Thursday, 16 December 2010

Only £499.99!

A simple but very effect trick of the trade, used by the masters of the dark arts of advertising, is to prefix a price with an adjective such as ‘only, or ‘just.’ It’s one of the oldest tricks in the adman’s guidebook, yet oddly, one of the more effective. No matter what the sum of money an item is displayed for, as long as it is prefixed with either of these terms, the potential purchaser psychologically is made to think that she or he is purchasing a bargain.

The customer is distracted by the adjective; the prefix has done its business and has persuaded the potential purchaser that the item on offer is a bargain, not to be missed! And, whatever price appeared after the ‘just,’ or ‘only,’ would be, to a large extent irrelevant. The customer has been hooked and from here on in it is easier to real them in.

Of course all of this is deeply immoral. But that is the way the adverting industry works. Advertising agencies employ very creative people whose job it is to create a desire in people for said product. Their livelihoods depend on their ability to sell to the public any item they are commissioned by the producer to sell.

Monday, 13 December 2010

"You do not have enough for a minimum standard of living!"

I have always related to The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), they are a charity that funds a large, UK-wide research and development programme. They say that they seek to ‘understand the root causes of social problems, to identify ways of overcoming them, and to show how social needs can be met in practice.’ They also fund groups who work in economically deprived communities. They are a well respected charity and they have the ears of governments, social service departments and many other key agencies working in the social poverty area.

I’ve read a lot of media articles recently, based on reports funded by the JRF. These studies, written by academics, try to get into the mindset of those living on what is termed the lower end of the economic scale. All of the finished reports though, appear to be based around people’s desires rather then their real needs.

On the JRF site, you can fill in a 'poverty indicator,' if you want to find out your level of living is. 
It calculates information you key in, and tells you, based on the information, if they think you are living below the poverty threshold, and how much extra, they think you need to live on.

It’s conclusions left me bemused. I found it laughable to be honest. According to these calculations, we are living way below the poverty threshold!!

Here are what, (in their words), the indicator has calculated we ‘need’ for a proper standard of living:

“Here's what you need as a minimum now…

£21,807 per year, so that income after tax and benefits covers outgoings.

Here's your situation…

You do not have enough for a minimum standard of living.

Your outgoings exceed your income.

You need an extra: £153.01 per week.”

It informs us, amongst other things, that we ‘need’ £14.85 per week for alcohol and £64.83 per week for social/cultural activities! On my goodness, no wonder people think they are poor! Neither of us drink,apart from some elderberry home made wine at Christmas. As for social/cultural activities!! We walk in the countryside, garden, visit friends, or read books, all for free! We have a car, but in our isolated, rural location a car is a real necessity.

But we certainly don't feel poor! We eat wholesome food, have a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. What else is needed really?

There’s an old Buddhist saying worth taking note of: ‘we need warm clothes, a roof over our heads and food in our bellies, the rest is just desire!’ Unfortunately though, many are seduced into the whole consumerist merry go round, constantly drip-fed a media diet of desire. Whenever we turn on the TV or open a paper, we are beguiled and seduced by slick marketing, constantly trying to seduce us into buying products, we could quite easily live without.

But enough is enough; it’s time to reclaim the right to be poor and proud. To show that being poor doesn't have to mean a life spent in a constant struggle of ambition to ‘better oneself,’ where one may eventually clamber out of a well of despair and toil, up, into the a desirable land of wealth. Notice that wealth is nearly always equated with happiness and contentment!

True poverty is to be found in the slums of India or the Philippines. My understanding of the term implies a state of destitution, an inability to be able to afford even the basic necessities for a healthy life. A situation which would be very difficult to emulate in this country, where state benefits are a universal right for everyone unable to work, even under the forthcoming welfare cutbacks.

