Monday, April 25, 2005

Money, Bullshit and Love (inspired by George Carlin)

The ancient Greeks were great thinkers. The image that we have of them is of a group of gentlemen sitting around in togas eating a hearty meal, drinking wine and discussing philosophy. Obviously somebody had to harvest the grain, slaughter the chickens, cook the meals and stomp the grapes to make the wine. These individuals do not make it onto T-shirts or into history books. The image of the Greeks is of course just an image that depressed Europeans created over the past 500 years of Western civilization which has usually been very, very bloody and depressing. They were looking for a Golden Age and for inspiration for their struggle against the orthodoxy of the Kings and the Popes. Regardless of the justification, the image they created is an example of one of Bubba's essential elements of modern civilization - bullshit.

The Greek philosophers - a couple of dozen of rich, white, slave-owning Greeks who liked little boys - were very interested in the questions of science. They wanted to break down all of nature into a small number of essential building blocks. The same idea has been driving the modern sciences (both natural and social) for the past couple of hundred years. Unfortunately this effort in the social sciences has been limited to the ivory tower of academia and due to this reason it has also gotten polluted by bullshit. So, for those that do not have a Masters degree in bullshit I have decided to break down modern Western civilization into its essential elements. I believe the same effort can be made for other civilizations and it will in fact produce a different result thus proving that the basis of all civilizations is not the same.

In any case, as the first line has suggested, Bubba's essential elements of modern civilizations are money, bullshit and love. I was tempted to simply break it down to money and bullshit, but then decided that this would be too cynical of me and so I decided to add a positive element to modern civilization. Now how can one use this? Well in essence, once one is capable of breaking all human interaction into these categories it might be possible to differentiate between them. We should probably look at some examples...

Lets start with business. Now a beginner would simply put this one in the money category. He would however be wrong and would thus not understand the basics of business. Now for simplicity's sake lets break business into two components: business-to-business interaction and business-to-consumer interaction. Granted that in both components money is exchanged between the parties. However if one looks just a bit closer at each of these, he will notice that there is a barely hidden bullshit component. The interaction in business-to-business relationships, where it must be said that both sides fully understand what is going on, is conducted via the use of the language of bullshit: law. In fact, the use of law (bullshit) is growing to such an extent that all the worries about the job prospects of graduating law students have been for nought. They will find a well-paying job dispensing their own bullshit and ingesting and digesting the bullshit of others to make sure that all the bullshit digested is kosher. The cost of the growing legions of relatively high salaries will of course be passed on to the consumer.

This brings us to the interaction between business and consumers. Now this is where the excrutiating self-mutilating banging your head on the pavement bullshit begins. See, the lawyers and businessmen understand the bullshit being thrown all around, but when they go into the marketplace they encounter unsuspecting innocent consumers who have been taught to believe in the essential goodness of modern civilization. The consumers will of course pay for their naivete. Not that there is malicious intent on the part of the companies, its just business. So, now if the language of inter-business relationships is law, what is the basis of the bullshit involved in business-consumer interaction? Well, its images, brands, trademarks, copyrights, spokesmen, spokeswomen, models and 'customer relationships' to name a few.

See, many companies no longer produce their own products but simply have sub-contractors in the third world that cheaply produce the products. So what is left to the American companies is to sell the products at a profit. Now say I get 100,000 toothbrushes produced and put each one in a plastic bag and attach a price tag to it. Would you buy it? Probably not. Why? Because there are going to be another 15 types of toothbrushes screaming out at you with pretty colors and pictures and telling you that if you use their product your smile will look nicer, your breath will smell better, in other words, people will like you more. Now do you just want a toothbrush or do you want people to like you?

You might even rationally say to yourself that you pick a toothbrush based on its design features, size, color or price, or that you buy the coolest looking toothbrush you can find. The coolest looking toothbrush? Its a toothbrush for god's sake! Unless you plan to wear it as an accessory attached to your bag or in your hair, it really doesn't matter what it looks like. Or maybe you have gotten yourself an electric toothbrush... Hmmm.. You jog an hour a day and take the stairs to burn calories, but are daunted by the prospect of having to brush your teeth in the morning? 'its more comfortable' (or so the commercial said), 'it makes my teeth cleaner and better-looking' (the model on tv had really nice looking teeth), 'its better for you' (i must find some way of justifying this purchase, but i can't find anything specific) ...

