I was playing Alan Wake on PC last week. The game’s introductory level features a jukebox playing “Coconut” by Harry Nilsson. I had heard this song before, probably in a movie, and it’s really great. One week later, Coconut was still stuck in my head. So I opened up Google Music (hell yeah, still rockin’ that free trial) and Nilsson’s Wikipedia page. Turns out, I’m familiar with quite a few of Nilsson’s hits, mostly from movies.
Listening to his albums on Google, I’m quickly becoming a big fan of Nilsson’s work and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of him earlier. Fun fact from the book of knowledge: Nilsson’s had some hardcore drunken adventures with John Lennon in the 70s, and then Lennon produced one of his albums. In the same vein, Nilsson covered The Beatles track “You Can’t Do That” while layering in samples from 22 other Beatles songs.
I’ll end this with some awesome tunes.
This, which I have heard a million times without wondering who sang it (though it was actually a cover which he popularized).
Coconut, which I now remember I originally heard in Reservoir Dogs.
This week’s discussion on my Ethics, Law, and Corporate Governance class asked about technology and marketing and how they are used to manipulate the U.S. consumer. It also prompted us to mention what we think could be done to address this. I pretty much went on a tangent and rambled for far too long, but I really enjoyed writing it.
Also, I shouldn’t have had coffee at midnight. The following is my post for the class:
The U.S. consumer is clearly being manipulated by marketing and technology. Not only that, but the more we integrate new technology into our lives, the more marketing the consumers subject themselves to. Every great advancement in communication has been taken advantage of by marketers, chronologically: print, radio, television, and the Internet. The U.S. consumer is bombarded with technology-enabled marketing on a constant basis.
Honestly, being subjected to never ending marketing is pretty much the norm for the present-day consumers. However, I think the average consumer can tell when advertisements are attempting to manipulate them and be disingenuous (at least I hope they can). The real manipulation comes into play with more invasive marketing.
For example, product placement can manipulate the consumer without them noticing. There is a great scene in the film “Thank You for Smoking” where the main character comes up with the idea of marketing a brand of cigarettes in a movie by having the beautiful protagonists smoke after sex. The reasoning is that the audience will automatically associate this brand of cigarettes with cool celebrities and sexual activity. Great marketing, great manipulation.
The problem is that U.S. consumers and businesses alike have grown accustomed to using marketing to subsidize the costs of many products and services, so it is difficult to address the issue of manipulation through marketing without upsetting the interests that pay for the products we enjoy. All the aforementioned communication technologies are subsidized by marketing. Now using the Internet, we can see even greater opportunity for manipulation.
Take the case of social networking services, like Facebook and Twitter. They are funded by advertising and the selling of users’ data to marketers. Like TV and radio before them, these products are given to the customer for “free” (in quotes because your time spent looking at ads and having your data sold is worth something right?). However, marketing is currently being built into our social experiences and interactions, not just our entertainment outlets. Now, that is an area ripe for manipulation! An advertisement on Facebook is adorned by images of your friends’ faces, telling you that they “like” X product.
What action can be taken to mitigate the manipulation of the U.S. consumer by marketing and technology? I think the only way to accomplish this is to change the advertisement-subsidy model where users expect services to be free. A paid service, such as HBO or App.net (a subscription-based social network), is not only free of manipulative marketing but it is also a product made with the best interests of the consumer in mind instead of the sponsor’s interests.
I have ignored this blog for far too long. Every time I have an idea for a post I end up not writing it. After the mentally-exhausting rigors of work and school, I honestly have very little willpower left to churn out some writing. At that point, I just rather play video games or catch some Netflix to relax. That said, the writing I do for class is occasionally interesting outside of the academic context. So I have decided that I might as well post some of them here to share some of those thoughts with the world instead of having them quietly waste away on the private forums of the class website.
I played through the first Assassin's Creed and thoroughly enjoyed it. The objectives were repetitive but fun, and the parkour-flavored platforming was fresh and exhilarating. The combat was generic, but the story was engaging and cinematic. It was new IP for the relatively new console generation. This exactly describes my experience with Uncharted 2 as well.
I later bought Assassin's Creed 2 and Uncharted 3.
Not so long ago we had Personal Digital Assistants, PDAs. I owned a couple of the later ones, a Toshiba Pocket PC and a Palm TX. PDAs started as companion devices to keep you organized, but eventually their operating systems became advanced enough that they expanded functionality to include media players, games, and web browsers. These started merging with cell phones, and now we have the smartphone revolution, where our ever-connected, pocketable devices can do pretty much anything we want them to.
Leading the pack, at least in terms of consumer appeal, is Apple’s iPhone. However, they keep updating their “mp3 player”, the iPod Touch, to be feature-complete with the iPhone. It offers a low-cost, low-commitment entry point into the world of handheld computing. It’s essentially the modern incarnation of a PDA. The iPod touch sells incredibly well. And why wouldn’t it? It has no competition.
