Deleuze and Foucault on Marketing as Control

Posted: November 2, 2010 in Deleuze, marketing
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Gilles Deleuze never to my knowledge wrote extensively on marketing, but he had some choice words for it in “Postscript on Societies of Control.” I quote them below. I lectured today, minutes ago actually, on Foucault’s panopticism and Deleuze’s modulated control to my first year marketing and communication course at QMUL. I tried to make the argument to them (about 200 very diverse, international students) that marketing is a historically specific form of power.

Control societies are taking over from disciplinary societies. “Control” is the name proposed by Burroughs to characterize the new monster, and Foucault sees it fast approaching. Paul Virilio too is constantly analyzing the ultrarapid forms of apparently free floating control that are taking over from the old disciplines at work within the time scales of closed systems. It’s not a question of amazing pharmaceutical products, nuclear technology, and genetic engineering, even though these will play their part in the new process. It’s not a question of asking whether the old or new system is harsher or more bearable, because there’s a conflict in each between the ways they free and enslave us. (Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Societies of Control” 178).

The various forms of control, on the other hand, are inseparable variations, forming a system of varying geometry whose language is digital (though not necessarily binary). Confinements are molds, different moldings, while controls are a modulation, like a self-transmutating molding continually changing from one moment to the next, or like a sieve whose mesh varies from one point to another. Postscript on Societies of Control 178-79

Family, school, army, and factory are no longer so many analogous but different sites converging in an owner, whether the state or some private power, but transmutable or transformable coded configurations of a single business where the only people left are administrators. Even art has moved away from closed sites and into the open circuits of banking. Markets are won by taking control rather than by establishing a discipline, by fixing rates rather than by reducing costs, by transforming products rather than by specializing production. Corruption here takes on a new power. The sales department becomes a business’ center or “soul.” We’re told businesses have souls, which is surely the most terrifying news in the world. Marketing is now the instrument of social control and produces the arrogant breed who are our masters. Control is short-term and rapidly shifting, but at the same time continuous and unbounded, whereas discipline was long-term, infinite, and discontinuous. A man is no longer a man confined but a man in debt. Postscript on Societies of Control 181

An excellent video on control societies and what may come afterwards:

The lecture went something like this (except that I started with Patrick Dixon’s wet dream: 100 billion computers the size of a grain of sand

and EPIC 2015:

What is capital?
What are the central assumptions of contemporary capitalism?
o We are essentially individuals. Capitalism is based on an unchanging human nature defined as individualistic, utility maximizing, rights bearing, and possessive.
o Anything can be an instrument of exploitation. Capitalists, owners of the means of production, extract and accumulate Surplus Value – profit – from workers’ labour, from the trade of commodities, and the movement of information. As one marketing article put it a few years back, you can also brand sand (
o The aim of human life is consumption. Consuming commodities drives the capitalist system, expresses our true, individual selves, and gives a definite substance to our unchanging human nature

In the interest of full disclosure, I adapted this lecture from one I gave a couple of weeks back to the MA students on Capital. But to understand why, for instance, Deleuze claims that he and Guattari are Marxists in their way, or why Foucault quotes approvingly Capital, Vol. 1 in Discipline and Punish, it becomes absolutely crucial to get a clear sense of what discipline, biopower, and control have to do with capital today, what histories of power are central to the elaboration of the real relations of production and desire under capitalism, what sets of technologies, apparatuses, subjective forms, ideologies, affects, habituations it has mutated from. And so in the lecture, I turn next to:

Capital, Colonialism, Consumerism and Globalization
o The history of Capital: enclosure acts, territorial expansion, privatization, demographic explosion, the rise of industrial production, and mass consumer society
o Twenty-two million Britons emigrated to colonies from 1814 – 1915
o By the famous ‘Scramble for Africa’ in 1885, Europe claimed dominion over close to 85% of the World
o Today, 20% of the world’s population – North America, Europe, and Japan – consume 80% of the world’s resources.
o Globalization is the process that ensures “free trade” for Multi-national Corporations through:
• Elimination of trade barriers,
• Speed of movement for labor, information, products, and services,
• Standardization of laws across borders,
• Globally integrated production processes,
• Outsourcing services and off-shoring production.

Although quick, this slide gives students a sense of where I am coming from in thinking historically about capital, and how globalization functions. It’s also where I reflect a little for myself what it means for me today to continue to think of myself as a “postcolonial critic.” What forms of analysis did postcolonial criticism enable me to develop in my work, teaching, and institutional practice? I suppose what has become obvious to me is that the postcolonial as critical frame must be brought into an analysis—or rather into a diagrammatics of biopower. That there has been a real shift from epistemology to ontology in terms of method, as Bruno Latour shows in Reassembling the Social, has I think become absolutely necessary for postcolonial criticism to take seriously. Has it?

