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Re: <nettime> The $100bn Facebook question: Will capitalism survive 'val
Mark Andrejevic on Thu, 8 Mar 2012 16:39:50 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> The $100bn Facebook question: Will capitalism survive 'value abundance'?


So, according to Michael's numbers, to live up to its valuation, Facebook will need to quintuple its profits fast -- without alienating users. That will likely be challenging, especially at a time when its aggressive tactics have drawn a lot more attention to its legally suspect strategies (at least according to some recent court decisions).  His estimate tracks with others I've seen claiming that Facebook will need to double its profits each year for the next couple of years. A lot of people (or a few people with a lot of money) are going to have to believe targeted advertising is worth the price for that to happen. 

As for the history of advertising, I don't agree with Michael that the correct way to frame the discussion is as a contest between two conjectures: that advertising "causes" consumerism or that production automatically creates its own demand (I suspect this is really a version of the claim that the demand was always already there, waiting for the market to catch up to it). A lot of work on the history of advertising and marketing has been done (to name a few, see, for example, Roland Marchand's Advertising the American Dream, Schudson's: Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion, Beniger's The Control Revolution, Ewen's Captains of Consciousness). The standard story is that as industrialization and the rationalization of production dramatically enhance the productive capacity of industry, the need emerges to ensure that there is a market for the new glut of relatively inexpensive, mass produced products. This leads to a focus on both distribution and marketing/advertising. Producers
  needed both to get the word out, and to find strategies for convincing people to change traditional patterns of domestic production and consumption. Eventually they sought to find ways to connect products with desirable lifestyles -- indeed to build the image of desirable lifestyles modeled around consumer goods (Marchand's book is great at documenting this process). 

This is not to say that advertisers are brainwashers, but rather to claim that they, along with the media they support, play an important (thought not exclusive) role in selectively representing society to itself, and in shaping this image to reflect the imperatives of those who craft it. It would be setting up a straw man to reduce this claim to the assertion that advertising single-handedly created consumer society. But I don't think we're left with the choice between saying that either advertising is solely to blame (or credit) or that it has no significant role to play. The historical accounts suggest that it had an important contributing role -- not so much in moving particular products as in helping to shape and publicize an ethos of consumption and the media environment that reinforces it. 


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