“Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, capturing [added by the authors], communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.” Dhruv Grewal and Michael Levy, Marketing (London: McGraw-Hill, 2008) i

Let us begin with a refrain developed in previous postings: value, sense, force. What follows will differentiate from the trite position that marketing pedagogy is a biopolitical project. That marketing seeks to goad life into mutation and habituation, and to raise the power of information to the nth degree seems almost obvious. This much is true of marketing: sensation-desire-information are its very lifeblood. By adding the participle “capturing” to the definition the authors show clearly that some mechanism (or abstract diagram) is necessary to assemble flows of communication with the production of consumer desire (cf. Virilio, Information Bomb 17). That is not a turgid sentence. It means simply this: that new media advertising builds on the machinery that came before it. Virilio in The Information Bomb tells us that advertising has shifted from the 20th century function of producing consumer desire to what he calls pure communication. Facebook and the spacetime of Web 2.0 (the informatization of everything). Desire needs to be captured and entrained (a neutralizing-potentializing circuit) through and in the flow of information—in the mode of communication—itself. We are all entrepreneurs of the self, even and perhaps in a special way when we disavow that capitalism as the extraction of surplus value from the processes of the world is the destiny of posthumanity. In what sense is marketing pedagogy a biopolitical process? How does marketing situate itself vis a vis the production of desire in the interest of domination? The aim then is to produce mutations in habit that allow an unmediated experience of virtuality. The transvaluation of all values must value becoming.

What do Grewal and Levy mean by value? Capitalist organizations today need to create new sources of value for their customers. Google, AOL IM, eBay “provide a great value” to its customers—they give “more to its customers that those customers spend in terms of their time and money” (3). There is an algorithm that can modulate this relation. The calculation for value added can be arrived at in different ways. The simple one is MVA: the market value added which is market value subtracted by capital investment. “Mathematically, market value is written as MV=V-K, where v equals current market value (including debt and equity) and k=contributed capital. If the calculated market value is negative, then it is known that value has diminished, while a positive calculation shows an increase in value, though the amount of value added must be greater than the value of the invested capital. Otherwise, the invested capital could have been more effectively employed elsewhere.” The difference between the sale price of a product and the cost of materials and outside services to produce it is the value added per unit. Or economic value added or EVA: “Economic value added is a measure of economic profit, though the calculation can be a bit tenuous to achieve because of the many variables involved. But it is a simple term to understand because it is the profit earned by a firm minus the costs of financing the capital. EVA is written mathematically as EVA=(r-c)*K, where r is the return to capital, c is the weighted average cost of capital and K is invested capital.” (Cf: Market Value Added Vs. Economic Value Added, eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/about_6525442_market-vs_-economic-value-added.html#ixzz0yUdxJvOa)

What does the marketing concept do to economic (or corporate) and market value added? Value added becomes part of the circulations immanent to a given media ecology, central of which is the flow, sorting, aggregating, and speed of information.

Such algorithms do not get at the qualitative nature of VA (but can track its tendencies through a kind of backformation). This is because VA involves the production of habit, or two forms of difference (see The Production of Habit, my blog on two forms of difference in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish), and hence the body as an intensive machinic assemblage, a center of indetermination, and a nexus of value modulation. The body’s dynamic circuit is probabilistic and potentializing. This circuit is often so stretched or foreshortened beyond recognition or relevance by Virilio that we must take care as we affirm his brilliant critique of vision in the new media.

With visual (audiovisual) continuity progressively taking over from the territorial contiguity of nations, which has now declined in importance, the political frontiers were themselves to shift from the real space of geopolitics to the ‘real time’ of the chronopolitics of the transmission of images and sounds. Two complementrary aspects of globalization have, then to be taken into account today: on the one hand, the extreme reduction of distances which ensures from the temporal compression of transport and transmission; on the other the current general spread of tele-surveillance. A new vision of a world that is constantly ‘tele-present’ twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, thanks to the artifice of this ‘transhorizon optics’ which puts what was previously out of sight on display. ‘The destiny of every image is enlargement,’ declared Gaston Bachelard. Virillio, The Information Bomb 13

Ironically the insights abound in this passage. A constant surveillance, that enters into our consciousness and muscle memory, involving our proprioception in unexpected ways, the speed of images and sounds, expanding continuously, intensively. The logistics of moving matter and information has changed in scale, and what was relevant—of value—in one scale looses its value, sense, and force in another scale of becoming. So that although there certainly is a dominance of audiovisual connectivity in contemporary definitions of the human, the worker, and the citizen, there are forms of organized resistance, productive or suicidal lines of flight, moving against, away, and in parallel to this ongoing regime of the intolerable: the mobile phone is a viscous and indeterminate switch in networks of control. The viral nature of transhorizon optics observes all things in its false light, it feeds forces of ressentiment, and occasions affirmations of becoming as an untimely emergence into a synaesthetic sensation. We should differentiate synaesthetic emergence from ecologies of sensation. Perhaps the quote below will help.

