Coda: Marketers and Martians
I tried to formulate a plan of action. That perpetual sound of “Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla, ” confused my mind. Perhaps I was too tired to be very fearful. Certainly I was more curious to know the reason of this monotonous crying than afraid. I turned back away from the park and struck into Park Road, intending to skirt the park, went along under the shelter of the terraces, and got a view of this stationary, howling Martian from the direction of St. John’s Wood. A couple of hundred yards out of Baker Street I heard a yelping chorus, and saw, first a dog with a piece ofputrescent red meat in his jaws coming headlong towards me, and then a pack ofstarving mongrels in pursuit ofhim. He made a wide curve to avoid me, as though he feared I might prove a fresh competitor. As the yelping died away down the silent road, the wailing sound of “Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla, ” reasserted itself.
H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds
Abstract The ending of The War of the Worlds is quoted. It shows that the Martians were defeated by the common bacteria found everywhere in the world—but not found in Mars. The different ways that Americans have developed ways to avoid advertising are explored. It is asserted that human irrationality, irritability, inattentiveness, and invincible ignorance saves Americans from being completely dominated by marketers and advertisers. The matter of marketers helping create new products (such as the iPhone) is explored. The iPhone is an example of a product people didn’t know they needed until it was created. Once created and then marketed and advertised, people wondered how they lived without it.
Keywords Martians • Avoidance • iPhone
What destroyed the Martians were common bacteria that are found in earth but which were deadly to the Martians. H.G. Wells explains this in his book:
In another moment I had scrambled up the earthen rampart and stood upon its crest, and the interior of the redoubt was below me. A mighty space it was, with gigantic machines here and there within it, huge mounds of material and strange shelter places. And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling- machines, and a dozen of them stark and silent and laid in a row, were the Martians-dead!-slain by the putrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth... there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow.
And just as bacteria had saved the world from the Martians, who lived in a bacteria-free environment in Mars, so does human curiosity, irrationality, irritability, inattentiveness, aberrant decoding, and invincible ignorance save us from being completely dominated by marketers. They don’t seek to enslave us or suck our blood, like the Martians, but to get us to do their bidding and purchase whatever product or service the marketers of the world and their allies in the advertising agencies are trying to sell to us.
When the dogs in England were running around with pieces of Martian flesh in their mouths, we had a powerful signifier of the end of the threat the Martians posed to us. In this book, I have discussed some of the most important methodologies that are used by marketers to understand us and to shape our behavior. If we know how marketers think, we can use this knowledge to resist their blandishments. The statistics I offered at the beginning of the book show that people in the United States are exposed to much more marketing/advertising than people in other countries. Americans are approximately five percent of the world but we are exposed to forty percent of the world’s advertising ($200 billion out of about $500 billion spent on advertising).
As a result of being exposed to so much marketing/advertising, people in the United States have developed various means of avoiding paying attention to it, to the extent possible, and there are now advertisement blockers for smart phones and other devices that are widely available and very popular. Polls show that Americans feel they are being exposed to too much advertising. And advertising, to simplify things, is the public face of marketing. I believe that if we understand how marketers think and operate, we can use the information that marketers bring us through advertising to our advantage and avoid being carried away on a sea of emotionally arousing marketing messages.
I receive five or six emails a day from eMarketer and other marketing sites. These sites deal with social media and marketing, advertising and marketing, marketing to millennials, and many other aspects of marketing. There are many people who work as marketers or who are interested in marketing, including semioticians who think it has much to offer to marketers (in that semiotics deals with how people find meaning in the world), psychologists, and psychoanalysts (think here of Ernest Dichter and Clotaire Rapaille).
If you think of purchasing something, such as an iPhone, as a narrative involving a host of decisions people make before they buy the phone, what marketers call a “consumer’s journey,” understanding the history of the decisions involved in buying that device is a matter of great interest to people who work in many academic disciplines and to businesses that need to sell people their products and services.
As I write this Coda, in the back of my mind I keep wondering— who is going to create a new product that I didn’ t know I needed, but which, after I bought it, made me wonder how I lived without it. So there is something exciting about the world of marketing, especially since marketing often involves creating products of one kind or another as well as using advertising to sell them. Like all writers, in the deepest layers of my unconscious, I harbor a crazy hope that after reading Marketing and American Consumer Culture you will find this book is, like your iPhone, also something you didn’t know you needed but having read it you will wonder how you lived without it.