Poverty is a relative term! Yes, there is a basic level, where poverty means real, grinding hardship, where, due to whatever circumstance, a person found themselves in, it would be very difficult to escape from. And compassion must be extended to anyone who finds him or her self in such situations. A mark of any civilised society is surely when all of its members alike, receive an adequate income, to feed, clothe and house themselves and their families! Far too many people face a daily existence of misery, through sometimes, insurmountable, financial problems. I do not want to belittle anyone who lives in this sort of gruelling hardship. There are still far too many who find it almost impossible to lead any kind of normal life, due to the debt trap. Yet, even here, informed choices can be made, where some of the misery can be alleviated.

It is entirely possible, if one is careful and expedient, to live a life of contentment, and well being, whilst living below the so-called poverty level. If you are able to extricate yourself, from the trap of materialism.

We are fortunate I suppose, in that we cook our own wholesome foods, and we preserve much of the produce from our large garden, we forage for wild foods and neither of us smoke or drink alcohol. We have carpentry and basic home repair skills too. We even make all of our own soap, shampoos and cleaning agents.

I pointed all of the above out in a mail to the Centre for Research in Social Policy, at Loughborough University, who conducted a recent survey for The Joseph Rowntree Trust, on Rural Poverty. I received a courteous reply from one of the team, but it left me aware that many of the indicators they use to calculate poverty levels, are based on 'desires,' not on needs: I quote from her reply:

“In their deliberations, the groups think very carefully about the difference between unnecessary consumerism and normal participation - but at the end of the day people we talked to didn't agree that all that was needed was food, clothes and shelter. They felt that it was important to be able to interact with the society around them and not feel stigmatised and this translated into items that went beyond these basic necessities. One of the key components of the definition of what kind of living standard this is meant to be is that it should be such that people have opportunities and choices – not unlimited amounts of either – but enough to feel that they can choose how to live their lives rather than to be living at a level where their choices are limited to eating or heating, for example.”

This really is utter nonsense to be frank. People’s desires have to be separated from their real needs. If anything, what poor people ‘need,’ is to be better informed as to their real needs, and to switch off the incessant conditioning that is directed at them every time they turn on a TV or open a paper.

I really do also feel deep compassion for those who need to surround themselves with a continuous supply of possessions. Who accumulate wealth, and who imagine that wealth is desirable. It really isn’t wise for anyone to be covetous of such situations though, the accumulation of wealth and its associated bedfellows of power, desire and pride, are the surest ways to keep one trapped on a permanent round of sufferings and frustrations.

By surrounding themselves with riches, people perpetuate their sufferings of attachment, fear of loss, and need for constant security to guard their possessions.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hear the jingles and spend, spend, spend

Here's how shops get us to buy so much crap every chrtistmas!

From the Independent Newspaper

In the past week I have felt like a white lab rat in a capitalist experiment. I have panicked that bestselling Christmas items might sell out, despite the economic evidence to the contrary. I felt bad for not buying a Kindle, when Amazon has so charmingly demonstrated its interesting features every time I open my inbox. I paid extra in a clothes store to have an assistant gift-wrap my purchase, only to watch on as he screwed up said purchase into an unsightly ball of white tissue paper and stuffed it in a big, branded box that I know I'll chuck away. I have lingered in a deliberately well-heated branch of M&S as it snowed outside, allowing my eye to be caught by pretty boxes of nuts and fruit. In short, I've fallen for every trick high-street retailers have conspired to play.

