Author warns loss of democracy will create “extractive systems”
Corporate marketing contributes to political hysteria, but why would a company want to irritate half of its potential customers by taking political positions?
Political marketers’ big-ticket fees are earned through emotional deception and hyperbolic campaign accusations, but corporate marketing seems to be copying mainstream journalism where only ideology matters – not positive brand awareness and product sales where marketing usually focuses. Is this a corporate victim-response to fear of reprisal by violence, or something even more sinister – such as ending democracy and establishing elitist control over consumers?
According to a Harvard Business Review (HBR) author, big corporations are seeking to increase power over people and markets, essentially enslaving consumers by limiting choices and quality, and imposing monopolistic systems and price controls to maximize profits.
The Harvard Business Review, the business press of the generally leftist Harvard University, warns that U.S. corporations are unlikely to rush to democracy’s rescue because of unprecedented prosperity and profits, and because they hate governmental regulations, taxes, and ineffective, incompetent bureaucracies.
Rebecca Henderson, Harvard’s John and Natty McArthur University Professor, points out in the HBR series, “The Business Case for Saving Democracy,” that over the years, corporations have broken unions, clashed with the press, and “flooded the political system with money in an attempt to control policy.”
However, the result hasn’t been more free markets, as desired. Rather, we see an increasing divide between rich and poor, loss of opportunity to the general population, and radical populism that is leading to authoritarian governments and crony capitalism, Henderson contends.
She says free markets depend on robust free democracies, and business shouldn’t destroy the very thing that enables the free market to work. Otherwise, institutions concentrate political and economic power in a powerful elite oligarchy that runs everything for its own benefit. These types of systems are characterized by patronage networks, weak property rights, and widespread monopolies as in China and North Korea.
Henderson says when democracies die, we see “extractive systems” emerge, which concentrate political and economic power in the hands of a powerful elite that runs the state (and the economy) for its own benefit and exploits those ruled. In these authoritarian systems, prices don’t reflect true costs, and there is no competition or innovation, freedom of opportunity, or equal justice.
As democracies begin to crumble, polarization and divisions increase, leading to deadlock, and widespread voter suppression, Henderson says. Like the U.S. pre-Civil War days, friends are against friends, family against family, people are divided over emotional beliefs about issues facing the country more than the issues themselves.
“I believe we are uncomfortably close to the edge of — if not disaster — then very serious dislocation,” she says, asking, whether businesses will choose to act to save democracy.
What role does marketing play in creating or reinforcing hysteria and divisive propaganda?
This was after a prescient conversation about overpopulation’s threat to survival and how authoritarian governments come to control people and limit human rights and destiny. In his 1932 novel, Brave New World, Huxley explores the evolution into capitalist tyranny. Capitalist tyranny broadly is about control through pleasure and acceptance, as opposed to communist tyranny which is more about control through terror and brute force.
In the interview, Huxley cites marketing and advertising as threats to democracy,
“Democracy depends on the individual voter making an intelligent and rational choice for what he regards as his enlightened self-interest in any given circumstance” Huxley says. However, advertising and marketing people are doing more than selling goods, they’re selling points of view and re-defining culture.
After the rise of Hitler and his attempt at global control, Huxley tells Wallace that “dictatorial propagandists” continue trying “to bypass the rational side of men and to appeal directly to these unconscious forces below the surface so that you are in a way making nonsense of the whole democratic procedure which is based on conscious choice or on rational ground.”
When you hear media commentators discuss a candidate’s brand or brand strategy, it’s apparent that political strategy isn’t about issues, rather emotional appeal and positioning.
Hitler used terror and brute force on one hand and technology (radio at the time) on the other to supplement his megalomania, Huxley said. Hitler called it his “big lie” strategy, saying something preposterous but saying it so repeatedly that people eventually believe it.