The former heavy hitters of the handheld computer have abandoned it for phone-only versions. Palm (HP now) and Microsoft have two great operating systems that could very well compete with the iPod Touch. Just strip the phone apps from WebOS and Windows Phone 7, and there you go. Instant iPod Touch competitors. Worse yet, why is there no Android-based iPod Touch equivalent (aside from the Archos players, but those are pretty big, not really pocketable)? You don’t even have to pay a license fee to make one of those. So why are all these companies letting Apple take the whole market?
I have no idea.
First of all, there’s the whole smartphone-less (for now) youth market (kids and especially teens). Let’s face it, the Nintendo DS and the PSP have their fingers far, far from the pulse of where the handheld gaming. Their upcoming, single-purpose, portable gaming consoles will retail for more than the cost of an iPod Touch. Then, of course, they expect you to pay at least $40 per game. You know how many iOS games you can buy for forty dollars? Infinity, give or take. I could write a whole post on how much they’re screwing this up, but I digress. The point is the iPod touch can entertain the youth (and adults, myself included) with games, but not only that, it has a metric ton of social networking apps, web browser, YouTube, etc. It’s a cheap, starter “computer” for all intents and purposes. So let’s say kids gravitate towards iOS. A few years from now, when they’re all grown up and it’s time for a smartphone, what do you think they’re going to want? I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the OS in which they already have all their games on and are used to. It works the same way Microsoft gets students to use Office. Later, when they go into the work force it’s all they know how to use, thus what they need.
That’s what gets me, Microsoft knows this trick. Get them while they’re young. Yet here they are, wasting a huge market. They already have the most popular console gaming ecosystem with Xbox Live and the Xbox 360. Windows Phone 7 (WP7) has Xbox Live functionality. It’s simple logic, really. Use Xbox Live as a Trojan horse to get the youth on a phone-less WP7 device! Hell, I’d buy one. Achievements are magically delicious, you know. That brings me to my second point, I’d really like a secondary “entertainment” device. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t really think the whole games/music/movies on my phone is all that great until we get some real leaps in battery technology. Smartphone batteries barely last a day as it is, let alone if they have to satisfy your Angry Birds and Netflix streaming addictions.
The “handheld-computing/entertainment-device that’s not a phone” has a lot of potential, but no one seems to care. Can we fix this now please? I really want to get a nice little smart device for gaming and MP3 player use, instead of these ridiculous 3DS and NGP consoles.
This month the PS3′s security was finally busted open. The hacker community has enabled unsigned code to run. This opens the door for homebrew software and piracy. Sony is now suing the developer of the exploit, George “GeoHot” Hotz.
You wonder why it took so long to develop homebrew on the PS3. It goes like this: almost every console has had its security broken for homebrew purposes, and then piracy ensues. Sony had the perfect defense against this by giving the PS3 owners the ability to run their own OS on it (Linux). Therefore, there was no need for the homebrew hacker community to break the PS3′s security. For a nice little breakdown of all the different consoles’ security timelines check out a minute of the tail end of this talk about the Xbox 360′s security system, starting at 43:57 playtime. It will show how Sony dropped the ball on this.
Then, Sony went and shot themselves in the foot by removing the Other OS option on PS3 Slims and later on every PS3 via firmware updates. Good job at pissing off your fans Sony! Now the homebrew community had a purpose! Not that much later now, we’ve got homebrew running.
It’s no coincidence that the PS3′s security was broken only after the Other OS option was removed. Sony has no one to blame but themselves for the rampant piracy that could (most likely will) result from this!
Apple Inc. has positioned itself as an upscale brand, with stylish and reliable consumer products. They enjoy great profit margins on their products, and have a devoted fanbase. The majority of their customers have a certain brand loyalty. Even though their products usually have comparable analogues made by other companies, there is a certain elitism associated with the brand. Most people have at least some brand loyalty to the products they own, not many people like saying they made stupid purchases of course. You like to be proud of the products you own, but Apple users take this to another level. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as they are not blindly loyal, but I believe it was worth writing a post about.
I believe this all stems from a basic marketing tactic: Every major Apple product I can think of ships with an Apple sticker in the box. This creates a bond with the brand. You put this sticker on your car, on your non-Apple laptop, whatever. It’s visible. It now represents a bit of who you are, and everyone can see it. Now when someone speaks negatively (or positively) about Apple products, it’s personal. You identify with the product, it becomes part of your lifestyle instead of just something you bought. Now this is also prominently evident in their actual devices: Mac PCs, iPods, and iPhones all have a very minimal design aesthetic with a large, bold, Apple logo smack in the middle. This faces outward of course, making sure everyone notices. This is logical marketing thinking — there’s no doubt they’re going to put their logo on their products — but Apple really built that customer/brand loyalty better than any of its competitors. The only other brand I can think of that comes close is Sony.
This is my practical explanation for why Apple fanboys are such a prevalent part of the Apple culture. You might think, “but it’s because the products are so good!” I will say that yes, they consistently create good, even great, consumer products. However, I do not think their products merit the rabid fanboys / hipster elite that they generate. This is a product of good marketing and branding.