Advertising, which in the nineteenth century was simply the publicizing of a product, before becoming in the twentieth an industry for stimulating desire, is set in the twenty-first century to become pure communication. To this end it will require the unfurling of an advertising space which stretches to the horizon of the visibility of the planet. Global advertising, far from being satisfied with the classic poster or with breaks between TV or radio programmes, now required the imposition of its ‘environment’ on a mass of TV viewers who have in the interim become tele-actors and tele-consumers. To come back again to the Internet, a number of towns forgotten by tourists vaunt the merits of their regions there… (Virillio, The Information Bomb 17)

Value added advertising is a mechanism to modulate pure communication.

In “Marketing: critical perspectives on business and management, Volume 1” (London: Routledge, 2001), Michael John Baker recalls that “thirty years ago businessmen admonished each other to keep the customer’s interests in mind, but they usually connected this focus merely with their own need to adjust prices and volume of production to what the market would accept….There was almost no mention of the idea that the manufacturer should focus his attention on the end user, and base his competitive footing on some superiority of value that matched with the needs of a particular group of these users. (29-30). He heralds the triumph of innovation over productive capacity (32) in the consumer-oriented, value-producing practices of marketing.

What would a transvaluation of all values in this domain effect?

We are called to interpret this text. There are two values in Grewal and Levy’s marketing textbook. There is 1) a modular or “plastic” product/service, its fluctuating price, and its changing value, and 2) the customer’s perception of that (fixed, fetishized) product and its fluctuating value. The perception of the product is particularly important in value-based pricing, “in which the firm determines the perceived value of the product from the customer’s point of view and then prices accordingly” (Grewal and Levy 39). Such a strategy is a form of “value capture” according to the authors. What value? Is it perceived value or product value? What is the threshold when perceived value adds to or diminishes product value? Value capture is like a machine for the production of a perception-image (brand, product, style) and the maximization of that image’s value (through information flows from consumer research, self-actualizing experiences with the image, and building “lasting relationships” through customer segmentation and targeting).

Why insist then on ethics? What is ethical about a marketing practice that works on the clichéd thoughts and static habits of its corporate citizenry, in order precisely to make them “good,” more philanthropic, more entrepreneurial, more fully networked (24). What distinguishes such an ethics from the production of docile citizens (cf Puar)?

Ethics: the authors raise the question again and again, and we should specify what they mean by it. They mean good business practices that give back to the communities and stakeholders who are affected by the business in whatever way. They mean philanthropy in the very precise sense elaborated by Foucault in discipline and punish, Donzelot in The Policing of Families, and myself in Rule of Sympathy: as a biopolitical strategy.

Pursuing the question of value brings us back to Nietzsche and Deleuze who relate value back to two other terms that help us understand more clearly what is at stake in the distinction between value and perceived value. Sense and Force.

Value undergoes a complete shift in all its coordinates when it is shocked by the transversal. Can we say that there is a virtual value and an actual value, and that it passes through thresholds of perception? And that there is a war of forces contending to hegemonize these thresholds at every level? Further, can we consider the value capture machine to be a general abstract diagram of capitalist value itself: as a set of processes that derive quantifications of value from the self-organizing, non-linear, peer-to-peer production of the value-/image, where a certain level of feedback density (networked populations) is taken as an event of self-measure. This valuing event—its duration, modulation, distribution, and perception—produces both surplus value and an excess of value, a nonproductive expenditure in Bataille’s terms. These will be some of the central propositions that we consider in the days that follow.

What is surplus value? Where is the laborer in this process of valuation? In a famous passage from Capital, Marx writes, “On the other hand, however, our notion of productive labour becomes narrowed. Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus-value. The labourer produces, not for himself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore, that he should simply produce. He must produce surplus-value. That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital. If we may take an example from outside the sphere of production of material objects, a schoolmaster is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation. Hence the notion of a productive labourer implies not merely a relation between work and useful effect, between labourer and product of labour, but also a specific, social relation of production, a relation that has sprung up historically and stamps the labourer as the direct means of creating surplus-value. To be a productive labourer is, therefore, not a piece of luck, but a misfortune. (Karl Marx, Capital Vol. I — Chapter Sixteen, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch16.htm)

What if the circulation of a brand is the direct means of creating surplus value? I don’t reject the labor theory of value, but we should say that the direct relation of labor to value “sprung up historically.” Pure communication in the sense Virilio both heralds and laments is the condition of mutation of an abstract machine that we have named value-capture. Surplus value except that the surplus has become pure excess. As Roger A. McCain remarked:

In other words: the wage paid for a labor-day would be the labor time socially necessary to produce the labor day. Suppose that it takes just half of a labor day to produce a labor day. Then workers will always be available for half a labor-day of pay, and employers, knowing this, will pay no more than half a labor-day of wages per labor-day. Half a labor day is left to the employers. It is “surplus-value” and is the source of profits, interest, and rent. Employers (and landowners and financiers) don’t have to do anything to get it — it is just “left over” after the competitive wage has been paid. (http://faculty.lebow.drexel.edu/McCainR//top/prin/txt/marx/marx4.html).

