Are shameless product placements keeping you from enjoying your movie-viewing experience? Have you ever felt assaulted by pop-up ads and sidebars while trying to read something on the internet? These are some of the less insidious advertising techniques deployed to manipulate you into buying stuff you never knew you needed. Take a tour through the history of advertising, and explore the escalation of mind games and marketing mania that has fueled consumerism and the capitalist conflagration, leaving us on the brink of a climate meltdown. But not to worry, we’ve seen plenty of ads for products to ease your anxiety about the environment or any existential threat you might encounter. For episode notes and more information, please visit our website.

Transcript

Jason Bradford

Hi, I’m Jason Bradford.

Asher Miller

I’m Asher Miller.

Rob Dietz

and I’m Rob Dietz. Welcome to Crazy Town where Mad Men meets Mad Max.

Melody Travers

This is producer Melody Travers. In this season of Crazy Town, Jason, Asher, and Rob are exploring the watershed moments in history that have led humanity into the cascading crises we face in the 21st century. Today’s episode is about advertising, and how it has become ubiquitous and more potent over time. The watershed moment took place in 1927. At the time, the estimated carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was 308 parts per million, and the global human population was 2 billion.

Rob Dietz

Hey, Jason, Asher, you know how much I love movies, right?

Jason Bradford

We do. Our listeners know how much you love them.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, well, what it really is, it’s that feeling of getting lost in the story. I mean, that can happen with other media, books, maybe even a podcast here and there, or you know, something else. But movies kind of have a magic to me. I love the way the story and the imagery and the sound all come together. And they can wash over you and I lose track of time. I get lost in it when it’s a good movie.

Asher Miller

Yeah, sure.

Rob Dietz

Okay, well, there’s a key concept for that to be able to happen to you. It’s called suspension of disbelief.

Jason Bradford

Or kind of losing your cognitive function.

Jason Bradford

You go along for the ride basically. Like this thing – the fact that people are floating in outer space and shooting space aliens.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I mean, it’s amazing. One of the more recent movies where I got lost in it was the animated Spider Man, Into the Spider Verse. It came out in 2018. And it’s a ridiculous movie if you analyze the likelihood of these events occurring, but if you set aside your disbelief and you’re, like you said, along for the ride.

Jason Bradford

I can’t take it when they film in the wrong location and the plants are wrong.

Rob Dietz

Yes.

Asher Miller

So this is not surprising.

Rob Dietz

This is the kind of thing that takes you where you can no longer suspend your disbelief.

Jason Bradford

You’re not in New England, you’re in Florida! I see Spanish moss, shut up!

Rob Dietz

Well, there’s other things too, right? Like really bad special effects that do it. Or super cheesy dialogue. But I gotta tell you the thing – Jason, you’ve revealed the thing that takes you out of that. For me, it’s the shameless product placement.

Jason Bradford

That’s a good stuff.

Jason Bradford

That’s the only reason I go to watch films is I want to know what products . . .

Rob Dietz

Wow. Well, maybe you were  around at our watershed moment this time. 1927. The movie was “Wings.” Did you see that in the theater when it came out?

Asher Miller

How old do you think I am?

Jason Bradford

Paul McCartney’s group after the Beatles?

Asher Miller

Yeah, exactly.

Rob Dietz

Old? Are we talking about your actual age? Or how old your soul is?

Jason Bradford

And we know how old my soul is.

Rob Dietz

So, “Wings” was a silent film about two World War I pilots. It actually was the first winner of the Academy Award

Jason Bradford

Only entrant probably.

Rob Dietz

Maybe so. But that’s not why it was the watershed moment. It’s the first time that a Hollywood movie had a product placement.

Asher Miller

What in 1927? Holy shit!

Rob Dietz

Yeah, the two pilots are sitting there and a Hershey’s bar falls out of the guy’s bag.

Jason Bradford

I mean, it’s a great thing to have when you’re up in the air as a fly boy, you just need a quick calorie. I mean, totally. I recommend Hershey’s for that.

Jason Bradford

It was like a real product placement? It was just wasn’t just a random prop?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, no. You know, when you’re making a movie, every single scene is perfectly thought out.

Jason Bradford

They like zoom in on a Hershey’s bar?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, they’re trying to sell Hershey’s bars.

Asher Miller

Nice.

Rob Dietz

And I had my own experience with this when I was about 10 years old. “Superman 2” came out, and it was the number one grossing movie the summer, I think, of 1981. And I remember, I’m watching it and then they get to this big fight in the middle of the movie where the bad guys are super people also.

Jason Bradford

Yes, they came from the same planet as Superman. I remember this.

Asher Miller

Krypton, wasn’t it?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, Krypton. The leader is General Zod, played by Terence Stamp.

Asher Miller

How the fuck do you know this?

Jason Bradford

It’s crazy.

Rob Dietz

Come on, who doesn’t know this? So he picks up Superman, played by Christopher Reeves.

Jason Bradford

I knew that.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Throws him through a Marlboro truck.

Asher Miller

They were advertising for Marlboro.

Rob Dietz

So not to be outdone, Superman picks up General Zod and throws him into a massive electrified Coca Cola sign which explodes in glory.

Jason Bradford

Both of those are great incredibly addictive products.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. Well, so I mean, it blew me away because you know, I’m a 10 year old kid and like, why did they just get thrown through a Marlboro truck? Why does that –

Jason Bradford

So you were actually aware enough at that time to think about that?

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Really, like I said, this is the thing that takes me out of being able to suspend disbelief.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, pretty good.

Rob Dietz

It’s ridiculous.

Asher Miller

You have a pretty bizarre brain.

Rob Dietz

I don’t disagree with you. You’re old soul, I’m bizarre brain, Jason is what?

Asher Miller

These are our superpower names?

Rob Dietz

Right. Well, so this whole thing of product placement has been ramping up over time. Heineken, you know that delicious beer Heineken?

Jason Bradford

Right. Refreshing.

Asher Miller

My people made that beer.

Rob Dietz

They paid $45 million for seven seconds of screen time in a 2012 James Bond movie.

Jason Bradford

I remember that movie, but I don’t remember the Heineken part. I’m sorry.

Asher Miller

Don’t tell them. They’re going to be so bummed.