So why is it that we buy these products? Well, there are whole sciences behind it. There are of course the always obvious fields of advertising and marketing. More interesting however is something called consumer psychology, which I have always associated for some reason with psychological warfare. Probably because the objective in both cases is to use the understanding of the behaviour of masses of individuals in order to benefit the employers of the psychologists rather than their target audiences.

In any case the idea behind modern marketing is to add bullshit to a product so that it can be sold at a higher price. The bullshit comes in many forms, always appealing, always friendly, and always expensive. It comes through commercials on television, through ads in newspapers, through product placement in movies, through star endorsements, in fact through any door one will open even a crack it will come gushing in. The primary objective is to create a brand with a favorable image. Think of Coca Cola. Are you thinking of a dirty dusty factory in a sweat and smell infested third world country where dirty looking unkempt bearded fat workers are pouring sugar into huge chemical vats and throwing in random small animals and insects once in a while for shits and giggles? No? Are you imagining yourself running along with other beautiful people on a deserted beach at sunset with a perfect body, no worries and feeling pure unadulterated happiness? (well probably not after the first description..) Or lets say Starbucks.. Are you sitting in a dimly lit cafe surrounded by beautiful intellectual people all smiling attentively while you are demonstrating your superior intelligence and occassionally sipping on a double moca latte with cream? You are probably not thinking of a poor South American peasant struggling to collect coffee beans next to the cocaine field while being whipped by a greasy supervisor wearing a Starbucks baseball cap, are you?

What is Coke? overhyped sugar water. Starbucks? come on, be honest, thats not really coffee... is it? and you aren't that smart anyways.. and the people you are with aren't that hot either and in any case they aren't really paying attention to you...

Sorry.. got carried away a bit. To sum up, when you are buying a bottle of Coke for $1 you are paying 7 cents for whats inside the bottle, 5 cents for the bottle and 88 cents for running on a beach with the beautiful people. Now, unless you are actually at a beach with the Swedish bikini team or with the cast of a soap opera (and I don't mean serving them drinks), you are overpaying for your Coke. You are paying for bullshit. So when you are drinking the coke remember that the ingredients on the side of the bottle are misleading. It should read:

Ingredients: Carbonated Water 11%, Sugar 1%, Bullshit 88%

Enjoy your next coke.

I'll probably post more on Bubba's essential elements later... Now I am going to go watch some TV and get my fill.


Anonymous Mysterious Stranger said...

I think that any analysis of the benefits of buying a product has to include the Convenience factor. For example, when you are buying the Coke bottle, probably half to two thirds of the price you pay is the retailer's mark-up. In fact, distribution costs are usually the largest part of the cost of consumer products. In effect, you are paying for the luxury of walking one block for your Coke, and not 10 miles to the nearest warehouse.
Have you looked at private label colas recently? Those are all those White Rose bottles on the bottom shelf in the soda isle. They retail for, maybe, 84 cents, when your Coke is a dollar. There is obviously no bullshit attached to the White Rose brand, so you are paying just for the cola and not for the image. So there you go, the difference between the 12 cent production cost and the 84 cent price is the cost of distribution/convenience, and the remaining 16 cents is the image/bullshit.
Not too bad, in my book, considering that the largest component of distribution costs is salaries to your general workforce - truck drivers, supermarket cashiers, stock boys, etc. Granted there is always a significant rent component, but think of it as a kind of a comfortable home for your cola. You wouldn't want it to be exposed to the elements and go flat now, would you?

5:24 PM  
Blogger Bubba said...

Not to argue with you too much, but the white rose brand is pricing itself in competition with the big boys, not independently, so I wouldn't take them as a baseline. Have you bought the White Rose or RC Cola bottles lately?

6:41 PM  
Anonymous Mysterious Stranger said...

I haven't bought any cola bottles personally, because I can't stand the stuff (branded or unbranded). However, I still hold to my pricing theory. RC and White Rose naturally price their bottles relative to the branded stuff. So the challenge for them is to figure out how much the brand perception is worth and then subtract that value from the total price of a Coke, but not more. Effectively, they are charging the maximum that a thirsty, brand-indifferent consumer is willing to pay for the product.

12:46 PM  

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