Archive for May 2013
The purpose of these commercials is to cause the segment of the consuming public who are most likely to purchase things that they shouldn’t, to purchase things that they shouldn’t. By making light of such a habit – by making it seem like that is what living beyond one’s means would really look like (and therefore not what they do) – it increases the chance that such consumers will live beyond their means (by purchasing a Volkswagen). Volkswagen is willing to destroy the last vestige of rational, fact-based thought in the minds of such people in order to get them into a contractual agreement that is designed to be greatly to the car company’s advantage. They know that such people will, at best, readjust their lives just to meet their contractual obligation (which makes having the car a net loss instead of a value), and at worst (or, actually, at best from Volkswagen’s perspective) not be able to meet the terms of the contract, and so they will be able to profit from things such as late fees, punitive interest rates, and arbitration at a rate far greater than the profit that would come simply from selling the car itself.
Capitalism is routinely criticized in modern culture as being “predatory.” This is a false view of capitalism, which only exists because of the morality of altruism. Altruism holds that the purpose of the individual’s life is service to others, and therefore anyone who does not sacrifice his own interests to others is being immoral. Because of this, when an altruist encounters a non-altruist, the only thing that the altruist can conclude about this person is that he sacrifices other’s interests to his own. Hence, the popular notion that capitalism is inherently predatory. The notion that capitalism is neither predatory nor sacrificial – but mutually profitable – is simply never considered.
Altruism leads to a false view of capitalism, and that false view leads to the entire regulatory and taxation structures that exist today. Structures designed specifically in order to prevent such predation (in the case of regulations), or to compensate “the public” for it’s “necessary evil” (in the case of taxes). However, because capitalism is, in fact, not predatory – but mutually profitable – the only effect that the regulations and taxes have in reality is to make true capitalistic activity (ie: mutually-profitable activity) less profitable, or even unprofitable. The effect of that is a self-fulfilling prophecy: the very situation which the advocates and enforcers of regulations and taxes seeks to prevent (predatory “capitalism”) becomes the only “capitalism” that works – and then the culture sees companies doing things such as what is done in this commercial.
This commercial is a lampooning of other patriotic commercials (including, one would assume, commercials released in the past by Ball Park Brand itself). Through it’s use of overtly patriotic sounds and colors, a disingenuously confident spokesman, and impossible incidents such as catching a line drive with one’s bare hand, or having a bald eagle land on one’s arm, or having Mount Rushmore in one’s back yard, it is insinuating that such commercials do nothing more than take advantage of the viewer’s stupidity and his naivete. It says, in effect, that only those who are stupid enough to believe something is right because it’s persuasively-presented, or those who are naive enough to secretly wonder if it’s possible for something like a bald eagle to randomly land like that, are stupid or naive enough to believe in America’s defining ideals. It is an exploitation of the widely-held and (sadly) uncontroversial notion that there is no intellectual basis for The United States of America, but only various forms of blind belief (eg: religion, or tradition, or even neurosis). The demographic that holds that idea explicitly is who this commercial targets.
The commercial’s dialogue includes phrases such as “[Ball Park Franks are] grilled on the flames of liberty”, and “made with… just a dash of democracy”, and “[they are] so American you can taste it.” These are meant to insinuate that originally American concepts such as liberty and democracy are actual, physical things – instead of just concepts – and therefore are not incorporated into someone’s value structure through the mind, but rather through the senses. That they are just felt rather than thought, and it must be that way because, again, patriotic feelings about America only have a religious or emotional basis – and are therefore not any more philosophically valid than any other competing political concepts. While one of the baseball teams’ name is a play on the name of the advertising agency that created the commercial, the other is the “Imperiels”; an allusion to the idea that America is an imperial power a la Ancient Rome or Victorian England. It is a way to pander to those who refuse to think about why America has militarily intervened in the affairs of other nations – and how those reasons are fundamentally different than those of truly imperial powers – and instead wish to fixate on the simple fact that it has done so. By equating America with the mindless barbarism of past empires, one is able to continue to avoid having to contemplate the true causes of America’s superior power and wealth – and this commercial panders to it.
Of course, the ad also incorporates the widely-used “get out in front of it” tactic that has been well chronicled elsewhere on this blog. Americans feel as though they are no longer “Americans.” They (correctly) feel as though they actually do blindly believe in America’s ideals (ironically, less so today than ever before), and that (not coincidentally) America actually is, for example, acting more and more like an imperial empire in it’s foreign policy than it ever has in the past (as opposed to simply a sovereign nation proactively defending itself and incidentally protecting the liberties of other peoples along the way). Americans feel a certain degree of (deserved) guilt and unease as a result. What this commercial does is momentarily absolve them of that guilt – first by caricaturing patriotism (which allows them to feel that that is what stupidity and naivete look like, not what they do), and then by subtly reminding them that what they’ve done is okay, since America cannot be (and never has been) intellectually justified anyway (a conclusion they unwittingly share with their consciously unpatriotic countrymen). Either will work – because the purpose, of course, is to console or flatter the viewer (and in doing so maintain or create an irrational affection for the brand in lieu of it being objectively more valuable than it’s competition in any significant way).
