosis is perfectly at home

amongst all the other weird

sciences admen have used since

time immemorial to mulct money

from dumb corporations. Ask

Andiamo if they are satisfied

with the one gem of wisdom that

floated to the top of the

hypnotized subconscious of one

of its focus-group victims:

"Frequent traveler is not the

right image. I thought of smart

traveler." Probably not, but

then, the real issue is

dissatisfaction, period.

Estimates suggest that anywhere

from 80 to 99 percent of new

products fail. Clearly, nothing

solves a 99-percent-sized

problem better than a

1-percent-sized solution.

 

If hypnotism, as skeptical

psychiatrist Thomas Szasz

claims, is nothing more than

"two people lying to each other,

and pretending to believe one

another's lies," that also seems

to characterize not the

relationship between the

advertiser and the consumer, but

more accurately, that of the

adman and his corporate client.

And, strangely enough, between

both of them and their alleged

professional enemies in the

field of ad-busting theorists.

You know, the kind who

popularized the

"advertising=hypnosis" myth to

begin with. The adman swears he

can make people buy, buy, buy;

his hapless clients believe it;

and most consumers ignore it.

But more sophisticated

anti-marketing voices, like The

Village Voice's Leslie Savan,

now argue that it doesn't matter

if any ad actually convinces

anyone to buy a product; what's

sinister is how the very

existence of attempts to

persuade us to trade money for

stuff is "getting into the dream

life of people." Now we all need

dream therapy.

 

[aw shit, i dunno. mail me suggestions. rossa@wired.com]

Advertising, it's what dreams are

made of: a terrific critique,

particularly if you're a

Freudian ad critic. And a

perfect slogan for the

advertising industry. It's too

bad that hypnosis isn't a

memory-enhancing technique,

which we could use to remind us

to call those ice-cube artists

in Brazil. This scene calls for

a drink, but it seems we've lost

our motivation.

 
courtesy of Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk