One of the most tragic things about living in a mixed economy is that when one observes any given economic event, one can never be sure what one is witnessing. Is the Cree LED light bulb truly a life-improving leap forward, or is it simply the direct or indirect result of government meddling in the economy? Obviously the answer to that question is highly complex (it would require first answering the technical question of which type of bulb is better – which itself is so highly contextual such a label as “better” is virtually meaningless – as well as researching deeply into things like the finances of Cree, Inc. and the backgrounds of it’s personnel), but that is besides the point. The point is that the average consumer, when he witnesses a commercial such as this one, should feel nothing but positive emotions (because, in vacuum, this is a flawless commercial) – and yet he may not (and with very good reason). Questions such as the one posed above, as well as the more general question of whether or not Cree is simply trying to pawn off an inferior product, on uncritical consumers, by taking advantage of the environmentalist movement will inevitably affect his reaction.
While economics, obviously, is not the only factor involved, it is small, seemingly innocuous experiences such as this one – which can occur in any context (economic or otherwise) – that are the reason anxiety and depression are at all time highs in American culture. When one doesn’t “use” one’s dopamine (ie: pushes it to it’s limit and beyond), one “loses it” (ie: it atrophies).
Axe, in it’s advertising, has always hidden behind the pretense of being “down to earth.” Not the type of brand to insult the consumer’s intelligence by claiming it’s products will automatically make him irresistible to the opposite sex. It does this, ironically enough, by claiming just that – in a very direct and over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek fashion that’s the hallmark of it’s commercials. The insinuation which comes from this tactic is that contrary to the claims of it’s competitors and/or predecessors, personal styling products don’t automatically make a man irresistible (even though that was never what the others claimed – instead it was only that it their products would help – but that’s beyond the scope of this analysis).
Why, then, would Axe now claim that it’s products will cultivate world peace? Surely none of the competition has ever made that claim. The reason is because even though Axe has pretended to be “down to earth”, it actually never has been. In fact, it has been doing exactly what it has said it was never doing – what it has accused it’s competition of doing – all along. It actually has been claiming that it’s products will automatically make the consumer sexually irresistible, and it has been doing this through a trick known as the big lie.
Axe knows that even though virtually no one consciously believes in such a simple solution to the challenge of being attractive, there are many who subconsciously wish for one, or who (because of faulty metaphysics) think one is possible. Such people, when they hear such flagrant claims, may consciously laugh them off as ridiculous, but will still subconsciously consider them as having merit (“surely no one would make such a flagrantly absurd claim – and only make such a flagrantly absurd claim – if there wasn’t at least some element of truth to it”).
The problem with this tactic, however, is that it’s untenable. Eventually even the most “metaphysically twisted” individual will subconsciously reject his non-objective metaphysical beliefs and begin to operate, at least in regards to this issue, according to an objective set of them. The result is someone who’s own personal experience has destroyed all confidence in the claim that something as simple as body spray will make him sexually irresistible (ie: “women keep behaving like women, god damn it!”. At this point, if the company wishes to continue to have him buy it’s product (even though the product is either not worth the money, or virtually identical in quality and effect to competing products, making his selection arbitrary), it is going to have to sustain the big lie by exploiting other irrational philosophic notions.
Many people believe in the political doctrine of collectivism, and the ethical doctrine of altruism. As a result, they become enthusiastic (and uncritical) whenever any behavior or suggestion is portrayed as being “for the greater good” and self-sacrificial. Axe knows that the capacity to desire simple solutions to complex challenges is still present in the consumer (because the metaphysical paradigm shift – from non-objective to objective – was only situational and subconscious), so if it wishes to go on exploiting it, all it needs to do is give him a rationalization for his to indulge it. The notion that the kind of attraction he seeks by using Axe products is not simply an involuntary, physiologically-induced reaction (which would be ugly and shameful, even if it were possible), but instead it is world-saving “love” is perfect for this.
Obviously the claim that nothing more than hair gel or body wash will make one irresistible to the opposite sex is absurd on it’s face, but even if it were true, the claim – that all it would take to achieve world peace is “love” between men and women (a blind, chemically-induced “love” no less) – would still be absurd by itself. Axe isn’t worried about this, however, because just as the first “big lie” created believers in it, for the same philosophical reasons, so will the second – and so there will continue to be suckers to continue to buy their products (at least until they have to come up with the next, even more perverse “reason”).
Maserati, with it’s new Ghibli, is choosing to take on a new set of competitors. The Ghibli is cheaper than it’s previous cars, so instead of exclusively competing with the likes of Lamborghini and Ferrari, they will also be competing with Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar, Porsche, etc. There’s nothing wrong with expansion and diversification, of course, but it’s not as if the company’s previous absence in this particular market constituted oppression by the “giants” who were already there. Furthermore, even if they had been there, no one has a right to customers, first of all, so even if they had been in that market and had been getting beaten it wouldn’t constitute “oppression.”