Foucault’s Critique of Capital
o Method: Don’t ask what something means (consciousness, being), ask how it does what it does (mechanisms, genealogy, and effects).
o How does Capital extract and accumulate surplus value (profits)?
o Foucault’s answer: making bodies productive and docile (discipline), organizing life through modulations of sensation, population, information, and power relations (biopower).
Despite what many on the orthodox Marxist side say, Foucault remains one of the most inventive critics of capitalism to my mind. And there is a deep and abiding connection between his elaboration of modes of power and what Marx called “real subsumption.”

With the real subsumption of labour under capital, all the changes we have discussed take place in the technological process, the labour process, and at the same time there are changes in the relation of the worker to his own production and to capital — and finally, the development of the productive power of labour takes place, in that the productive forces of social labour are developed, and only at that point does the application of natural forces on a large scale, of science and of machinery, to direct production become possible. Here, therefore, there is a change not only in the formal relation but in the labour process itself. On the one hand the capitalist mode of production — which now first appears as a mode of production sui generis [in its own right] — creates a change in the shape of material production. On the other hand this change in the material shape forms the basis for the development of the capital-relation, whose adequate shape therefore only corresponds to a particular level of development of the material forces of production. We have examined the way in which the worker’s relation of dependence in production itself is thereby given a new shape. This is the first point to be emphasised. This heightening of the productivity of labour and the scale of production is in part a result of, and in part a basis for, the development of the capital-relation. The second point is this, that capitalist production now entirely strips off the form of production for subsistence, and becomes production for trade, in that neither the individual’s own consumption nor the immediate needs of a given circle of customers remain a barrier to production; now the only barrier is the magnitude of the capital itself. On the other hand, where the whole of the product becomes a commodity (even where, as in agriculture, it partially re-enters production in natural form), all its elements leave the circulation and enter into the act of production as commodities. [XXI-1309] It is, finally, common to all these forms of capitalist production that, for production to occur in a capitalist way, an ever-growing minimum of exchange value, of money — i.e. of constant capital and variable capital — is required to ensure that the labour necessary to obtain the product is the labour socially necessary, i.e. that the labour required for the production of a single commodity = the minimum amount of labour necessary under average conditions. For objectified labour — money — to function as capital, it must be present in the hands of the individual capitalist in a certain minimum quantity; this minimum stands far above the maximum required in the case of the merely formal subsumption of labour under capital. The capitalist must be the owner or proprietor of means of production on a social scale, and the extent of their value, in one man’s concentrated possession, stands increasingly outside all relation with the amount an individual person or an individual family could accumulate over generations by their own hoarding. The extent of the conditions of labour required thus stands in no relation at all to what the individual worker could appropriate for himself in the most favourable case, by saving, etc. This minimum amount of capital in a given branch of business is the greater, the more developed it is capitalistically, the higher the development of the productivity of labour, the social productivity of labour or the productivity of social labour within it. Capital must increase the magnitude of its value to the same extent, and it must assume the extent of the means of production required for social production, hence shed its individual character entirely. It is precisely the productivity, and therefore the quantity of production, the numbers of the population and of the surplus population, created by this mode of production, that constantly calls forth new branches of industry, operating with the capital and labour that have been set free. In these branches capital can once again work on a small scale and again pass through the various phases of development required until with the development of capitalist production labour is carried on on a social scale in these new branches of industry as well, and accordingly capital appears again as a concentration of a great mass of social means of production in a single person’s hands. This process is continuous. With the real subsumption of labour under capital a complete revolution takes place in the mode of production itself, in the productivity of labour, and in the relation — within production — between the capitalist and the worker, as also in the social relation between them. (K. Marx, Formal and Real Subsumption of Labour under Capital.
 Transitional Forms.” Source: MECW, Volume 34, p. 93-121;
Translated: by Ben Fowkes;
Written: May 1863;
Transcription: Andy Blunden, 2002.

What is discipline?
o Distributing individuals in spaces (cells), and along curves of normality (rank)
o The creation of medically, economically useful spaces in which discipline operated
o Discipline is a strategy of normalization through the creation of complex spaces that are architectural, functional, hierarchical (148).
o Control populations by regulating activity: time-table (monastic orders): establish rhythms, impose occupations, monitor repetition of tasks (149).

I have written at length about habits, bodily discipline and Foucault’s notion of training (The Production of Habit: On Two Conceptions of Difference in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish).