Rob Dietz

You don’t know. Maybe you’ve been drinking a lot of Heineken as a direct result.

Jason Bradford

I’m a local microbrewery guy.

Asher Miller

Of course you are.

Jason Bradford

Fancy.

Rob Dietz

Well, I gotta take us to the next generation of Superman. It was quaint what happened in the Superman I was describing.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, okay.

Rob Dietz

In 2013, they kind of remade the story in a movie called “Man of Steel.” And before the movie hit the theaters, they had already made $170 million by selling ads.

Jason Bradford

Wow. Product placement ads?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, product placements.

Asher Miller

In the film?

Rob Dietz

In the movie. Yeah, they’re all over. Like one of the guys works at IHOP. And there’s IHOP imagery everywhere.

Asher Miller

So you know, my stepmother, her sister, this is what she does for a living – product placement for films.

Asher Miller

Oh, wow.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And, I mean, I’ve talked to her a little bit about it, but she tries to be very thoughtful about it to make the products fit the characters.

Rob Dietz

She would ask, what kind of truck would Zod throw Superman through?

Asher Miller

Exactly. I’m sure that’s exactly what it is. It’s probably a little different with these mega budget superhero action films than probably the films that she’s doing, right?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, so for a kids movie, she’s gonna go out for Toys-R-Us as a sponsor.

Asher Miller

They’re gone dude.

Jason Bradford

They are?

Asher Miller

They’re out of business.

Jason Bradford

Halboro or something, or Hasbro? I don’t know.

Jason Bradford

So it’s interesting to talk about the product placement stuff, but you know, obviously that’s not the beginning of advertising. You’re talking about a watershed moment, but –

Rob Dietz

No, no. I just had to go with the kind of manipulative aspect of that throwing a product into a movie.

Asher Miller

But can we just do like a quick scan of history on advertising? Just for a second?

Jason Bradford

You do it. I don’t want to.

Asher Miller

Okay. I’m actually gonna give some props to a website called softcube.com who actually had a, I thought it really interesting, history of advertising.

Jason Bradford

They’re paying us for this, right?

Jason Bradford

Exactly. We’re moving from product placement. This was product placement. Now you’re making like a clear sponsorship.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, you lost the chance for influencer marketing.

Jason Bradford

There’s no more suspension of disbelief.

Asher Miller

Right. So the first case of advertising that they point to actually comes from a guy named James Playsted Wood who wrote a book called, “The Story of Advertising.” And he talks about how these archeologists found what is considered to be the first known written ad that was written in Thebes around 3000 BCE. Long time ago. Guess what it was for. Guess what that ad was for?

Rob Dietz

Oh my Lord. Togas

Jason Bradford

Okay, wait, where was it?

Asher Miller

Egypt? Ancient Egypt.

Jason Bradford

Egypt. Oh, gosh.

Rob Dietz

It was for pyramid bricks.

Jason Bradford

Wine. It was for wine.

Jason Bradford

Interesting. Nope. Slaves. So, I’m actually going to read this to you. Okay? Here’s the ad. It’s actually brilliant. “The man slave, Shem, having run away from his good master, Hapu the Weaver. All good citizens of Thebes are enjoined to help return him. He is Hittite, five foot two inches tall. A ruddy complexion and brown eyes. For news of his whereabouts, half a gold coin is offered. And for his return to the shop of Hapu the Weaver, where the best cloth woven to your desires, a whole gold coin is offered.” So he’s actually advertising his store, his shop, as part of this.

Rob Dietz

Look how he slipped that in.

Jason Bradford

That’s ingenious.

Asher Miller

Yeah, that’s freaking beautiful. Isn’t that great? But so there are different forms that happen over time. I mean, in China over 1000 years ago, the government actually required salespersons to sign their products with a logo so that they could track it.

Jason Bradford

Oh, the logo industry starts. Nice.

Asher Miller

There were spamming in medieval books. So the way that would happen is scribes would be hired, as people got more literate, more people reading books. Even before the Gutenberg Press, there were scribes who would make copies of books, right? And the best scribes are hired to do these things. So there’s a case of a scribe named Herneis, who wrote the following note in a book that you’d copy for a client. In the very end, the last page of it, “if someone would like such a handsome book, come and look me up in Paris across the Notre Dame Cathedral.” So he’s like, putting this in. It’s not like the guy who paid him to copy this thing for him was like, “Yeah, go ahead and advertise in it.” But he’s doing that.

Jason Bradford

I like how your history of advertisers is already putting them in kind of the slime category.

Asher Miller

Totally, yeah. Now, of course, advertising really picks up with newspapers, right? You get the printing press, and you get newspapers and books, and all these things. And newspapers are running ads back to the early 1700’s. But it was really like around the 19th century, 1836. There was the first newspaper called, “The Press” that managed to actually reduce the price that the reader would have to pay for the newspaper by subsidizing it through advertising. Which I think was a really seminal moment. And then the first advertising agency in the United States was founded in 1841. The first radio ad was released in 1922.

Jason Bradford

I think that’s the key. Okay? I’m glad you mentioned that radio ad because what we’re talking about here, and why we’re considering sort of the watershed moment being this era in the 1920’s is that now you’re getting the mass distribution of advertising through media that can go nationwide. Because newspapers used to be pretty local and stuff. And so it wasn’t really… you could get like AM radio. Boom! And then of course, television, and boom! And then movies distributed all over. And so these new technologies were important. And we’re going to get into, later, how this sort of parallels other changes in society, like mass production.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. But first, I want to stick with the development of the ads themselves. I mean, this is all going to tie in, I think, like you’re saying Jason with broader trends of society. But let’s run through some things that were actually happening in advertising as sort of a post watershed moment. And where I want to take this is into the realm of psychology and the study of human behavior. This was a field that was really developing in this era, as well.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, it was new.

Rob Dietz

And really expanding and coming on in the post-war era.

Jason Bradford

Freud was the first ad man, right?

Rob Dietz

Well, I’ve got a villain for you guys who kind of likens himself as a Freudian disciple. Guy named Ernest Dichter.