All this commercial is meant to do is to pander to popular, Marxist ideas about economics (that it’s a zero-sum game, a struggle between opposing forces) in order to ensure that just as many rich liberals buy it’s car as rich conservatives do.
In other words: the only reason why people in the 1960′s were worried about Soviet interference in American life was because they were mentally unstable or weak, and therefore prone to paranoia. Their fear of the Soviets was just an expression of that. It had no basis in fact whatsoever.
This, of course, is the modern narrative. A narrative so uncontroversial that even a major consumer brand like Snickers feels safe in professing it, with no chance of angering or alienating the public. This commercial is targeted at a particular demographic – liberals who constantly need to feel intellectually superior to those whom they control (or wish to control) – but it also “helps” those who are more apathetic about politics (ie: the mainstream Americans who’s parents and grandparents this commercial is mocking). Such people are aware of just how much more communist America is today than it was in the past (helped, ironically, by Soviet interference), but feeling like there’s nothing they can do about it, they wish to pretend it’s not true. The spectacle of someone in the 1960′s being “paranoid” about communism does just that. It allows them to tell themselves “even people back then – when America wasn’t communist – were afraid of communism. If their fear of communism was unfounded, then such a thing as an unfounded (even if there’s evidence for it) fear of communism exists, so maybe that’s what my fear is too.” This provides a moment’s relief from the very real problems that come from living in an increasingly communist society, and in doing so associates Snickers with that pleasant feeling (ie: because it’s based upon a rationalization it will not last, and therefore the rationalization will have to be drawn upon again in order to reproduce the sensation – and because that rationalization came from a Snickers commercial, the company hopes that in addition to remembering it, the consumer will also remember Snickers, think about how they “could go for some chocolate”, need chocolate, whatever – and then make the decision to purchase the product that’s being advertised*).
*This same psychological trick works for the feelings produced (ie: pride) in the targeted demographic (politically-active liberals).
America’s founding ideal was the principle of individual rights. Nothing more—and nothing less. The rest — everything that America achieved, everything she became, everything “noble and just,” and heroic, and great, and unprecedented in human history — was the logical consequence of fidelity to that one principle. The first consequence was the principle of political freedom, i.e., an individual’s freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by the government. The next was the economic implementation of political freedom: the system of capitalism. – Ayn Rand
In the ever-increasing absence of this ideal, today’s Americans are desperate for something – anything – which suggests that it’s still alive. Thus, they turn to multiculturalism.
One of today’s most common complaints about America is it’s lack of unity. The reason for this, ironically, is because America is “unified” around a floating abstraction called “tolerance.” The truth is that America is not a tolerant country. Intolerance is it’s strength. Americans are judgmental people. To be intolerant and judgmental does not mean to want to force people to behave in a certain way, but it does mean to accept the notion that some behaviors can be better (ie: more rational) than others (otherwise what’s the point in resisting a king, or codifying laws, or voting for one person instead of another?). There is nothing inherently bad about the various citizens of one nation, in certain circumstances, choosing to speak different languages, eat different cuisines, dance different folk dances, worship different gods, etc – but neither is there anything inherently good about it. What this commercial is doing is treating freedom as an end in itself – as if what makes a country strong isn’t the rationality of it’s citizens values, but simply that those values are truly their own (ie: freely chosen). The values being their own is a necessary condition of national strength (ie: “beauty”), but it isn’t a sufficient one.
To show a young woman who is wearing an Islamic head dress, as proof of America’s “virtue”, is obscene. The woman should have every right to deny herself the completely rational pleasure of showing off her neck (or at least the pleasure of being unencumbered by wearing that every time she’s in public), but that doesn’t mean that her willingness to do so – in spite the fact that the majority of Americans still (correctly) disapprove of an irrational creed such as Islam – serves as proof of her “Americanism” (ie: her mental independence. Her individualism). All it shows is that she wants to have her cake and eat it, too. That she wants to enjoy the benefits of a rational approach to political organization, while ignoring (and implicitly denigrating) the cause. She’s not willing to apply rationality to her personal choices, so what – besides blind, arbitrary whim – will make her willing to apply it to the choices (ie: judgments) she makes as a self-governing person? She blindly follows her religion’s mandates, so of course any belief she has in America’s principles is just that: belief (as opposed to conscious conviction). No one ever points that out to, or about, such people – and in fact praises them for their behavior at every opportunity – so is it really any wonder that America is becoming less and less free in the in meaningful sense of the term; even if it remains such in superficial ways?