Can marketing be untimely? What would an ethics of untimeliness do to the premises of marketing? Nietzsche writes in “Expeditions of an Untimely Man”: “My conception of freedom. – The value of a thing sometimes does not lie in that which one attains by it, but in what one pays for it – what it costs us. I give an example. Liberal institutions cease to be liberal as soon as they are attained: later on, there are no worse and no more thorough injurers of freedom than liberal institutions. One knows, indeed, what their ways bring: they undermine the will to power; they level mountain and valley, and call that morality; they make men small, cowardly, and hedonistic – every time it is the herd animal that triumphs with them. Liberalism: in other words, herd-animalization. (Twilight of the Idols (1888). Expeditions of an Untimely Man, 38)

What does this mean? It means that the value of liberalism can only be understood when you place it against the illiberalism of its practices and institutions. That a certain subjugation is the price we pay for what we mistake as liberal freedom. It is a withering critique of herd animalization, Target-WalMart-Disney. Why would Nietzsche call this freedom untimely?

Can there be an untimely marketing? One thing is certain value is both captured and untimely in the set of processes constituting marketing. We live in branded flows that constantly herd us along their media trajectories. Part of what a critical method in marketing can do is challenge the conception of ethics that dominates marketing thereby making the critique of marketing an affirmation of the untimely. But let us return to the set of processes constituting marketing. “Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, capturing, communicating, and delivering value…” Marketing is central to the growth strategies of corporations. Global market penetration and development, product development, diversification of products and services: these are mechanisms for increasing surplus value. Macro strategies such as customer, operational, and product excellence help develop “sustainable competitive advantages” (Grewel and Levy 46-7). One of the fundamental points of tension and uncertainty is the specific form of market segmentation that firms rely on for these various processes to work.

Grewel and Levy are fascinated by wealth. It mesmerizes them, and sends them squealing with joy. Which is why herdism is a fundamental but unstated premise of their text. And so they think of ethics as preemptive crisis management: philanthropy and corporate citizenship.

They write in their chapter on Marketing Ethics:

When asked in a survey whether they had seen any unethical behavior among their colleagues, chief marketing officers responded that they had observed employees participating in high pressure, misleading, or deceptive sales tactics (45 percent); misrepresenting company earnings, sales, and/or revenues (35 percent); withholding or destroying information that could hurt company sales of image (32 percent); and conducting false or misleading advertising (31 percent). Did all the marketers in these situations view their actions as unethical? In making marketing decisions, managers are often faced with the dilemma between doing what is beneficial for them and possibly the firm in the short run, and doing what is right and beneficial for the firm and society in the long run…To avoid these ethical consequences, the long-term goals of the firm must be aligned with the short-term goals of each individual within the firm…to align personal and corporate goals, firms need to have a strong ethical climate, explicit rules for governing a firm’s transactions including a code of ethics, and a system for rewarding and punishing behavior. 65-6

Later, in the section on ethical decision-making, when considering business practice alternatives, the authors inexplicably state, “Of course any illegal course of action should immediately be dismissed” (70). There is no indication from the field of marketing itself that marketing decision makers are in fact dismissing any option other than not making a profit. That profit might very well be in the value added image of a philanthropic and “socially responsible” (committed?) corporation. This requires a certain expansion of the time-scale of a corporation’s evolution. Recommended by the authors, such a strategy retails this value added image in moments of ethical and political crisis to dampen and divert the amplification of the event in the media. Throughout their text, when they present “ethical dilemma” case studies, the symbol used to announce the “pop out” box is a stop sign hand, suggesting a forced slow-down or stopping: ethics halts marketing processes, re-diverts them in light of the broader societal picture. In other words, ethics, like society itself, comes from the outside of business practice. This necessitates a discursive practice of articulating the corporation’s core value, one that includes the environment, workers “rights and dignities,” shareholders, and other possible stakeholders.

So let us say the ethical question, which for the authors always comes from the outside (on a critique of this ‘outside ethics’ see What is Marketing), will regulate these notes, forming a key touchstone to reconceptualise the value, sense, and force of marketing.