Jason Bradford

Wait, what was it? Ernest . . . Dichter. It’s perfect.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. So Ernest Dichter was a Freudian. He was a Freudian psychoanalyst, who was called the Freud of Madison Avenue.

Asher Miller

Oh my God. No.

Rob Dietz

So he actually trained in Vienna. At one point he lived on the same street that Freud had lived on. He was a guy who fled Europe in 1938 to get away from the Nazis.

Asher Miller

He wasn’t a Jew, right?

Jason Bradford

That was a good move.

Rob Dietz

I don’t know, actually. But he he ended up moving to New York, and he became a consultant to the ad agencies.

Asher Miller

Interesting.

Rob Dietz

And one of his big things that he brought to the table here was the study of people in focus groups. So what he was interested in is uncovering what’s the behavior here that I can capitalize on to sell more products. And so I’ll give you a couple of examples. In the early ’50s, Betty Crocker, the confectionery company.

Jason Bradford

Love that stuff. Loved Betty Crocker products. Wonderful, wonderful. Yeah, I grew up on that. It makes me comfortable.

Rob Dietz

You’re trying to do it again. The sponsor thing. People are going to suspend disbelief and this podcast. . .

Asher Miller

Is Betty Crocker still in business?

Jason Bradford

Oh, yeah, they’re wonderful cakes.

Rob Dietz

She lives next door. Well, okay, so they had this instant cake mix, and it was not selling very well. And so he assembles a focus group and what he finds out is that women who were baking these cakes felt guilty because it was sort of like taking away the work that they were doing.

Rob Dietz

Like just add water. It wasn’t hard enough.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it’s too easy. Seriously. Just pour water in. So the key that he came up with is that we’ve got to have them still crack an egg and mix it in.

Jason Bradford

Frickin’ brilliant.

Asher Miller

Yeah, wow.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. And sales soared after that.

Jason Bradford

Ah, so it’s really understanding the motivation of people. That’s really interesting. And their identity, I guess.

Rob Dietz

Right. So  –  Oh, Jason is slow clapping it.

Jason Bradford

I love this story.

Rob Dietz

Here’s one other example of Dichter’s psychological games. He was kind of behind the first TV commercial for Barbie in 1959. And the thing was, after doing focus groups and whatnot, they ended up selling her as a sort of fashion oriented role model for children rather than adults.

Jason Bradford

I mean, she was an incredible role model, Barbie.

Rob Dietz

But I mean, they didn’t mention dolls in the ads. They’re like, this is what you aspire to be.

Jason Bradford

How interesting.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, but in true villain, psychoanalyst fashion, Dichter, of course, suggested enlarging Barbies breasts.

Jason Bradford

Shit.

Rob Dietz

Going to the lowest common denominator here.

Asher Miller

Oh my god. Lovely.

Jason Bradford

Well, I mean, things have just gotten better since.

Asher Miller

Yeah, that’s true.

Rob Dietz

That’s always a theme here. Things just keep getting better and better.

Jason Bradford

Progress. So you know, I think that what happened next, and Naomi Klein gets into this in her book, “No Logo.” It’s a shift beyond products to brands.

Rob Dietz

Oh, so like when they take the hot iron and push it into your skin?

Jason Bradford

Yes. That is a good one. No, but I mean like you know, the whole brands themselves become the thing that’s being sold. So the, what do they represent? So what brands represent you? Or you know, think about it guys.

Rob Dietz

Oh, yeah. I’m wearing a North Face sweatshirt right now which means I can climb sheer cliffs of ice one handed in winter.

Jason Bradford

Right. So when you walk around with that, people know what a badass outdoorsman you are.

Rob Dietz

That’s right.

Jason Bradford

That’s your brand image. What about you, Asher?

Asher Miller

Kind of it’s a tough one. I’m thinking L’Oreal.

Jason Bradford

Oh, yeah, very good. Yeah, very good. That’s wonderful. I see that in you. I’m a Lululemon guy myself.

Asher Miller

Are you?

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So okay, Klein argues that there’s this profound shift that happens in the 1980’s. And they’re not necessarily producers. These big corporations aren’t so worried about producing, like making stuff. They’re marketing the ideals behind the brand. And so Klein quotes, “what these companies produced primarily were not things but images of their brands.” And, for example, Philip Morris, who was having an image problem at the time in 1988.

Asher Miller

I wonder why?

Rob Dietz

Well, it was it was right after Superman got thrown through their truck.

Asher Miller

Yeah, that was the turning point.

Jason Bradford

So in 1988, Philip Morris, needing to rebrand, purchases Kraft Foods for $12.6 billion.

Rob Dietz

Because Velveeta will always help your image.

Asher Miller

Kraft Singles.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, exactly. This was six times what you know, analysts thought it was worth but I think they were probably desperate to get a new image right. And they are owning now the Kraft brand.

Jason Bradford

What people don’t realize is that directly led to the 6x Super Bowl champion Patriots.

Asher Miller

Oh, right.

Jason Bradford

Oh, interesting.

Rob Dietz

It also led to the marketing of cheese cigarettes, which are really, really terrible.

Jason Bradford

Those were a flop. Yeah. Didn’t work out very well. Trying to light the tips on them just melted.

Rob Dietz

Oh, melted cheese right at your fingertips.

Asher Miller

Well, there’s Velveeta for you.

Jason Bradford

So you know, Polaroid no longer is selling cameras.

Jason Bradford

Actually, you’re right. They are no longer selling –

Rob Dietz

No, no, there’s a comeback. They’re kind of kitschy, fun. . .

Jason Bradford

But it is about like, you know, the social lubricant that happens when you have instant photos in your party. These kinds of things. And IBM is selling business solutions, not computers.

Rob Dietz

Well again, true. They’re probably not selling computers anymore.

Jason Bradford

Right.

Asher Miller

Well, Volvo tried to make a brand change from selling cars to moving people. They’re still selling cars. That didn’t work very well.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, yeah. Beyond Petroleum?

Jason Bradford

Oh, that didn’t quite work.

Asher Miller

No, no.

Asher Miller

That’s called greenwashing.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. So any others you can think of, guys? Come on.

Asher Miller

Well, actually, I think it’s interesting because when you think about brand identity, people tying their identity to a brand, I remember like in the sort of doldrum days of Apple  –

Jason Bradford

Right, so this is like the mid ’90s?

