Marketer as Enemy a Peculiar Brand of Philosophy
A delicious quip from ancient Greece came to mind on gagging through pop-philosopher Mark Kingwell's National Post column:
Demosthenes: "The Athenians will kill you some day when they are in a rage."
Phocion: "And you, when they are in their senses."
The editorial was a trendy mumbo-jumbo that ought to deface the more frivolous sections of a newspaper. Following a barrage of incoherent verbiage about "cross-over," "synergy," and "total brand experience," Kingwell offered up a hackneyed assault on Bill Gates and his profits.
A primer for the new sophistry infesting the left is Naomi Klein's book "No Logo: Taking Aim At the Brand Bullies." Kingwell is credited with acting as Klein's mentor while she assembled her miscellany. A sound-bite bellwether in her own right, Klein uses terms such as "brand bullies," "brand bombing," and "brand convergence,"—echoed in Kingwell's prolix—to underscore that the masses buy into a vision of the world an evil capitalist cabal sells for its own gain. In both instances, the reader should avoid confusing an orgy of alliteration with conscious thought.
Gates has it all wrong, claims Kingwell's. Yes, Microsoft makes pretty good software, allows the Professor, although naturally it stole its ideas. And Gates' billion-dollar enterprise has marketed itself with "moderate success." But since life is all about packaging, not substance (groundbreaking idea), Gates should have "crossed over" to marketing something unconnected to software, like a "Gates World," or a "Microshuttle" air-service. Instead of joining the "cross over" trend, laments Kingwell, supposedly in an attempt at cynicism, Gates makes us watch his attempts to "justify his own outrageous wealth."
No less incoherent is Kingwell's view of wealth. Why is the wealth of Gates outrageous? Only, I guess, if your departing point is that Gates forced all those who bought the bundled Windows Operating System and Internet Explorer to do so at the point of a gun.
Here's the rub: There is no bullying in a supply-and-demand free market. When a sovereign consumer decides to part with the $128 in lieu of Gates' Windows and Explorer deal, it is because he values the product more than the cash. Are people too simple to execute this basic cost-benefit evaluation? Had the consumer valued the Netscape, LINUX, or SOLARIS products—none of which offered a combined Internet browser and OS at a rock-bottom price—more than the cash these companies were demanding for their cumbersome alternatives, buyers would have purchased those instead of giving Gates the larger market share.
Bill Gates' market share is derived from the consumer's vote of confidence. When Joe average invested in the bundled products, he voted with his cash for the most value he could get. Indeed, democratic capitalism is a fail-safe mechanism that ensures the capitalist is roped into serving the masses. If he fails to serve, absent government intervention, the entrepreneur doesn't profit. Much as I would like the rarified music of Bela Bartok to sell millions, the masses have spoken. Through their buying power, they decide what should be produced, by whom and in what quantities, and it is brand Britney (Spears) the masses want most.
Concealed in Kingwell's sneering is the deep contempt the left holds for the no-longer-noble proletariat. So stupid are people, such pawns of package are they, that they lap up products they neither need nor want. Kingwell's apoplexy is really an unintentional paean to capitalism. For it is thanks to mass production, namely capitalism, that the average incomes in North America are so high. And it is capitalism that explains why goods that were once luxuries reserved for few—such as good food and clothing, vehicles, homes, computers, art, entertainment, and foreign travel—are now mass-market commodities. The average man can, very plainly, afford to buy fluff over real stuff.
Why a man so hard at work on his own brand would strike such a pose against marketing is unclear. Kingwell's disdain for wealth is less baffling. Unlikely as it is to be based in scriptures, and very definitely not on the "Jewish legal tradition according to which wealth honestly acquired is a blessing," Kingwell's disdain for wealth is probably borne of the dirigistic impulse to replace "the social order in which the most ingenious citizens are impelled to serve the masses," in the words of economist Ludwig von Mises, with a system "in which they no longer will be the customers who give the orders, but wards of an omnipotent authority." Boring…
©2000 By Ilana Mercer
A version of this column appeared in The Calgary Herald