This use of misinformation and emotional persuasion resulted in the 1937 founding of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, which identified seven political propaganda techniques – likely familiar to most marketers but under a different guise. The goal of the institute was to “teach people how to think, not what to think.” However, as war with Hitler became imminent, it became more difficult for the institute to remain neutral in its U.S. propaganda assessments and still receive funding.
Today, the use of technology has evolved from radio to TV and now self-contained, corporately-owned and -controlled social media. Private companies without constraint of constitutional legal requirements exert tremendous control over media output, including messaging, censorship, and political influence.
A former Facebook executive, Moment CEO Tim Kendall warns that social media companies are a direct threat to democracy that could lead to U.S. civil war. A star in the Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma,” Kendall says social media contributes to social division and hostility.
Even foreign governments, particularly China and Russia, have boasted of using social media to incite uninformed U.S. citizens to specific actions, behaviors, and beliefs.
In the last decade, marketers have dramatically shifted to emotional marketing techniques. It’s not just about features, advantages, and benefits, it’s about building relationships with customers to create loyalty and repeat purchases. It’s about identifying where customers are in their life stages and coming alongside speaking to specific personal circumstances, aspirations, and life challenges.
How often, though, are we seeing marketers buy into mass-media propaganda as if it were truth, then align with it to demonstrate perceived affinity and affiliation? Do marketers make uninformed choices about larger issues to capitalize on the emotional urgency of current events? Reacting to populist propaganda and relationship building, they just want to sell something.
If an anti-democracy group highjacks a broader sentiment of equality or social justice, reinforces it with terror and brute force, shouldn’t marketers explore a little deeper as to the ultimate goals of that group? The sole marketing purpose seems to be exploiting the immediacy of a situation to align with a perception only to sell something.
Marketers exploit fear by “coming alongside the victims” to say things like “We’ll get through this together,” or dramatically promote and financially support political programs that are working to destroy the economy and small business.
The U.S. population is bombarded with emotional messaging designed for effect. It is a national defense tactic for all big governments and goes beyond influencing elections.
Under the heading of “neurotechnology warfare,” the U.S. is cognizant of these types of attacks that seek to win hearts and minds to whatever side. It’s accomplished through mind warfare, chemical and biological warfare, and stealth deployment, according to a practitioner. In a YouTube lecture, neuroscientist and neuroethicist Dr. James Giordano of Georgetown University Medical Center, asked whether neurotechnology warfare is ethical?
Giordano discusses the application of brain-science discoveries on humans, cultures, and societies. His book is a primer in the new defense science: Neurotechnology in National Security and Defense: Practical Considerations, Neuroethical Concerns (Advances in Neurotechnology). He also comments on “neuromarketing.”
Brain sciences are taking us beyond informed choice or the common good to manipulation, influence, exclusivity, and mass control. Giordano courageously asks the questions about whether such powerful manipulation should be used.
Is it ethics or just business?
In large corporations, marketers are driven by the political leanings of CEOs and what and who the CEO supports. CEOs may be driven by corporate profitability and the belief that political funding enables access and influence on policy and taxation, as Henderson warns. These CEOs use power and influence to protect corporate finances and personal multi-million-dollar bonuses – seemingly more important than what their customers, much less employees, think or desire. And corporate marketers are being paid handsomely to market the corporation, not disagree with the boss.
However, smaller companies don’t have the same degree of economic influence or marketing capability. Do they believe that by aligning with populist sentiments, they will win customers? With the nation as polarized as it is, companies taking political positions risk reducing their potential audience by half.
Battle of the Boycotts
Good marketers may define their customer base by political leanings, reducing the risk of annoying their customers. If you sell firearms and prepper products or vegetarian and minimalist lifestyle products, your customers may be more closely defined and politically aligned. However, does growth count on just one kind of customer? And how much are marketers self-deceived about what their customers really want?