Asher Miller

I would say late ’80s into the ’90s. Apple had been a hot company when they first came out with personal computers and and then Microsoft just absolutely kicked ass. You know, those PC based company selling computers. And Apple wasn’t successful. They became very niche. You know, it’s hard for the younger generations to imagine now, but it wasn’t till the the iPod and then they iPhone that Apple really made a huge comeback. And now like one of the biggest companies in the world. But for a while there, it was like this really niche, almost like a 1% of the market. And I knew people who were like hardcore Apple users, and they love the fact that it was a pain in the ass to have this computer because there was no software you could use. It was all like, you know, none of it was Microsoft based. But for them, it was like a point of pride. Because they’re bucking sort of –

Rob Dietz

Look at me! I’ve got a useless box on my desk!

Jason Bradford

They seemed to go after the creatives — the people doing digital imagery.

Jason Bradford

And then remember, they did that really successful “Think Different” ad campaign when they had Einstein in it.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, so counter to the corporate sort of IBM suit guys. Yeah.

Rob Dietz

Well, then you of course get it taken up to the next level where famous brands often don’t make a damn thing anymore. They just slap their names on something and brand it. The obvious one in the United States is Donald Trump. He buys a hotel, he buys someone’s wine, and sticks his name on it.

Jason Bradford

But he’s a rancher, right? Because he’s got a whole steak line.

Rob Dietz

Oh, yeah, of course. Yeah.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. I see him out in the ranch.

Asher Miller

Yeah, well, I think the thing with Trump there is I mean, he was a businessman, he has businesses, but most of his money didn’t come from development. It was coming from licensing his name to shit, right? And I think it’s a good point, which is now celebrities think of themselves as a brand. And they very much focus on what they do with themselves in the public as a brand.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, you brought this whole topic up, Jason, as a progression of the insidiousness of advertising. I’m going to take us to the next set of nastier techniques. And I want to start there with something that’s called stigma marketing. And I read about this in a Heath Brothers book. And the example they use was the selling of dandruff shampoo in China. And what happened is, dandruff was not considered a problem in China. I mean, people had dandruff, but nobody cared. Okay, so the dandruff shampoo, I think it was Head and Shoulders had to make people care, right? So they basically inserted this anxiety into the Chinese population like, Oh, my God, you have dandruff, that’s a horrible social problem. And look, we’ve got the solution for you!

Jason Bradford

That’s genius.

Asher Miller

Wow. They invented an issue.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it’s really gross.

Jason Bradford

And they have a billion consumers now.

Rob Dietz

And really manipulative.

Asher Miller

Well, that reminds me of, and I can’t remember the name of the company and they’re not sponsoring us anyway so fuck them. One of these pharmaceutical companies was working on a medicine, I don’t even know it was for, it was for a health issue. But they found that one of the side effects of taking the medicines is that it grew people’s eyelashes out.

Jason Bradford

Oh, I could use that.

Asher Miller

Right? So they’re like, well, what do we do with this thing? We sunk all this money into this thing. It doesn’t really work very well. But can we do anything with this side effect? And so they actually kind of invented a disease, you know what I mean? And then started promoting and selling this product.

Jason Bradford

Is it an eyelash disease?

Asher Miller

Yeah, short eyelashes. There’s a cure to this. I think Brooke Shields was like a rep for this company. I can’t remember what the hell it was. Suddenly, women are being told, your eyelashes are too short. It’s a big problem. Buy this drug.

Jason Bradford

Oh, the whole mascara industry is probably pissed.

Rob Dietz

Well and who knows what the other side effects of that medication were?

Jason Bradford

Well, they’ll figure out another way to sell it. So we’re talking about nastier techniques. We gotta get into sort of the online era.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, yeah. That’s really where I feel like the potential has been realized.

Asher Miller

So I want to tell you about a guy named Ethan Zuckerman. And some of our listeners may or may be familiar with this story. But he’s now an associate professor of public policy and communication information at the University of Massachusetts. I think before he was at MIT. In 2014, he wrote kind of like a mea culpa piece in The Atlantic, apologizing for his role in what he calls the original sin of the internet. And that was its dependence on advertising. So he’s famous, or infamous, for creating the pop up ad.

Jason Bradford

Oh, nice.

Asher Miller

And here’s the story:

Rob Dietz

Oh, who doesn’t love a great pop up ad?

Asher Miller

Actually, I’ve wondered, younger people probably don’t even know what we’re talking about with pop up ads. People our age and older who grew up in the early days of the Internet know what a fucking nightmare it could be. It was like pop pop pop pop pop.

Rob Dietz

You could get like 20 ads just on top of each other, just blasting you in the face.

Jason Bradford

Clicking, clickling, clicking.

Rob Dietz

It almost felt like getting punched.

Asher Miller

So he’s the guy who fucking created this. And here’s what happened: He was working in a company called Tripod in the 1990s. They wound up becoming a web page hosting provider. So nowadays, you know, it’s really easy to create a web page, have a host or whatever, a whole website. They have all these tools. In the early days, that was really hard. And people didn’t have like robust websites. They had web pages, right. So there are sites like geocities and other places where you can kind of like, express yourself on the internet. And so they had something like that. And they tried different ways of figuring out how to financially support this. And the only thing that actually worked for them was selling advertising. So they were selling these banner ads at the top of these people’s web pages. And they were served up randomly, right? They got advertisers, they got users, they just randomly served up ads on people’s pages. Until one day this like major car company freaked out because one of their ads was running on a web page that was like, basically all about celebrating anal sex. And they’re like, “No, we don’t want to bring in advertising on this page.”

Jason Bradford

Who’s going to advertise anal sex? What are you talking about?

Rob Dietz

No, no, they’re advertising the car on an anal sex webpage.

Asher Miller

Yeah, they didn’t want their car ad on a page that was about anal sex.

Jason Bradford

Oh, I got confused.

Asher Miller

Yes, you did.

Rob Dietz

Of course, at that time, what was it, 97% of web pages were about anal sex probably.

Asher Miller

So you know, they freak out. So Ethan creates basically a pop up ad, which allows there to be some distance, right? It’s not the banner image on the page. It’s like a separate pop up. The separate window that pops up on the computer.