Coca Cola, being a large corporation, is one of the largest victims of America’s lack of true freedom – and as a result of that, it is doing whatever it can to make up for the toll that has taken (up to and including exploiting the most twisted, perverse – albeit popular – notions about freedom in order to make a quick buck).
For more on this subject: see this review of a different commercial, which exploits the same phenomenon.
The difference between being a naughty or a nice person is much greater than the difference between being a red or a white automobile. Why would someone who’s naughty deserve a gift that is virtually identical to the gift that a nice person deserves? Because of how our economy is structured, the issue of “deserving or not” is no longer relevant in the economy. It’s possible to get paid by being either naughty or nice. That is what this commercial “addresses.”
In a laizzes-faire capitalist economy, because of the wisdom of crowds, the long-term trend is that objectively good (read: truly productive and mutually-rewarding) behavior succeeds, while objectively bad behavior fails. However, in today’s mixed economy (a mixture of freedom and controls), bad behavior is often just as personally profitable as good behavior. It’s perfectly possible to build a business plan on (or at least crucially supplement a business plan with) some bad idea held by a relatively small number of “members” of “the crowd” (ie: politicians or bureaucrats). Instead of spending time figuring out what is a customer’s objective best-interest, and figuring out how to make him see that your product or service serves it, a business can spend it’s resources trying to guess what a politician or bureaucrat thinks is the customer’s best interest, and pander to that without any consequences (because the consumer legally must follow those conclusions anyway). Or, a business can make a sincere effort to create an objectively valuable product, but simply fail – and avoid the consequences by instead, after the fact, convincing the politically powerful that “the crowd” was wrong and that it’s product should be the one (forcibly) “chosen.” The variations are endless.
This commercial appeals to the (often subconscious, unadmitted) awareness of this phenomenon that most people have. It was written about elsewhere on this blog regarding another commercial which appeals to it, but unlike that one – which uses evasion through hyperbole – this commercial uses the trick of “acknowledgment.“
In identifying a portion of it’s potential customers as “naughty”, Mercedes Benz is, in effect, saying to them “we know what you are but it’s okay. Others can see that in truth you are (in whole or in part) an economic parasite (despite your posturing as strictly an independently existing producer), so just admit it.” This message causes the viewer it speaks to to do just that: admit it. But then it tells him that he still deserves a Mercedes for Christmas. Somehow.
In other words: it tells him that so long as he acknowledges his flaw, that that somehow constitutes having fixed it, and therefore it’s okay go on living as if he were truly only a producer and not at all a parasite. This is nonsense, of course (acknowledging a problem is a necessary condition for correcting it but it isn’t a sufficient one), but Mercedes Benz knows that the desire to escape the guilt a parasite feels is so strong that he is susceptible to any rationalization offered to him. The company also knows that that rationalization will fade, that the truth will make it’s presence known again, and that the desire to rationalize yet again will return. They hope that when that happens, the viewer will think of the rationalization which Mercedes Benz gave to him, remember that it was Mercedes Benz that gave it to him, remember that he needs/wants a car, and conclude that he should buy one of their cars.
When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion–when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing–when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors–when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you–when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice–you may know that your society is doomed. -Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Corruption, of course, is essentially no different than brute physical force. Is causes people to act in a manner that they may not have otherwise acted, and that the perpetrator had no right to cause them to act. This commercial is expected to resonate with people because it touches on the actual nature of American society. The nature that is there, everywhere, just below the surface. A surface that is nothing more than the pretense of a society still built not on corruption, or intimidation, but persuasion. To see it manifested in such an over-the-top, explicit, and therefore unbelievable manner gives people a momentary reprieve from the dread that constantly plagues them. It allows them to feel as though their concern is misplaced because “if society were really governed by anything other than persuasion, then that is what we would see happening. We don’t see that happening, so I must just be paranoid.”
Bud Light knows that that feeling of dread will return (because it’s a reaction to the objective facts of reality, even if they aren’t acknowledged), and that when it does, people will look for a way to continue to rationalize it. They’re hoping that people will remember the rationalization that this commercial provided them with, remember (incidentally) that it was a beer commercial, remember that they like to drink beer, need to put beer on the grocery list, whatever, and then choose Bud Light when they do.
While not technically force, this commercial is itself an example of the corruption that plagues American culture. Instead of appealing to the public’s rationality, and trying to make a case for why Bud Light serves their best interest, it takes advantage of an important emotion in order to associate the good emotion that would come from examining it (ie: thinking of ways to rid society of the corruption that causes it) with the momentarily pleasant sensation of rationalizing and evading it; and therefore with the brand of beer that helped them do it. When advertising becomes not education (even if augmented by entertainment), but simply psychological manipulation, it is another indication that the society which does it is doomed.