Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2 of 95: Dear [Mr/Mrs/Ms] [customername], you've won our personal [target audience message #5]

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. 

(Part 1)

We do not live in a Borg collective. We are not cyborgs telepathically linked to each other with the latent ability to instantly and at all times hear the thoughts of our peers. And our peers cannot hear our thoughts, no matter how intent they might be.

Clearly, there are limits to our current state of communicative ability.

In order to cope with these limits, various strategies have been devised. Most of them makes use of these very same limitations. Since it can safely be assumed that perfect Borg connectivity will not be achieved within the time frame relevant to human communication, the general lack of available information in an average human being's life has been brutally exploited throughout the ages.

If we skip a whole range of historical permutations on this theme, we eventually find ourselves pondering advertising. (There's some interesting things to be said about these permutations, to be sure. They'll return later on.)

Now, we might think we know what advertising is about. We've all seen it, been bored by it, laughed at it, switched channels at it and in general accepted that the world we live in is saturated with it. But as with all things familiar, advertising looks a lot less familiar of one gives it a definition. So, without further ado:

Advertising is the art of making people buy things they wouldn't buy otherwise.

If you're anything like me at all, you'll probably hear this phrase repeated in the back of your head every time you see an ad from now on. "They're trying to sell me something, and they're doing it like this? Who do they think I am, anyway?"

Most likely, a target demographic.

The limits to communication goes both ways. On the one hand, the limited amount of things you know about the world is a useful thing when it comes to pushing you around. On the other hand, the limited amount of information available on you means that some sort of shortcut has to be used. At least if the ambition is to sell to more people than you.

The shortcut is the use of target demographics. A picture of something that looks kinda like you, only without individual features and with the distinct undertone that you and everyone you know might well be reduced to one single image.

Now, as a strategy for dealing with limited knowledge, this is not a bad way to go about it. It is physically impossible for an actually existing human being to know every other human being, so some sort of thought process along the lines of "all asians look alike" will inevitably have to happen. You cannot know all christians, but you can make the reasonable assumption that they think Jesus the Christ is some sort of a good guy. You cannot know all Harry Potter fans, but you can make the reasonable assumption that they know who Hermoine is. -

In short, what is the minimal amount of common ground needed in order to make sure that the fact that I don't know anything about you doesn't matter when I try to sell you things?

This is how marketers, politicians and other humans who wanted/needed/had to communicate with a large number of people at once went about it. For the longest of times. Even today, there are binders full of women.

If you're thinking the words "means of discursive production" right now, then you're on the right track. Because the means of reaching a large number of people were traditionally limited to a few actors (newspapers, television stations, radio brodcasts etc), the discourse had to follow suit. Be vague, be unspecific - talk to the image of a human rather than a human.

"Hey, you, woman! Buy our stuff! It's for women, you are a woman. Womanly stuff for womans like you!"

There's a strange circularity to this. On the one hand, it was necessary to go about it this way. On the other hand, the only reason they got away with it is because there were no alternatives.

There is now. You're reading one of them right now. The fact that these words can come from my remote corner of the world to your reading eyes without me paying a fortune for it is proof enough that something has changed in the recent time.

Which brings us back (from the Borg collective, through the annals of history, through the social conditions of mass communication, -) to you and me. In more ways than one.

First off - hi! Nice to meet you. :)

Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors. We can talk to each other, instead of having to listen to rich people talking at what some market analyst thinks we are. We can talk, laugh, conspire - and we can get down to business and do business, bypassing the whole mechanism of advertisement and central-to-periphery communication.

We're not in a Borg collective yet. But the limits of knowledge and communication have changed, and this is not a change that happens without further changes. Conversations, markets, humans -

I'll see you again tomorrow for part three. Or read Les and Eli or Jakob for more thoughts on thesis #2.

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