Rob Dietz

It’s like a technicality.

Jason Bradford

I know, it is.

Rob Dietz

It’s not really on that page.

Jason Bradford

It’s like cracking an egg for Betty Crocker.

Asher Miller

But what’s more, I think, more profoundly important about all this stuff is it’s not so much the annoyance of the popup ads, which eventually people figured out. They created popup blockers, and that didn’t work anymore as a way of generating revenue, right. But it was really about the fact that to maximize these advertising dollars, you had to know something about the user in order to serve the right ads, right? So that led us down this road of basically, fuck privacy. The user is the product now. And we’re going to try to capture as much information about our users as possible in order to target them with advertising.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that is a really big, really important turning point, I think in ramping up how manipulative and insidious ads are. There’s another thing that was happening kind of soon after that too, though, which is the automation of advertising processes. And I didn’t really know much about this. I mean, I suspected there’s all kinds of processes going on to figure out what ad I get. But there’s a guy named Tim Long who wrote a book in 2020 called, “Subprime Attention Crisis.” And he talks about one of the sort of behind the scenes processes that happens when you get an ad on a website or social media or wherever. And he says the advertisements that you see online are not predetermined. At the moment you click the link and load up the page, a signal from the ad server triggers an instantaneous auction. You know, who’s gonna buy, who’s gonna buy? $20, $20. . .

Asher Miller

It’s as fast as the speed of light.

Rob Dietz

It is. Exactly. He says, this auction determines which ad is going to get delivered to you. The highest bidder gets to load its ad on the website and into your eyeballs. That’s what he says in the book, the process happens at the speed of light.

Jason Bradford

Oh, that’s incredible. There’s an auction going on where AIs are basically managing it all.

Rob Dietz

Yeah.

Jason Bradford

It’s like how they buy and sell stocks nowadays.

Jason Bradford

What’s interesting too is just there’s a whole field of psychology in advertising, right? And how fucking devious and also clever all that is in terms of understanding human psychology and those things. But now, with the technology the way it is and their ability to track it’s just about your actual behavior. You don’t need to study people, do you know what I mean?  Do focus groups and try to understand, well you know, suburban women are like this . . . They can actually track where you are on a webpage, what you’re looking at.

Jason Bradford

How long you hover.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and they just serve up shit based upon what you’ve just looked at.

Rob Dietz

Makes old Dichter look pretty quaint, doesn’t it?

Jason Bradford

Now something I’m trying to get into guys, honestly, is to become an influencer.

Asher Miller

Well, you already an influencer to me.

Jason Bradford

Well, thank you. And I’ve got this YouTube channel for my farm, Sol Cycle Farm, on YouTube, and I’ve only got 116 subscribers.

Rob Dietz

I think that means you’re not an influencer.

Jason Bradford

But this is a process.

Asher Miller

Sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh.

Jason Bradford

No, no. I’ve looked into this carefully because I’m trying to become an influencer. If I get 1000 subscribers, I can get ad revenue and I think there’s lots of opportunities for me because did you see that Tucker Carlson special where the guy had the light box on his junk?

Asher Miller

You might have to explain –

Rob Dietz

I did not (and I don’t think I want to) hear this.

Asher Miller

Did you say light box on his junk?

Jason Bradford

It’s tanning the gonads to improve your testosterone output. And I think –

Asher Miller

Oh, it’s like a red light kind of thing.

Jason Bradford

It’s that men need to be more manly. And you know I’m a farmer, I know all about light and how important it is. I’m a natural for some product like that or others.

Rob Dietz

Right. You’re a manly man.

Jason Bradford

I’m a manly man doing manly things.

Asher Miller

And you farm in the buff?

Jason Bradford

Yeah, right. Exactly. Like everybody on this show.

Rob Dietz

I was right with my prediction. I really didn’t want to hear about it.

Jason Bradford

But, you know, anyway. So  I’m hopeful.

Rob Dietz

Good luck with that.

Jason Bradford

This is why you’re pitching our listeners to go and subscribe to Sol Cycle Farm on YouTube.

Jason Bradford

And maybe they can have ads.

Asher Miller

It’s a win-win for everyone.

Rob Dietz

The problem is nobody knows how to spell “Sol.” They’re thinking S-o-u-l.

Jason Bradford

No, it’s S-o-l like the sun.

Asher Miller

I thought it was S-o-l-e?

Rob Dietz

It is because it’s one guy.

Asher Miller

The English language is really messed up.

Jason Bradford

Okay, seriously, though. If we can be serious? The influencer marketing system is getting kind of huge as well. This is the other thing. And this guy, Sinan Aral in his book, “The Hype Machine” talks about these sorts of special people that are now empowered by social media to spread behavior change. It’s a $10 billion a year industry.

Jason Bradford

And I’m sure it’s growing actually, exponentially.

Jason Bradford

It’s growing huge. There’s some great examples. People who will get these products, and this one woman for example, Arielle Charnas, is an influencer. And when she posted a picture of the Peter Thomas Roth Rose Stem Cell Bio Repair Gel Mask to Snapchat in 2016 –

Jason Bradford

Snapchat?

Jason Bradford

Snapchat, sorry. Snapshot, whatever.

Rob Dietz

Showing your age there.. Are you on Snapshot these days? Are you on Polaroids now?

Jason Bradford

I got an account on MySpace as well so look for me there. Anyhow, you know, the company was thrilled she sold $17,565 worth of masks in a day. And then though, she steps up. She she’s now partnering with-

Rob Dietz

Can we just stop for a second and talk about the naming of their product? Maybe they need some marketing help there. I don’t know. What did you call it? The stem cell bio?

Jason Bradford

Repair gel mask.

Jason Bradford

I think you’re  not understanding this. This is about having as many keywords in your product name as possible.

Rob Dietz

Smart, smart. Always.

Jason Bradford

But then she collaborates with Nordstroms. And she helps sell a million dollars in the first 24 hours of Nordstrom products, crashing their website.

Asher Miller

Nice.

Jason Bradford

Within an hour of the release. And in general they estimate an additional $4 to $5 million in sales.

Jason Bradford

Good deal for them.