But the tactic that really has me in a frenzy of breathless festive spending is the oldest in the book. Not discounts. Nor artful window displays. It is the sound of pounding, mulled wine hangovers, of doorstep-thick slices of pub-lunch turkey, of inadvisable snogs and four pounds of extra fat on the midriff. For some reason, though I loathe them in any other context, I can't resist the effects of Christmas music when I'm shopping. La-a-a-st Car-eest-maass, I gaaave you my heaaart ... At our local Tesco, this and other literally unforgettable festive pop is currently playing at rock-concert volume. But it really works. On Sunday, as I rounded the potato display, I saw a couple rub noses and mouth the lyrics as they loaded their basket with smoked salmon. More dancing ensued in the tea and coffee aisle. I wanted to sneer, I really did, but the strange result of the mass hypnosis that Tesco employed – for any retailers out there, I believe it was the standard Now That's What I Call Christmas CD – was a 50 per cent increase in my usual bill.
The connection between music and consumer spending has been scientifically documented, notably in several studies carried out in the 1980s (possibly not coincidentally, since that's the era of much of the Christmas music you'll hear). Slower, positively associated music is proven to make shoppers not only linger, but spend more. As the sound of Noddy Holder or Mariah Carey reverberates in our eardrums, we suddenly think we're having fun, engaging in a leisure activity, rather than performing an expensive, tiring chore. The same studies showed that volume has a converse effect on how long shoppers stay in a store; therefore loud, Christmassy music from yesteryear is designed to make us grin like loons, march around the shop loading up our trolleys in haste, before we can have second thoughts about that third packet of bite-sized stollen cakes.
The soundtrack to spending is of course something online stores can't control. I might be browsing Net A Porter listening to Joy Division, which would make me buy nothing, and sob into my keyboard. As it was yesterday. Etailers can dangle pages of discounted Bananagrams and Black Ops games and Kindles, but without Noddy or George warbling in the background, the spell is broken.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

How to persuade people they don’t have time to cook any more!

‘A kilo of corn costs around 15p, a kilo of Cornflakes, on the high street, costs us £3, that’s a 2000% cost difference.’

The BBC are at present screening a mini series of three documentaries, dealing with the way multi national food companies induce us all to buy their products, last week the focus was on the bottled water industry, this week was the turn of breakfast cereals and next week, yogurt will be in the spot light.

These three programmes are extraordinary in that they expose the cleaver marketing tricks multi national companies use to flog their useless products. The programmes are not being screened by some anti capitalist, revolutionary organisation, but are made, and screened by the BBC for goodness sake!

We thought we knew all about the dark ways employed by global capitalism to sell their products, but these three programme open up a completely new chapter. Here are the producers themselves telling us, in their own words just how they make their billions!

The latest programme dealt with the convenience breakfast cereal market and spoke to insiders from the big players in this highly lucrative market. As the founder and ex chairman of Weetabix said, without a trace of irony, “people buy our cereals because they thrust what you tell them”

This is the fast and easy way to make vast profits, by making so called ‘foods,’ they have no or little nutritional value and convincing customers through the power of marketing that they simply must buy the product.

As the food writer Michael Pollen commented in the programme, “the way you make money is to process food, add convenience, add packaging, add health claims, whatever you can do to complicate it, to get people to buy it.”

A famous and often quoted experiment was carried out in the 1970’s. Rats were fed a range of different cereals. The conclusion being that they would be better off eating the cardboard box then the contents inside.

The cereal companies have always used the trick of targeting children. This ploy ensures brand loyalty from an early age. So kids are blitzed with images of cuddly cartoon characters each one of which is associated with a particular cereal (remember Tony the Tiger)! The children’s cereal market alone is worth over six hundred million pounds.

But in 2006, legislation banned their adverts during children’s television programmes, because of the high sugar and salt contents of their products. The companies were forced to take out much of the sugar and salt.

The companies simply glossed over the fact that they had been forced to alter the contents of their cereals but, instead claimed they were simply giving the customers what they wanted, They’ve asked us to give them more choice, which we are happy to do” Says the head of Kellogg's, UK. We’ve done that, and we feel good about it.”

Breakfast cereals are the epitome of the global markets’ triumph of persuasion! They are the blank space for our aspirations and our neurosis and, in the process they made billions.

Monday, 29 November 2010

A world without money!

This is an extract from an essay from The Resource Based Economy, a site dedicated to a world, which is free from the vicious grip that money has on us all. Where greed and competition are replaced by a realisation that only by mutual interdependence can we realise fulfilled and purposeful lives. To read the full article or to learn more about their work, click here

A resource-based economy is a society where money, is no longer used. Where the earth’s resources distributed equally without any form of exchange, barter or payment. It is not a new communistic approach. Neither is it socialism or capitalism. It’s beyond communism, socialism, feudalism, fascism, capitalism or any other ‘ism’. It’s beyond any social system that has ever existed on this planet, at least in our awareness. In communism the state owns everything. In socialism the state owns something while the rest is privately owned. In capitalism everything is privately owned.

The term and meaning of a Resource-Based Economy was originally conceived by Jacque Fresco, founder of the Venus Project. It is a system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few. The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is abundant with plentiful resource; our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counter productive to our survival.

Modern society has access to highly advanced technology and can make available food, clothing, housing and medical care; update our educational system; and develop a limitless supply of renewable, non-contaminating energy. By supplying an efficiently designed economy, everyone can enjoy a very high standard of living with all of the amenities of a high technological society.

A resource-based economy would utilise existing resources from the land and sea, physical equipment, industrial plants, etc. to enhance the lives of the total population. In an economy based on resources rather than money, we could easily produce all of the necessities of life and provide a high standard of living for all.

In a resource-based economy the world’s population doesn’t ‘own’ anything, but has access to everything. Anything ever needed, like food, clothing, housing, travel, etc. etc. is provided in abundance through the use of our updated knowledge, values and technology. There’s no ‘state’ that is the owner of the resources, and nothing is privately owned. In RBE the world’s resources are considered the heritage of all the inhabitants of this planet, not just a select few. RBE is not a society where we will live in scarcity with few resources. It is not a society where a few control and distribute the resources. No, it is a totally new society where we let today’s and tomorrow’s technology be developed to it’s fullest to work for us, and where we utilize knowledge about nature and technology to provide a life in abundance for everyone. It is a society where we truly have the option to take care of each other instead of struggling to survive.

It is a totally new way of life, unimaginable within today’s value system, but still something most people truly long for in their hearts. It is a world where we can call ourselves Free and live with dignity and respect for each other, nature, the planet and the universe. It is a concept where value no longer is measured by money, but rather by the joy we feel, the contributions we make, and the development we take part in. It is a society where we utilize our minds and hearts in providing a healthy life for everyone, developing our knowledge about nature and technology, and using this in the most sustainable way.

Imagine a world without money, barter or exchange, where everything is provided for everyone, and everyone can pursue their own interests and dreams and live in the way they want. Be it moving closer to nature and grow your own garden of delicious vegetables, travel the globe and experience the wonders of the planet, make and perform your own music or collaborate with others to develop a new invention for the betterment of society. In a society where we don’t have to think about money and profit, we can truly develop ourselves and the human race into something completely wonderful.

The monetary system
The monetary system doesn’t work anymore and is obsolete. This is obvious when you look at today’s world with increasing unemployment, financial crisis, endless consumption producing endless waste and pollution, not to speak of crime and wars. You could say money has outplayed its role on this planet. It produces greed and corruption through the profit motive we are all a slave to. The economy is falling apart, and everyone seems to be struggling to get richer and richer or just to make ends meet. The financial crisis has so far made over 200 million more people end up in poverty. Now, about 2 billion people in the world are considered poor. Poor countries that have received massive loans from the World Bank have become much poorer after receiving the loans, because of the interest. And they can only hope to pay it back. The collective external debt of all the governments in the world is now about 52 trillion dollars and this number doesn’t include the massive amount of household debt in each country. How can we owe each other so much money??? Because we think we need it.

We don’t need money
It turns out that it’s not money we need. We cannot eat money, or build houses with them. What we need is resources. Food, clothing, housing, etc. Money is just a hindrance in making the resources available for everyone. Imagine if there was no money. Right now. No money. Everything would still be there, wouldn’t it? The trees, the mountains, the houses, cars, boats, air, grass, snow, rain, sun, animals, birds and bees and the people. Nothing has changed, really. Why? Because money doesn’t really exist. There’s no money in nature. It’s only an agreement between the world’s people, made up thousands of years ago as a means to control the world population. Instead of slavery, where one had to feed, house, nurse and guard the slaves, one invented money. With money everyone would have to fend for themselves, while the rulers collected taxes, controlling the masses.