Let’s proceed to the chapter on consumer behaviour. According to the authors, impulse buying is a type of limited problem solving where customers make on the spot decisions when they see the merchandise. Eva, their hypothetical customer, sees a display of popcorn and Dr. Pepper and buys them in an act of “habitual decision making.” They write: “Eva didn’t go through the entire decision process; instead she recognized her need and jumped directly to purchase without spending any time searching for additional information or evaluating alternatives. The grocery store facilitated this impulse purchase by offering the popcorn and soda in a prominent display, at a great location in the store, and at a reasonable price” (120).

Apparently for the authors this is a good thing, without an ethical quandary in site. It is precisely in these moments (when ethics can ‘safely’ be left on the outside) where an affective ethics can help us diagram the situation with more clarity. Impulse buying works on a set of habituations—vision (the display), the moment of checkout (leaving something behind), processed sugar (quick fix energy), etc. These habituations form the background for consumption, and marketing makes use of it for quite dubious ends. Grewal and Levy blithely make this explicit: “Marketers strive to attract and maintain habitual purchasers by creating strong brands and store loyalty because these customers don’t even consider alternative brands or stores” (120). It would be useful to recall Kant’s definition of habit as “a permanent inclination without any maxim,” a tendency that does not entail, indeed positively excludes, a conscious principle (qtd. in Jones et al, For Business Ethics 51). My point here is not that customers need to think more—that would be a residual benefit of an ethical diagram of bodily affect, a kind of shock to thought. Rather, what people who teach marketing, and what people who consume commodities must do in an entirely different way is to grapple materially, intensively, experimentally, and even joyously with potentials of mutating habit. How can we become untimely vis a vis habituation?

Why this is an important question becomes clearer when we further consider what marketing works on. Habits, certainly: How to ensconce a product within the processes of bodily habituation distributed across a human multiplicity? But also memory: “Attribute sets: Research has shown that a consumer’s mind organizes and categorizes alternatives to aid his or her decision process. Universal sets include all possible choices for a product category, but because it would be unwieldy for a person to recall all possible alternatives for every purchase decision, marketers tend to focus on only a subset of choices. One important subset is retrieval sets, which are those brands or stores that can be readily brought forth from memory. Another is a consumer’s evoked set, which comprises the alternative brands or stores that the consumer states he or she would consider when making a purchase decision. If a firm can get its brand or store into a consumer’s evoked set, it has increased the likelihood of purchase and therefore reduced search time because the consumer will think specifically of that brand when considering choices” (Grewal and Levy 126).

Memory has always been a target of advertising, giving force yet again to Bergson’s famous declaration that memory is just the intersection of mind and matter (Matter and Memory 13). “Marketers have long relied on autobiographical memory to persuade the buying public to purchase their products. They use cues to prod people to remember their past and experience a level of nostalgia that is pleasant to anchor that pleasant memory to their product. Marketing researchers have focused on how branded items may be associated with past consumer experiences. However, there has been little research on the influence these products have on our memory. Memory is constructive; it is constantly being updated to fit current self-knowledge and self-concept. Upon repeated viewing of autobiographically based commercials, rather than fact-based ones, consumers may unwittingly incorporate images from the advertising into their childhood memories. As time passes, there is a great likelihood that this information may be used to reconstruct and distort the memory the ad was intended to trigger” (Cheryl McKinzie, Memory and Marketing, ezinearticles.com, accessed 9-21-10).
For Bergson, there are diverse tones of mental life, or, “our psychic life may be lived at different heights, now nearer to action, now further removed from it, according to the degree of our attention to life…That which is usually held to be a greater complexity of the psychical state appears to us, from our point of view, to be a greater dilation of the whole personality , which, normally narrowed down by action, expands with the unscrewing of the vice in which it has allowed itself to be squeezed, and, always whole and undivided, spreads itself over a wider and wider surface. That which is commonly held to be a disturbance of the psychic life itself, an inward disorder, a disease of the personality, appears to us, from our point of view, to be an unloosing or a breaking of the tie which binds this psychic life to its motor accompaniment, a weakening or an impairing of our attention to outward life” (Matter and Memory 14-15).
Recall Bergson’s famous cone of memory which forms a kind of circuit from dream to action, where at the point of action the cone narrows touching literally the world, and as it dilates further from action spreads out toward the dream-state.
It would not be too much to say that marketing takes the entire circuit from dream to action as its field of operation, sometimes mobilizing far ranging memories, associating (it is hoped) objects and experiences with a valued commodity (thereby adding value to the commodity for the consumer), and at other times taking habituated action as its target, as for instance in impulse buying. To suggest that this cone of memory is the ethical field of marketing is not to suggest that it is evil or bad, or wonderful and good. It is to suggest that part of what happens in the processes of marketing is a modulation of our attention to life. This modulation is the very stuff of an affective ethics.

  1. hey, great work. you should check out our page. maybe it will be interesting to you. you are kindly invited to participate.

    all best,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s