What is Panopticism?
o A functional mechanism of Discipline: must improve the exercise of power by making it lighter, more rapid, more effective, a design of subtle coercion for a society to come.
o The Panopticon is a privileged space for experiments on humans, for analysing with complete certainty the transformations that may be obtained from them.
o “In short, it arranged things in such a way that the exercise of power is not added on from the outside, like a rigid, heavy constraint, to the functions its invests, but is so subtly present in them as to increase their efficiency by itself increasing its own points of contact…” (206)

What is Control? From Discipline to Modulation
o Deleuze argues that we have moved from societies of discipline and the norm to societies of control and continuous and constant modulation.
o If the factory was the model of discipline, the digitally networked call center is the model of control.
o Key elements of control:
• Free-floating, flexible mechanisms like distributed databases, and constant data mining
• Digital translations of lived reality into searchable, networked, and open data
• Instantaneous speeds of electronic communication
• The rise of marketing as the central mode of control (Googlezon!)

The connection between this and the set of practices of attention we know as marketing is not immediately clear to the students. The historical, ecological connections need to be made between the assemblages of panopticism, discipline, and marketing. What are these connections? I have focused throughout these lectures in this course on one central point: marketing is a form of power that works on, solicits, and at times transforms bodily habits. Chief among these habits are forms of attention. So we can say that marketing is a discipline of attention, a mode of controlling attention (we are, thus, joining two forms of power that have been dissociated after Deleuze’s theses on control society: discipline and control are quite compatible in particular ways) through spectacle, sensation, viral buzz, and information swarming. So the connection between marketing (Deleuze makes this explicit in the quote above) and genealogies of power is really quite straightforward: marketing is both a pedagogy of consumption, and the variable valuation of instant, constant communication in the regime of the digital.

What marketing today is doing through making data “clean,” dynamic, and fully networked adds, claim its gurus, value. This from the editor in the October 14, 2010 issue of Marketing Week:

Marketing departments should never lose the instinct for the big idea. The brand essence that is universally understood by your managers, your staff and your customers alike often originates with some brave, snap decisions or intuitive creative that came from deep in your gut. But what underpins all that – and sometimes more importantly, what convinces your stakeholders to back you – is the customer data that you should hold dear. Your database contains the richest of insights into the needs of your customers. If you can spot those needs and meet them before your customers have even had a chance to figure out and articulate their own desires, then you’ll be fulfilling marketing’s limitless potential to grow a business through adding value. Those of you that already possess the right data and the system that works best for your business are way ahead. Look at our three stories on page 5. All of them champion the best use of data. News International has promoted Katie Vanneck-Smith – who has been managing its customer relationships through its customer direct division since March last year – to the role of CMO. In April, Vanneck-Smith said News International was focusing on “super-serving” its most valuable customers – a notion that makes sense as the publisher continues to erect a paywall strategy to monetise its online properties. This promotion points to a more of the same and a greater focus on loyalty and customer retention. (Mark Choueke, “Data must underpin your creative genius” 3)

What is so indicative of this passage from Marketing Week’s editor is how creativity, intuition, and the big idea are correlated with the management of information and data sets. Managing data well adds value to the brand, retains customers, and drives the limitless potential for growth. We see here as well how populations, brand synergies, information, and the creative intuition of marketing consolidates the customer base and involves marketing in the biopolitical modulation of desire.

What is Biopower?
o “The set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species become the object of a political strategy…” (Foucault, Security, Territory, Population 1)
o From the 18th cent. on relations of power slowly began focusing on human beings as a species with a given range of capacities, “a living species in a living world, to have a body, conditions of existence, probabilities of life, an individual and collective welfare, forces that could be modified…”
o The patenting of the human genome and the development of artificial intelligence; biotechnology and the harnessing of life’s forces for work, trace a new cartography of biopowers. These strategies put in question the forms of life itself. (Maurizio Lazzarato, “From Biopower to Biopolitics”)

Contemporary network society is a complex formation of assemblages of norms, discipline, modulation, data sets, feedbacks, spectacles, buzz, swarms, sensation, habits, technologies, capital, value, sense, and force. But the question of who controls information, and what kind of control operates through information is not an obvious question. Take for instance Gap’s recent branding fiasco. In early October, 2010, the “high street fashion brand” scrapped its new logo just a week after its launch due to a mass of negative feedback on online forums—the new logo was “unsophisticated,” “uncreative,” and “devaluing the brand”—to which Gap responded by trying to initiate a “crowdsourcing” project on Facebook. Crowdsourcing—basically where you get the consumer base to engage in specific tasks designed to add value to brand equity, most often through social networking interfaces—has been criticized by both business executives and business ethicists as getting some serious labor for free, and also for not really reducing marketing costs. And after controversy over crowdsourcing started entering the debate, Gap rather quickly scrapped both the new logo and the crowdsourcing idea. Marka Hansen, Gap North America president, said it wants to evolve (!) the brand, but that in this case they had “missed the opportunity to engage with the online community” (Rosie Baker, “Gap bungles social media brand rescue,” Marketing Week, 14 October, 2010, 4).