It was a means of which people could trade stuff that they all needed. Labour, food, housing, etc. If it wasn’t scarce, there was no need to charge for it. Like water and air. The rulers claimed ownership to land, and thus became the “owners” of this land. They could then charge others for using it and for stuff that was produced there, like it is today. And the property could be sold and inherited in the bloodline. “Banks” became invented, and eventually; loans. And now society has become addicted to it, like a drug. But, like a drug, money is something that we don’t really need, we only think we do.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Foods that Make Billions

We all have books, films and articles, we tell everyone who will listen that it is a 'must read/watch item, well this is a documentary I wish everyone who is interested in seeing less consumerism in the world should watch.

The Foods that Make Billions is a film about the bottled water industry, and how it has become a must have product for many millions of people all across the world. As someone in the film says, it's amazing how people can be persuaded to pay for a product that they can get for free. There are some 30 odd different bottlted waters available nowadays, and the manufacturers use every trick at their disposal to make us think each one is somehow different from the others.

It's the foremost example of how big business and marketing, use their dark skills to manipulate us into seeing a product as a necessity.

It was shown on the BBC last night, and is available to watch on I player. it's available until 14th December, so watch it whilst you can.

Here is the blurb about the programme:

This major new series tells the untold story of how big business feeds us by transforming simple commodities into everyday necessities and highly profitable brands.

The first episode tells the extraordinary story of how the bottled water industry has grown from nothing to become one of the biggest success stories in the modern food and beverage industry in just 40 years.

With unprecedented access to the world's largest food and beverage companies, including Nestle and Danone, this is the inside story of how the bottled water business has become emblematic of an age of plenty in the West. With billions at stake, the market is fiercely fought over by the world's multinationals who promise us health, convenience and youth. It is natural and pure and sourced at minimal cost, its real value lies in the marketing and branding.

Told by the Money Programme team, this film takes us to Hawaii, Japan, North America, France, Switzerland and Scotland to chart what lies behind the incredible success of this industry and explore what it tells us about ourselves.

I watched it with varying feelings of amazment, sadness anger and disgust.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Made to Waste

We buy most products not out of need but out of desire.

There is a reason it's often cheaper to replace a broken electronic gadget than to fix it - the tech industry planned it that way. The unfortunate consumer cycle of want, buy, upgrade, replace, discard is a very calculated one. While it is true planned obsolescence keeps consumers spending, the major downside is the hefty environmental burden that comes with hyperconsumerism in an advanced capitalist society.

Planned obsolescence is not just rampant in the consumer electronics industry, it can be found in just about any sector. "Cheap" products might seem like a deal but when they end up in a landfill a short time later, who's really getting a bargain?

The term planned obsolescence is a well-known concept amongst manurfacturers. The phrase was first coined in 1932, Manufacturers realised that they had a problem, just after the war, goods began to be produced on a mass scale, now everyone could own a car, fridge, and house furnishings. No one needed anymore, but the products were still rolling off the production line.

The solution came from the car industry, General Motors realised that everyone was buying the black Ford Model T, a vehicle built for longevity and durability. So GM realised that if they wanted to sell cars, they had to persuade customers to switch to their products. They came up with the concept of ‘style, selling their products as ‘lifestyle,’ choices. They introduced new ‘coloured,’ cars, extra lights, stylish tail fins etc..

The new models appeared yearly, most of the time with nothing but cosmetic changes. The American consumer was programmed. A trade-in every year or two or three was "de rigueur", but when foreign cars started penetrating the American market, Mercedes, BMWs, Toyotas, Hondas, the American consumer wised up. Here were better products that lasted.

What happened in the car industry was repeated in every other sector of production. And the concept of concept of 'lifestyle design,' really took off. Of course, this is nothing more than a massive con, that appeals to consumers vanities; they must have the latest products. If you don’t buy into the latest trend, fashion or look, you are made to feel behind the pack.

This is termed 'psychological obsolescence.' This is how television advertising works, where you are bombarded with sublime messages, telling you, you must have the latest laptop, dress, car, ad infinitum. If we don’t own the newest plasma TV, we are out of touch and seen as somehow eccentric even. So our desires are endlessly stoked by the manufacturers. We buy most products not out of need but out of desire.