Jason Bradford

Yeah So these influencers, you know, are important. And Sol (S-o-l) Cycle farm. And if I get 1000 subscribers, I can become an influencer too. And get ads.

Rob Dietz

This is like our first time we’ve had an actual real sponsor in this show, isn’t it?

Jason Bradford

Well, I haven’t spent any money it.

Rob Dietz

That’s true. That is true. Well, okay, so this whole notion of collecting data on people and selling to them goes under the name micro targeting and I just gotta say, talking about the increasing levels of insidiousness, how do I say, evilness, heinousness, bullshittyousness. It drives me nuts. You have all this personal data that’s being collected on you just so they can sell you more shit.

Jason Bradford

Well, the crazy stuff is for example is we’re getting our shows together and we’ll talk about the show. And we’ll talk about like Tony Robbins, Joel Osteen. . .

Rob Dietz

Joel Osteen. You had that damn inspiration box and I’m getting ads for it.

Jason Bradford

Right. Next thing you know, we’re blowing up with ads about the stupid stuff we talk about. They’re listening.

Rob Dietz

Yes. That is the worst the way your devices and apps are listening and tracking and then selling based on that.

Asher Miller

You don’t want ads for Joel Osteen inspiration cube?

Jason Bradford

or Tony Robbins?

Rob Dietz

I do not. So yeah, I guess in summary, shit has gotten bad.

Jason Bradford

Okay, well, let’s go back to sort of like the why we’re talking about all this and how this all came to be. And think about where we are. We’re in the Great Depression, the 1920s.

Jason Bradford

Well, yeah, 1920s-1930s. Right. And the roaring 20s. And then the depression. And we come out of the of the Second World War, and we just ramped up industrial production like crazy for the war. And now we have all this sort of surplus production, and we’re in a Cold War. We’re trying to sell capitalism and democracy and our way of life to the world. And so there was this huge drive, basically, to get the people that went through the Depression. And were rationing during a war to finally say, oh, no, I’m going to basically fall for the American dream and just go for it. So the advertising industry essentially was telling people that this is what you need to do now, right? And it all fit together with improvements and credit systems and financing and all the big wave of home buying and the suburbia and the freeway system with the transportation. And they did this knowingly. This was not just accidental. They saw that it was happening. So here’s a quote from a guy, the economist and marketer, Victor, how would you say it?

Asher Miller

LeBow.

Jason Bradford

LeBow. Okay. His article, “Price Competition,” in 1955 in the Journal of Retailing –

Asher Miller

I mean, stimulating reading by the way.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that is a that was a top journal The Journal of Retailing.

Jason Bradford

The Journal of Retailing. Yeah. Okay. He says, quote, “Our enormous, productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life. That we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals. That we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfactions in consumption. The measure of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige is now to be found in our consumptive patterns. The very meaning and significance of our lives today, expressed in consumptive terms.” Is this another guy we want to punch in the face?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, probably.

Jason Bradford

Oh, God. That’s 1955, folks.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And we’ve talked a lot about Marvin Harris, right, in cultural materialism. The whole idea that sort of infrastructure, the physical world, is the driver of the structures or political systems, economic systems in our superstructure or belief systems. And I think it’s worth pointing out here that we have a situation where he’s basically saying the productive capacity of industry, right? We’ve talked about fossil fuels and the harnessing of fossil fuels. We’ve talked about industrialization, the development of technologies. We’ve talked about things like assembly lines, and efficiency, and the production and manufacturing of stuff. All that has come together to create a whole bunch of shit that is cheap to produce and can be done on a massive scale. But you need people to buy it. You need people to want it. And so it was kind of like the same sort of dynamic of driving this industry of advertising to look at how you create that domain.

Jason Bradford

Yeah, it’s incredible to see how it’s put into stark terms of the very meaning and significance of our lives.

Asher Miller

But it came to these structural things. I mean, you talked a bit about this. They looked at these other barriers to this. One was this identity stuff, wanting to people to desire something, something that they might not even need, right? But the other is making it easy for people to actually buy shit. So easy credit, going to debt, credit cards, all that stuff. And all of it to serve the growth imperative because their economic system needed to grow. So it’s part of this larger system that we’re dealing with.

Rob Dietz

Yeah. Well, you know, you talk about LeBow just being completely frank about this and sort of laying his cards on the table in a, I guess it was a public journal.

Jason Bradford

Very nice journal.

Rob Dietz

Right. Yeah. I mean, it almost sounds like a secret missive that somebody intercepted but it’s not. And Dichter, the other villain of this advertising story, he actually kind of like LeBow laid his cards on the table, too. But there’s a bit of an irony to it because he thought he was doing well. Basically, his issue was that he thought capitalism and all of this consumerism, this sort of buying of stuff, was the way to have a thriving democracy. And so he and his co-conspirators would talk openly about this. He had a book, Dichter did, in 1960. And here’s a quote from that. He says, “Among the declarations of faith in the future is the act of buying. Buying is more than a commercial function. It deserves scientific study without moral judgment. When I buy more or less expensive food, when I buy cheaper or more expensive cigarettes, when I curtail the quantity of my purchases, I am in effect, underwriting a life philosophy with my buying act.” Really similar to LeBow but this this notion of we’re building a better society this way. It’s like they couldn’t see into the future or where this was headed.

Jason Bradford

I think you also have to look at the connection to labor, for example. I mean, this was the height of unions as well. And you could see how the promise of a better paying job, of a secure job, a good quality of life is also dependent upon having a manufacturing job in the auto industry. Which is in a sense, in some ways, is predicated on people buying a new car every fucking few years, right? Based upon a new style change, or whatever the hell it is. That actually underwrites people being lifted out of poverty, having a middle class life. Like you could see how it sort of becomes built in to an expectation for the economy that everyone’s bought into.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, you see it as a virtuous cycle or circle. But it’s really, as you’re consuming, and going through all the materials and all the energy and emissions — which we talked a lot – It’s all the sort of downsides.

Jason Bradford

It’s a non-virtuous feedback loop in a sense when you start getting into the consequences for the environment, etc. But at the same time, we’re thinking, look what we’ve done! This is magical. This is wonderful. And we’ve got all this communications technology. We’re getting televisions, and radio, and movies, more and more popular. And people are tuning in together. We don’t have this fragmented media so much like we have today. So this was this time, in a sense, of mass consumption developing and a lot of social cohesion as well.