If Ball Park Brands, to keep up with the times, could change it’s name to something less- (but not fully un-) patriotic, and therefore culturally innocuous, it would, but it can’t. To do so would be too dramatic of a departure from the past and it would scare most people (ie: it would make them realize just how fargone America really is that even something Ball Park Franks doesn’t really value America anymore). The brand is stuck in a predicament, and so all it can do is apologize for being “proudly American” (as if, after a commercial like this, it still is), and hope that commercials like this one will show the overtly anti-American segment of the public it is targeting for a short-term sales boost that it doesn’t really mean it when it says that it loves America (while hopefully also leaving the rest of the public – it’s long-term customer base – with the impression that the commercial is not a profound insult, but nothing more than a harmless, tongue-in-cheek “love poke”).
For an American company, which relies upon the existence of the American political system for it’s existence, to tarnish that system as nothing more than the infantile emotions of a cluster of frightened dreamers futilely clinging to each other for protection against a metaphysically-given doom, or simply the mindless pretentious of supercilious sociopaths drunk on their own undeserved power and wealth, is (in the long run) not only self-defeating, but ironically, it is the most (in the full, intellectual sense of the term) unAmerican thing it could do.
Why promote a product without saying anything about the product itself? It’s a wide-spread tactic, so it must be working, but why is it done? In most instances it is because the product is either virtually bereft of redeeming qualities, abused by the demographic being targeted, or essentially identical to competing products. The message of these commercials is, basically, as long as you become more masculine in one (minor) respect, it’s okay to remain emasculated in every other. Instead of dealing with a lack of masculinity, buy Barbasol and feel like that constitutes dealing with it. Because Barbasol is, at present, more or less identical to competing products, this is all the company can do to meet short-term sales goals.
It is tempting to think that what the company is doing with these ads is drawing attention to the very real problem of the emasculation of American culture (without having to risk being accused of political activism). If this is true, the company’s desire to see that problem solved is understandable. There is a direct connection between the long-term profitability of large companies and how self-confident (how “masculine”) a country’s citizens are. Moral relativism breeds passivity in men (if for no other reason than a fear of being called close-minded or patriarchal or Eurocentric or “fascist”, etc), and as a result political leaders who are inimical to business and industry receive or maintain power. However, even if that was Barbasol’s motivation for producing these ads, in the way explained above, the laws of human psychology dictate that these ads will only prolong or worsen the problem.
If a company as large as Barbasol truly felt that the state of the culture is so dire as to warrant it becoming directly involved with political activism – if it felt that that was in it’s best interest (as opposed to simply doing whatever it can – no matter how immoral – to make a profit) – then such oblique and nebulous political activism would be considered fruitless. Much more drastic measures would be seen as necessary. With that in mind, the proper interpretation of this series of advertisements is that it is yet another example (well documented elsewhere on this blog) of a cynical, desperate, short-term oriented company employing sophisticated psychological manipulation techniques on the public in order to profit right now.
If Barbasol is not going to “complain like a man”, it should at least “advertise like a man.”
What kind of person looks at a normal, every day occurrence such as an armored car being unloaded and thinks to himself that he would like to rob it? The answer: a criminal. Criminals obviously do not have their own marketing demographic, so why, then, would Audi think that this ad would sell cars? The reason is that hyperbole provides an avenue for denial (and the accompanying desired emotional change).
The fact of the matter is that in today’s mixed, semi-free, semi-regulated economy, virtually everyone is both a victim and a perpetrator of theft. A man is a victim in the sense that other’s exploit government intervention into the market in order to benefit at his expense, and he’s a perpetrator in that he exploits other forms of the same thing in order to benefit at theirs. Audi customers, because they are generally more wealthy than – and therefore generally more intelligent and conscientious than – other demographics, are probably more (subconsciously) aware of this. They tend to grasp the connection between wealth creation and moral virtue more clearly (less foggily?), and so they are more bothered by today’s precarious, effectively unproductive state of affairs than others would be. The result is that they feel a greater sense of unease about it, as well as a greater sense of guilt about participating in it.
Audi knows this, and so it created an ad that speaks to it. This commercial exists precisely to alleviate that guilt – if only for a few moments. What this commercial tells the consumer is the following: “No, you are not a perpetrator of theft who is effectively no better than a common bank robber. If you were, you would desire to rob banks just as a bank robber does. But because you don’t rob banks, you do not share the mindset of those who do” – and then it expects him to blank out the fact that how one steals is irrelevant to the question of whether or not one is a thief. Simply because most “respectable people” do so legally – by exploiting government intervention into the market (that usually exists under some altruist or collectivist pretense) – it doesn’t change the fact that some portion of his income and lifestyle (and automobile) doesn’t belong to him. That he has taken it by force, just the same as if he had robbed an armored car on the street. Again, that is what this commercial allows the customer to continue to not have to bring into focus. It allows him to continue to avoid discovering the source of his feelings of unease and guilt by making them disappear for a time – by setting up, and then destroying, a hyperbolic straw man.
The next step after this is (hopefully) a sense of gratitude towards Audi for producing a commercial that gave it to him that reprieve (or, at least, an association with Audi whenever he remembers that private, emotional change). This is how business is conducted in America today. The objective merits of the product or service being advertised take a back seat to the experience the advertisement provides the consumer. And not only that but the experience it provides him – the emotions it inculcates or aids in perpetuating – are some of the worst, most destructive, and (from a long-term wealth creation perspective) self-defeating there are. Audi must do this because it is a highly-regulated, highly-taxed “big corporation” – and so just like it’s individual customers, in order to compensate for being part victim, it chooses to become part perpetrator.