CityLab reporter Laura Bliss writes about “the realm of speculative transportation.” It is a useful concept, denoting the raft of lavishly hyped promises about “autonomous” and “electric” automobiles.
One question this burgeoning realm suggests is how much of it, at the planning/managerial level, stems from delusion, and how much from propaganda.
Surely, delusion is there. People who make comfortable livings from working on deadly products find ways to not just justify it, but spin it as visionary.
Yet, the habit of including preposterous techno-promises in the automotive marketing mix did not emerge last week. It is as old as the overclass push to sell cars.
This fact strongly suggests that the use of car-of-the-future promises is also knowingly propagandistic, i.e., that car-makers consciously use images of impossible futures as cover for keeping the existing meat-grinder going.
Alas, since business corporations are private tyrannies, the extent to which the realm of speculative automobility is a carefully planned marketing tactic remains unclear. It would be extremely fascinating to lay hands on the evidence, though.
The notion that automobiles — and particularly “luxury” automobiles — are toys speaks volumes about our form of civilization and culture. The fact that this multiply appalling suggestion can be used to sell these infernal things is one of the many points of interest.
It’s something of an insult to children, but it’s hard not to be struck by the profound childishness of American culture. That outcome is largely a result of the social primacy of corporate marketing, which has long been the main engine of off-the-job ideations and activities in this society. Big business marketing places a premium on encouraging juvenile mindsets, which optimize the brain for absorbing and acting on implanted sales stimuli.
Selling corporate capitalism’s most important product, which promotes and embodies childish fantasies about pure independence and unlimited resources, is squarely part of the infantilizing wave. To wit, this shameless TV ad:
Speaking of kids, you have to wonder what our grandchildren will make of such amazing narcissistic idiocy, should they somehow get lucky and inherit the capacity for remembering and studying human history. And this stuff is very carefully planned, not a mere accident.
As current host of the nation’s biggest single advertising platform (the Super Bowl), NBC Sports Group has, according to today’s Advertising Age, done some extra research:
NBC analyzed the ads in the last four Super Bowls (2014-2017) based on 575 variables like creative messaging and structural elements. It then looked at the effectiveness of each ad based on five performance metrics: creative appeal, ad cut through, creative engagement, brand social and brand search. NBC will use these results to help guide advertisers on their Super Bowl creative.
Turns out that this research shows that:
If you want your Super Bowl ad to be a success, less is sometimes more. Don’t, for example, include both a puppy and a cute kid. For automakers, featuring children works best, while animals perform especially well for food and beverage brands.
So, let’s ompare and contrast, shall we, dear DbC reader?:
Item 1 — “For automakers, featuring children [in TV ads] works best.”
This ranking, which is produced and published (but never actively emphasized) only very occasionally by the (Satanically mis-named) National Highway Traffic Safety Commission, has certainly not changed since 2002. As the NHTSA explains, the long-standing fact is this:
Motor vehicle traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in every age from 3 through 33 for both sexes combined. [emphasis added]
So: In America, associating children with the machine that is the clear #1 death threat to children is the #1 way to sell said machines.
Robert Heilbroner reported that “At a business forum, I was once brash enough to say that I thought the main cultural impact of television advertising was to teach children that grown-ups told lies for money. How strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that generates a ceaseless flow of half-truths and careful deceptions?”
The problem, of course, goes even deeper than this. It isn’t just the surfeit of lies, but also the legitmization of an overall attitude that celebrates irrationality and defies grown-upness.
Consider how this recent General Motors Corporation advertisement somehow both dismisses and flips the middle finger to a question that, if we had an ounce of healthy democracy left in this society, would actually be at the center of national debate: How in God’s name can we still be making cars, to say nothing of “luxury” cars?
To extend Heilbroner, how strong, deep, or sustaining can be the values of a civilization that, despite continentally obvious prospects of calamity, simply refuses to face up to the simplest costs of its core, defining technology?
If you look around — I’m not going to do them the dignity of linking anything, you’ll see that Ford is now trying to rescue its long-moribund Lincoln nameplate for supposed “luxury” cars. Take a look. It’s damned funny stuff.
My favorite howler from among great long strings of them: Here’s what Ford’s James D. Farley, Jr., the pitiable head marketer for this new junk-push, told The New York Times yesterday:
The name Lincoln has very strong meaning for this country. What he stood for as president was independence, fortitude and elegant thinking.
Yes, the president who pushed railroads, preserved the nation-state, and said, if he could, he would do so without abolishing slavery was all about cars, “independence,” and guts.
The “elegant thinking” part? Well, that’s just pure comedy gold…
We here at DbC direct your attention to this outrageous piece of exploitation and propaganda, which, of course, premiered during the commercial TV platform known as “the Olympics”:
The main sponsor of this manipulative tripe is Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, aka BMW, which would have you equate people’s efforts to overcome maimings (not mentioned: many/most caused by car crashes) and birth defects with its own efforts to paint itself as a protector rather than a major enemy of “individual mobility.”
Of course, by “individual mobility,” Bimmer means perpetual (luxury) car-selling and cars-first transportation.
Which is worse — the shamelessness or the massive and multiple illogic and disingenuity?
Corporate capitalists are addicted to selling automobiles. Neither rain nor sleet nor Peak Oil nor World War III will divert them from their money-making mission.
Hence, the unchanging nature of the “greatest spectacle in American sports,” the Super Bowl. Like both the National Football League and the whole of American television, it remains, first and foremost, a behavior-modification project whose main sponsor remains the automotive-industrial complex, which itself remains the indispensable heart of the capitalist economic order.
According to this piece from The Huffington Post, there were 60 commercials — not counting five ads referring viewers back to the NFL and this year’s Super Bowl broadcaster NBC — run during yesterday’s broadcast. (Note: If the widely reported cost of $3.5 million per ad — almost 100 times the rate charged for ads during Super Bowl I — is correct, that means the 2012 Super Bowl show generated $210 million of advertising revenue for NBC, not counting any ads promoting the game in advance.)
By DbC‘s count, 21 of the 60 Super Bowl XLVI ads were for cars, tires, or cars.com.
As for the content of these ads, there was, of course, zero acknowledgment that anything has changed since the days of the Studebaker. Indeed, none other than Clint Eastwood, after a couple decades of decent movie making, took his opportunity to jump his own personal shark by appearing as a mindless tough guy in a Chrysler ad assuring everybody that it’s merely “halftime” in the great American project of cars-first living.
The new Italian partners in the Chrysler corporation have obviously decided that doubling down on lunkheadedness is the key to selling their wares. We’ve already seen their efforts to paint muscle cars as patriotic. Now, they have the chutzpah to suggest that buying a minivan is “using the right tool for the job”:
Again, I wonder how my grandchildren will look at this amazing piece of in-your-face stupidity. It would be galling enough to talk of the fate of the species in the year 2012 while further peddling the absurd idea that extremely complex 4,000-pound objects are any kind of proper tool for everyday locomotion. But to do so on the thesis that the prospect of hauling mattresses in the proper manly (but not really) way ought to be a yardstick in one’s selection of car model?