Asher Miller

Yeah, maybe a good point there is that even if you had all this productive capacity, right? We’ve got manufacturing industry, you’ve got cheap input of fossil fuel energy, all this stuff, you get the road system to distribute this, you still need a means by which to do widespread marketing. That’s where radio and television and then obviously the internet come in. In order to create that and help support these incredibly large brands, these global corporations who are multi multi multi billion dollar companies. And that wouldn’t be possible, right, without the advertising and the communications technology to support that. To me, one of the key things to recognize in all of this, and it gets a little bit back to the statement that I talked about earlier with Ethan Zuckerman. What he said is sort of like his mea culpa of the original sin of the internet with his advertising is, it goes back further than that. I mean, I don’t know if he could say definitively it starts with radio and then television. But you know, when you had ads in newspapers, or even product placement and film, it was a way of generating some additional revenue that might reduce our costs to the end consumer, whatever it is that they’re able to do. But they weren’t dependent on that advertising revenue necessarily to create that product. But now we’re in a situation with radio and television and the internet where you need it, right? Advertising is the blood.

Jason Bradford

Even what we call public radio, in a sense, nowadays is underwritten by ads.

Asher Miller

And I think that it’s worth really talking about how you used the term insidious before, Rob, but the profound impact of that. Because when you’re in a system where the mediums by which we are finding entertainment, where we’re sharing news and information, if that’s all underwritten by advertising, and that’s really corporate advertising, then what’s possible? What is possible in terms of these platforms being able to – Can you speak candidly about things? Can you talk openly? It’s not even necessarily direct censorship, but it could be indirect censorship in terms of what is being presenced and given voice to when it’s being underwritten by corporations. We talked earlier about the car company not wanting to run an ad on something talking about anal sex. You just extend that out.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, I don’t know why they just didn’t advertise a bigger back seat. Well, I want to pick up on your censorship idea a little bit. This is going back a little ways to 1998. And back to my neck of the woods down in Georgia, where one of the big most popular companies is Coca Cola. And I find this pretty insidious, that you know, not only are they having Superman thrown into their signs and movies, taking you right out of the action, but they were doing stuff sort of like direct advertising in schools. And so they were working with the high school system, and offered $10,000 to the high school that developed the best marketing plan for selling Coke sponsored discount cards.

Jason Bradford

Like they need a high school to do that.

Rob Dietz

And a great product, too. Like diabetes inducing, sugar, caffeine –

Asher Miller

Yeah. Good for the teeth.

Jason Bradford

What do you think is the proportion between them thinking they’re actually going to get a good idea that they’re going to use and then actually just using this as a means to market to these high schools?

Rob Dietz

Yeah, it’s totally a way to get into the high schools. So the marketing campaign made headlines though when one school, Greenbrier High School in Evans GA suspended one of their students who came to school wearing a Pepsi shirt during the school’s Coke Education Day.

Jason Bradford

That dude . . . I wish I knew what his name is. He’s is our hero for the do the opposite.

Rob Dietz

Hey, you guys, here’s a review that we got close to Earth Day this year. This one comes in from Laura. She says, “I’m loving your new season. I’m trying to move past doom. And we’ll be out marching for insects on the day after Earth Day. Thank you for your amazing podcast.”

Asher Miller

Oh, it’s nice to hear.

Jason Bradford

I think that marching for insects is incredibly laudable.

Rob Dietz

I do too. I mean, that’s pretty cool. You don’t get a lot of insect rights marchers out there.

Jason Bradford

The Pro-Roach lobby is not super strong.

Rob Dietz

But I mean, critically important part of the ecosystem. So thank you, Laura, for listening, thank you for doing your part to get us the hell out of Crazy Town. And anyone else out there that wants to leave us a review or rating please do so. We love that. It helps others find the podcast.

Jason Bradford

I think I’d like Laura if I met her.

George  Costanza

Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.

Jerry Seinfeld

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.

Rob Dietz

One place you can start doing the opposite is inoculating yourself against the psychological warfare that’s being waged against you by advertisers. You guys ever read a book called “Influence” by Robert Cialdini?

Jason Bradford

No.

Rob Dietz

I read this way, way back in college. It was really popular and I think had subsequent editions. Of course, kind of sad to say, but the book “Influence” was very influential, especially on marketing programs and business schools and stuff. Anyway, he the author, Cialdini, he catalogues some of the marketing shenanigans that go on. And I don’t want to go through all of them. But one example is he talks about the power of reciprocity, which is this thing that we all have where we feel indebted if we receive a gift. So you know, Jason, you give me something, I kind of feel like I need to give you something back. And so advertisers and marketers use this all the time. It’s the idea of like if you see free samples at the grocery store, then you’re inclined to want to give back to the company that gave something, quote unquote, free to you. So figuring out what’s going on, understanding some of your own psychology or your cognitive biases, that’s a really good way to kind of immunize yourself against these tricks. So if you can just be in the analytical mind in realizing what’s going on.

Jason Bradford

I think that’s true. And especially important in the age social media, where just being aware that they’re tracking stuff, that they’re going to be targeting you. Devices are listening. Being aware of this can help can help inoculate you.

Jason Bradford

And there are tools that are out there to protect your privacy.

Rob Dietz

The most important one is the off button.

Jason Bradford

Exactly.

Asher Miller

A big thing, I think for me, because, you know, I was talking earlier about how content is news and other forms of content that we rely on is influenced by corporate sponsorship and advertising dollars. Well, a positive sign that I think we’ve seen in recent years on the internet is a proliferation of basically people having their own sort of newsletters or websites that are supported with subscription. So whether people are on Substack, which I think does have, it seems to have a real dedication to free speech. But there are other tools that people use to allow their members, people who really value their perspective, the content that they’re developing to support it directly so that they’re not reliant on advertising. So using those premium membership things, finding people you like and directly supporting them.

Rob Dietz

Well, and also finding sources of information that aren’t ad supported, like our very own resilience.org.

Jason Bradford

But yeah, that’s great. And then gosh, you know, how do you escape from consumerism?