In 1960 the American investigative journalist, Vance Packard, brought out a book The Waste Makers. Subtitled “A startling revelation of planned wastefulness and obsolescence in industry today”, it exposed how capitalist firms making consumer goods were deliberately designing them to break down after a calculated period of time so as to encourage repeat sales.

The manufacturers and their marketing departments were quite open about what they were doing. Thus Justus George in 1928 said: “We must induce people . . . to buy a greater variety of goods on the same principle that they now buy automobiles, radios and clothes, namely: buying goods not to wear out, but to trade in or to discard after a short time . . . the progressive obsolescence principle . . . means buying for up-to-dateness, efficiency, buying for . . . the sense of modernness rather than simply for the last ounce of use”.

Brooks Stevens wrote in 1958, “Our whole economy is based on planned obsolescence and everybody who can read without moving his lips should know it by now. We make good products, we induce people to buy them, and then next year we deliberately introduce something that will make those products old fashioned, out of date, obsolete. We do that for the soundest reason: to make money.” 

This provoked a conflict with engineers, who knew they could make solid products that could last for years, but in the end their reluctance was overcome (they, too, are in the end only hired employees who have to do their employer’s bidding). It is also enormously wasteful as still usable products, and the material resources that went into making them, are simply thrown away.

Things have gotten worse since Packard’s day, with the use of soldered circuits in electronic devices that are now part of everyday life. These are easy and cheap to produce but their chipboard's can’t be repaired. There is a growing problem of where to dispose of abandoned (but still usable) mobile phones, which, together with other ‘e-waste’, contain materials that are harmful to the environment.

Packard blamed consumers, if not so much as manufacturers. If, he argues, people take account of the effect on the environment of what they buy, manufacturers will begin “to adopt design strategies that include not just planned obsolescence but planned disassembly and reuse as part of the product life cycle”. This assumes that the capitalist economy is driven by consumers. It isn’t. It’s driven by the drive of capitalist firms to make as much profit as they can.

Nothing physically produced can ever maintain an operational lifespan longer than what can

be endured in order to maintain economic integrity through ‘cyclical consumption’.

In other words, every ‘good’ produced must breakdown in a respective amount of time in order to continue financial circulation to support the players (consumer/employee/employer) in the game.

There are two aspects to Planned Obsolescence
a) Intentional: Deliberate withholding of efficiency so the product in question breaks down.

b) Consequential: Profit based shortcuts taken in production, usually in the form of cheap
Materials/poor design, in an effort to save money and create repeat customers. This translates into an inferior product immediately. i.e. The use of plastics for electronic enclosures is cheaper for the company and the consumer, but the durability of this material is poor in comparison to say, titanium metal, which is much more expensive.]

The introduction of new products and services must be constant to offset any increased efficiency of the prior generations of production, regardless of functional utility, generating
endless waste.

The constant re-creation of inferior products wastes available resources and pollutes the environment.

In other words, waste is a deliberate by-product of industry’s need to keep ‘cyclical consumption’ going. This means that the replaced/obsolete product is expelled, often to landfills, polluting the environment. The constant multiplicity accelerates this pollution.

‘The Need for Cyclical Consumption’, which could be considered the ‘engine’ that powers the entire economic system, is inherently dangerous and corrupt, for the nature of the necessity does not allow for environmentally sustainable practices to be maximised. The constant re-creation of inferior products, wastes available resources and pollutes the environment.

To express this from a different angle, imagine the economic ramifications of production methods that strategically maximised the efficiency and sustainability of every creation, using the best-known materials and techniques available at that time. Imagine a car that was so well designed, it didn’t need maintenance for 100 years. Imagine a house that was built from fireproof materials where all appliances, electrical operations, plumbing and the like were made from the most impermeable, highest integrity resources available on earth. In such a saner world, where we actually created things to last, inherently minimising pollution/waste due to the lack of multiplicity and maximisation of efficiency, a monetary system would be impossible, for ‘consumption cyclically’ would slow tremendously, forever weakening so called “economic growth”.