The battle of the product boycotts adds a new dimension as consumers speak out with dollars instead of votes to express a political position or allegiance. What is the risk companies take when they gamble on consumer largesse? The CEO of Goya foods did well aligning with the current administration as customers bought up shelves of products, but Netflix lost subscribers and profitability aligning with leftist acceptance of child sexual exploitation with a recent “documentary.”
Will Business Step Up?
HBR’s Henderson asks a critical question whether big business will step up to save democracy or increasingly move toward oligarchy and complete market – and consumer – control? Will freedom and innovation continue to be the language of the United States, or will the U.S. be controlled by monopolies supported and designed by corrupt, elitist governments who control market access?
Will consumer marketing and advertising people direct their creativity toward party lines, or make a place for society’s lower echelon gammas, deltas, and epsilons (a reference to Huxley’s government-imposed caste system)?
When asked whether freedom is necessary, Huxley told Wallace, “As far as I’m concerned, yes. It is love. It is necessary for a productive society. Yes, I should say it is.”
Some business leaders make a stand for democracy, others still clueless
Big corporations are funding anti-American, anti-democracy groups that seek to destroy the very capitalism on which companies presumptively feed. Even small companies jump on the bandwagon of the next big lie or perceived emotional trauma in belief they are aligning with their constituents and creating emotional bonds.
Neither left-wing populism nor right-wing crony capitalism is good for business or creativity. Both will have horrible negative effects on our society and the planet.
It’s sobering to think more than half of Americans believe the hallowed U.S. democracy is rapidly deteriorating into nondemocratic authoritarianism, and 70 percent of Americans say that the political system only works for insiders with money and power, according to an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.
Neary two-thirds of young people 18-29 say they have more fear than hope about the future of American democracy, according to Harvard’s Kennedy School Institute of Politics.
The insidious infiltration of politics and political correctness into everything Americans do is having a deleterious effect on people, generating fear, anger, and hidden resentment. People de-friend one another over political social-media posts, and angry young adults practice violence acting out some perceived injustice as they are intentionally manipulated by sensationalist, biased media and big-money political activism.
Business though, especially small business where most of the country is employed, can ill-afford to insult half of its customer base over a misinformed relationship-building strategy. That’s why many businesses are beginning to take a more neutral position on workplace politics.
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong thinks business is not the place for social activism and told employees who don’t like the alternative-currency company’s apolitical position to enjoy a severance package.
But some companies just don’t seem to get it.
Yoga-pant maker Lululemon, famous for its expensive leggings, was the butt of jokes and criticism for promoting a yoga workshop billed as an opportunity to “resist capitalism.” The Guardian pointed out the bizarre situation where Lululemon marketers encouraged participants to learn how “gender constructs across the world have informed culture and the ways violent colonialism has erased these histories to enforce consumerism,” apparently parroting what’s being taught in U.S. civics classes today.
Hard to imagine how women would want to pay $180 for stretchy pants and “resist capitalism” workshops to support forced labor in China, Peru, India, and other countries where the company sources production.
It’s not surprising that people are easily manipulated when their history is destroyed, their family units are unstable and emotionally abandoned, and they have no meaningful purpose in life except to resist whatever someone tells them to resist.
The Economist depicts what it’s like living in authoritarian governments in its Oct. 17 issue, describing how groups of people are imprisoned and some just disappear if they use the wrong words or oppose the leader.
Officer Jakhary Jackson of the Portland Police Bureau shared his thoughts on the ignorance and emotion of rioters during unrest in the city. In a YouTube interview, he told how he especially was surprised at activists who aggressively intervened in sincere impromptu conversations with policemen to tell rioters what to say and what to do – as if being controlled by an assigned leader.
Young people are being deluded into thinking their hometowns and their country are not what they appear to be and should be dismantled so a new authoritarian government can rise up and give them free things.
In this strange time of leftist political and economic revolution, cancel culture, and extreme socio-political division, should a capitalist company use emotional marketing to support and encourage riots, property destruction, and anti-police movements?
They do so at their own peril.