Rob Dietz

Well, I think part of that movie with Kurt Russell with lots of product placements in it.

Jason Bradford

Definitely. Well, think there’s a difference maybe between the consumerism that is this behemoth corporate consumerism, versus going local. Finding the local food suppliers and crafts people. So I think it’s getting away as much as you can from the stuff that is sort of the big corporate advertising and figuring out how to get stuff that isn’t –

Jason Bradford

Yeah, but you know, I don’t know, man. You go to a farmers market and those guys, they are so evil and Machiavellian. They’re constantly giving free samples.

Jason Bradford

I know. Free cucumber slices, little pieces of honeycomb.

Rob Dietz

We got one of them right here next to us. This guy is running a CSA and I don’t like that one bit, Jason.

Jason Bradford

I mean, they seem nice, you know. Growing organic food locally, you know. Got a young family or whatever.

Rob Dietz

It makes me wanna vomit, not eat. All right, well, if you do manage to escape from consumerism, that doesn’t really stop the advertisers from still exerting all this power and manipulating and doing their whatever evil crap. So some point down the line, we’re gonna have to figure out how to limit the the power that advertisers can wield. And we do have a precedent for this. There are restrictions on advertising things that promote unhealthy behavior, you know. There are certain things that you can’t advertise on TV, like tobacco, anymore.

Jason Bradford

I miss Joe Camel, man. I especially loved it when you like go into store and they’ve got a Joe Camel like poster, right? At three foot high level, you know, just right there for the kids to see.

Jason Bradford

I remember. I miss when the family physicians were promoting tobacco. That was great. Those were the days.

Rob Dietz

Right. They’re smoking while giving you your checkup. Well, I mean, that’s another, is limiting advertising. Like you said, Joe Camel was sort of designed as this cool, animated character for kids to enjoy. And there are places in the world that recognize that’s really not healthy for society. And they stop advertising from doing that.

Asher Miller

Yeah, I want to give a shout out to our friend Steve Lambert, who I don’t know if this thing is still around, but he did a really beautiful thing, which is he created this ad-on for Firefox, like an extension.

Rob Dietz

The web browser.

Asher Miller

Yeah, the web browser. And what it would do is it would basically replace, it wouldn’t just block the sidebar ads or whatever, it would replace them with beautiful pieces of art. You can have a nice experience, you know, going on the internet

Jason Bradford

They’re NFT options on those.

Asher Miller

I think that that’s the next one that he’s working on. And if he’s not, I’ll talk to Steve about it.

Rob Dietz

Yeah, that is pretty cool. And if you want more ideas about how to limit advertising and do some kind of activist things, Adbusters is a cool organization and magazine that is always coming out with ideas on that front. And I’ve enjoyed looking at them over the years. They’re a pretty irreverent bunch over there.

Jason Bradford

I remember during the main rant, Asher, you talked about how there’s almost a censorship of what’s permissible because if you’re a content provider, you’ve got to worry about your advertisers and whether they’re going to support you anymore. If you say something they don’t like, right? And I think that’s a real problem. And it’s not just specific, it’s also really deep in our culture. And I would say that there’s a real limitation on what is permissible to speak and the kinds of information that gets out there and is covered in sort of polite, neoliberal corporate consumer culture. The stuff we talk about in this show is kind of radical. And so, you know, I work hard to get advertisers for us, right? We have some great great sponsors.

Rob Dietz

We do. We do.

Jason Bradford

Yeah. But I think  calling out the BS that the conversation is so limited, you know. Like on Earth Day you can talk about electric cars, but not about don’t move so much, you know, power down.

Rob Dietz

Alright, so you’re talking about dinner parties, like shouting down your relatives? Calling out the BS?

Jason Bradford

Oh, just the fact that the conversation is so limited. Just acknowledging that and just talking to other people about what is  really going on here. This greening the world through consumerism, for example, is a bunch of BS.

Asher Miller

In some ways, what I would say this all boils down to in all kinds of relationships that you have with products or things that you need to buy in your life and where you turn for information and entertainment,  see that as a filter. You want to support stuff that is not reliant on advertising to exist.

Rob Dietz

Alright. Well, I think to wrap this up, I’ve got a treat for you guys. Okay, I parked the van outside. It’s Marlboro and I’m gonna throw both you right through it.

Rob Dietz

We want to give a special thanks to Elana Zuber, our star researcher of the watershed moments through history without her work. There’s no way we could have covered such sweeping topics this season.

Asher Miller

Yeah, and we also want to thank our other outstanding volunteers. Anya Steuer provides original artwork for us and Taylor Antal prepares the transcripts for each episode.

Jason Bradford

And a big, big thank you to our producer Melody Travers who helps us bozos stay professional.

Rob Dietz

And finally, thanks to you, our listeners. If you want to help others find their way to Crazy Town please drop us a five star rating and hit that share button when you hear an episode you like.

Jason Bradford

Guys, guys, I am a little worried. I kind of have a confession to make. But I think this creates maybe an existential threat for the for the viability of Crazy Town.

Asher Miller

Are you okay?

Jason Bradford

No, I’m not okay. You can tell I’m a little upset. I couldn’t get an ad for today’s show. I couldn’t. Nobody wants to touch us.

Rob Dietz

Is your imagination okay, Jason?

Asher Miller

Is it because we did a whole thing about how bad advertising is.

Jason Bradford

I don’t know. I think we gotta go back to the drawing board. We got to figure out something we can market. This show. . . it’s dead if we can’t get sponsors. It’s dead.

Asher Miller

Okay. All right. So okay, I hear you’re upset. Our next episode, let’s do it about how great crypto and NFT’s are. Can we do that? There’s so much crypto money out there right now.

Jason Bradford

There’s so much. Throw it at us. Yeah.

Asher Miller

Let’s just do that one.

Jason Bradford

We can do a follow up guest interview with Matt Damon.

Jason Bradford

We’ll just do one, okay. And then we’ll get back to what we’re doing before.

Jason Bradford

Oh we’ll make so much on that one show.

Asher Miller

Yeah. And then we’ll be good.

Jason Bradford

Alright. Thanks. That’s why you’re the Executive Director.