The immediate effect of this quick withdrawal of Gap’s brand evolving schemes was to give the sense that the consumer had triumphed over some bad planning and design. But was that in fact the overall outcome? This gave me some pause for thought:

Perhaps by springing an uninspired logo on a public armed with imMedia outlets like Twitter and Facebook, the powers that be realized they would generate an avalanche of discussion and debate online, all of it featuring “The Gap.” Maybe someone very intelligent realized that presenting such a lackluster, off-the-shelf style logo would make people protest in defense of everything they believe that familiar brand stands for, thus rekindling the fires of fandom that had cooled over these past five to ten years. Because that’s exactly what happened. Initially posted on the clothing store’s website without any publicity, the spare new design instantly became a topic of conversation in a way that the store’s understated clothing never has been. Over the course of one short but very intense week, the public reacted with remarkable fervor about a design with remarkable innocuity. Design blogs railed, generating record numbers of comments. Someone set up a parody Twitter feed. Do it yourself apps offered ways to generate your own version. Within three days, the intense pressure (allegedly…) forced the company’s North American President Marka Hansen to take action. She posted a blog on The Huffington Post where, in a reasonable tone, she tried to provide some background. She explained how the company had changed their product line-up to become more relevant (..the 1969 premium denim and the new black pants…), and how their old logo was, well, old (…more than 20 years…), and then she wrote a line that really set some minds spinning: “We want our customers to take notice of Gap and see what it stands for today.” Did they ever. Such a clever ruse to get noticed, and it worked like gangbusters. (Dennis Ryan, ”Did The Gap Intentionally Create Controversy With Their Logo Change Fiasco?”, accessed November 3, 2010).

Who controlled whom in this event? Gap got “chastised” by an avid, “imMediated” consuming public, whose attentions were entirely and intensely focused on the brand: intensive “product involvement.” All in all, it seems that the Gap’s brand equity (without question a mystical concept!) was if anything strengthened by this controversy. Control and interactivity, under the dispensation of user generated media, can no longer be opposed in a dialectical contradiction—control and interactivity fold into each other, like a snake with an infinity of coils…
Speaking of control and interactivity, here’s the abstract from an article I am reading now:

In four experiments, this research sheds light on aesthetic experiences by rigorously investigating behavioral, neural, and psychological properties of package design. We find that aesthetic packages significantly increase the reaction time of consumers’ choice responses; that they are chosen over products with well-known brands in standardized packages, despite higher prices; and that they result in increased activation in the nucleus accumbens and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, according to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The results suggest that reward value plays an important role in aesthetic product experiences. Further, a closer look at psychometric and neuroimaging data finds that a paper-and-pencil measure of affective product involvement correlates with aesthetic product experiences in the brain. Implications for future aesthetics research, package designers, and product managers are discussed. Reimann, et al., “Aesthetic package design: A behavioral, neural, and psychological investigation,” Journal of Consumer Psychology, Volume 20, Issue 4, October 2010, 431-441.

  1. Craig says:

    This is all very well but where’s the actual analysis of the work of the marketing analyst, media agent, the designers. . etc. . have the actual bodies been lost again? How do you set up the relationship between academic knowledge, popular knowledge and practitioner knowledge? Where the reflective critique of the university as marketing agent and producer of control. . . ?

  2. […] 0 Gilles Deleuze never to my knowledge wrote extensively on marketing, but he had some choice words for it in "Postscript on Societies of Control." I quote them below. I lectured today, minutes ago actually, on Foucault's panopticism and Deleuze's modulated control to my first year marketing and communication course at QMUL. I tried to make the argument to them (about 200 very diverse, international students) that marketing is a historically specif … Read More […]

  3. […] Deleuze and Foucault on Marketing as Control (via Media Assemblages) November 8, 2010By Masood Ashraf Raja Gilles Deleuze never to my knowledge wrote extensively on marketing, but he had some choice words for it in "Postscript on Societies of Control." I quote them below. I lectured today, minutes ago actually, on Foucault's panopticism and Deleuze's modulated control to my first year marketing and communication course at QMUL. I tried to make the argument to them (about 200 very diverse, international students) that marketing is a historically specif … Read More […]

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