Over at Wired, Jonah Lehrer looks at how marketers invade our heads:
A new study, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, helps explain both the success of this marketing strategy and my flawed nostalgia for Coke. It turns out that vivid commercials are incredibly good at tricking the hippocampus (a center of long-term memory in the brain) into believing that the scene we just watched on television actually happened. And it happened to us.
The experiment went like this: 100 undergraduates were introduced to a new popcorn product called “Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Fresh Microwave Popcorn.” (No such product exists, but that’s the point.) Then, the students were randomly assigned to various advertisement conditions. Some subjects viewed low-imagery text ads, which described the delicious taste of this new snack food. Others watched a high-imagery commercial, in which they watched all sorts of happy people enjoying this popcorn in their living room. After viewing the ads, the students were then assigned to one of two rooms. In one room, they were given an unrelated survey. In the other room, however, they were given a sample of this fictional new popcorn to taste. (A different Orville Redenbacher popcorn was actually used.)
One week later, all the subjects were quizzed about their memory of the product. Here’s where things get disturbing: While students who saw the low-imagery ad were extremely unlikely to report having tried the popcorn, those who watched the slick commercial were just as likely to have said they tried the popcorn as those who actually did. Furthermore, their ratings of the product were as favorable as those who sampled the salty, buttery treat. Most troubling, perhaps, is that these subjects were extremely confident in these made-up memories. The delusion felt true. They didn’t like the popcorn because they’d seen a good ad. They liked the popcorn because it was delicious.
Super creepy, especially when you consider how we’re constantly bombarded by advertisements aiming to create an artificial reality.
Go watch the BBC’s Adam Curtis documentary “Century of the Self” for more on what ought to be a bigger story about manipulative marketing (and hey, Beeb—why don’t you release it on DVD?):
— Harold Meyerson has been talking to some awfully beaten-down labor leaders. They’re telling him unions, at least in the private sector, are all but dead.
Many union activists viewed the 2009-10 battle for the most recent iteration of labor law reform — the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) — as labor’s last stand. EFCA could never attain the magic 60-vote threshhold required to cut off a filibuster, despite the presence, at one point, of 60 Democratic senators. Given the rate at which private-sector unionization continues to fall (which in turn imperils support for public-sector unions), many of labor’s most thoughtful leaders now consider the Democrats’ inability to enact EFCA a death sentence for the American labor movement.
“It’s over,” one of labor’s leading strategists told me this month. Indeed, since last November’s elections, half a dozen high-ranking labor leaders from a range of unions have told me they believe that private-sector unions may all but disappear within the next 10 years.
Unions like SEIU are going beyond their membership to try to represent the interests of workers as a whole. It’s desperate and it’s not going to work. Meyerson:
But, like Working America, it signals a strategic shift by American labor, whose ranks have been so reduced that it now must recruit people to a non-union, essentially non-dues-paying organization to amass the political clout that its own diminished ranks can no longer deliver. Since labor law now effectively precludes workplace representation, unions are turning to representing workers anywhere and in any capacity they can. It’s time, they’ve concluded, for the Hail Mary pass.
— Fortune has an interesting feature on the trillion dollars of mineral wealth in Afghanistan and how a JPMorgan Chase banker is trying to tap into it. James Bandler profiles Ian Hannam, who is trying to help the Afghans (and Western investors, of course) exploit these virtually untapped resources.
This is good stuff:
Arriving in a developing nation with his iPad and his enigmatic smile, Hannam personifies the soft side of Western power. He doesn’t bend people to his will with weapons or threats. But there is no mistaking the dealmaker’s impact: In his wake, mountains are razed, villages electrified, schools built, and fortunes made.
This is something of an adventure story. It’s got, mountain caravans, snowy plane crashes, a war-torn land, and a history of how Afghanistan’s mineral riches have gone unexploited for nearly two centuries. One big reason: There’s hardly any infrastructure. The history is good here:
But if the risks are absurd, the potential rewards are off the charts. Hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of iron, copper, rare earth metals, and, yes, gold are buried beneath Afghanistan’s deserts and mountains. This wealth has lain there mainly undisturbed for thousands of years as armies of Persians, Greeks, Mongols, Britons, Russians, and now Americans tramped above. Invaders have dreamed of exploiting it since the time of Alexander the Great, but no one has yet succeeded on a large scale.
In an 1841 article in a journal of Asiatic studies, Capt. Henry Drummond, a member of the British 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry, described his rambles through the wildest parts of Afghanistan to conduct the first Western mineral survey of the country. He found “abundant green stains” of copper, some of which rivaled the deposits of Chile, and veins of iron ore that “might no doubt be obtained equal to the Swedish.” While many of his countrymen viewed Afghanistan as an untamable place, where a man could not stray many yards from his home or tent without risk of being murdered, Drummond was smitten. Mining, he felt — not the gun — offered the best hope to pacify the territory and win over Afghans.
It’s a good look at, as Fortune calls it, “frontier capitalism.” Or as some might put it: late-stage American imperialism.