Thoughts on Epic Super Bowl Ads

Every year, there’s one Super Bowl commercial that seem larger than the rest. Amidst the foolishness associated with selling beer and chips, there’s usually one ad that is unapologetically dramatic and downright cinematic. They cost tens of millions of dollars and will likely air just once. They’re not commercials – they’re short films. And that’s exactly how the companies want us to perceive them.

Given the pomp and spectacle that is the Super Bowl, it’s remarkable that these ads manage to captivate us at all – and yet they do, sometimes for an entire two minutes. They do so by being the opposite of the event that they interrupt. They are eerie, powerful and almost impossible to ignore – like a calm during a storm.

In 1984, Apple put out what is perhaps the greatest television ad ever.

This is the ad that changed it all and made the Super Bowl the event to showcase your brand to the country (fun fact: the commercial was directed by Ridley Scott). Continue reading “Thoughts on Epic Super Bowl Ads”

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Willingness to Pay

Companies target poor people. Companies target rich people. In the end, we’re all targeted.

When Heathcliff Huxtable, played by Bill Cosby, donned a modest outfit on his trip to the car dealer, he was attempting to come off as a frugal working class Joe (instead of the wealthy doctor that he was). It may have all been in vain though – he would have been better off sending a white friend to negotiate, regardless of his attire.

Sometimes, retailers do not equate wealth with willingness to pay. Another way of looking at it is that the perceived intelligence/power/respectability of the consumer can affect a retailer’s willingness to exploit/overcharge. A study published in the American Economic Review in 1995 revealed that when using the same scripted bargaining tactics at car dealerships, White men were quoted significantly lower prices than women (of either race) or Black men. Continue reading “Willingness to Pay”

Mac Users Beware, Your Wealth Is No Secret

Mac users are wealthier than their PC counterparts, and companies are eager to exploit that.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that people who use Mac computers are willing to pay up to 30% more than PC users on Orbitz.com. This has led Orbitz to declare that it will show Mac users higher prices.

At first, this seems ridiculous and unfair – the same exact product being offered at different prices. But we shouldn’t be surprised – it’s hardly different than traditional ways of exploiting regional price differentials and targeting certain markets with inflated prices. The only difference is that now, companies use a sort of virtual geography to organize consumers according to wealth and willingness to pay. The type of computer you use is just the tip of the iceberg. Companies are trying to track your every move online – the magazines you read, the products you buy, the clubs you belong to – all in order to determine what sort of consumer you are and how much you are willing to pay for whatever they are selling. Continue reading “Mac Users Beware, Your Wealth Is No Secret”

Mike Daisey Lied About Apple’s Factory in China

Journalism is part storytelling, but where do we draw the line? Well before what Mike Daisey did to This American Life and Apple. 

If you are a fan of the spoken word, you probably know that This American Life (TAL) is one of the most popular radio programs in the country and has consistently been the most downloaded podcast on iTunes for years. In early January, TAL broadcast its most popular episode ever (more than 800,000 downloads), entitled “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory”. The episode was based on Mike Daisey’s one-man theater play, entitled “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs” a critique of Apple’s pivotal role in the exploitative global manufacturing sector. The story made a big splash, particularly because it came out only a couple of months after the death of Steve Jobs, but also because we are all becoming resigned to the fact that Apple is slowly but eventually taking over our lives.

Daisey’s play is moving and sad. If only it were true though. It turns out that much of the play’s content is fiction or at the very least exaggerated. This would be fine for a theatrical production – anything less would be boring on stage. For a journalistic radio program, it is highly inappropriate, especially considering the precision with which the material targeted one particular company (Apple) and one particular factory (Foxconn in Shenzhen).

Following the broadcast, many journalists began questioning some of Daisey’s accounts. It seemed unlikely to Rob Schmitz (China-based reporter for NPR’s  Marketplace) that factory workers would hang out at Starbucks to discuss their illegal labor union. Starbucks is even more expensive in China than in the US and is not the sort of place factory workers frequent. Daisey also describes the scowling security guards with guns standing in front of the factory gates. The problem with this is that in China, only the police and military are permitted to carry firearms.

Schmitz was able to track down Daisey’s translator, a person whom Daisey repeatedly lied to TAL about in order to prevent any verification or corroboration. Daisey also lied about meeting several underage factory workers, some as young as 12, and others who had suffered hexane poisoning. Earlier this week, TAL put out its first ever retraction episode (inspiration for my previous post), devoted entirely to saying sorry and setting the record straight.

TAL has taken a lot of flack for the mistakes and is currently the unfortunate victim of false equivalence – pretending that TAL and Daisey’s points of view are equally valid in the name of impartiality. (see here, here, here, here, here and here).

Yes, TAL should have been more careful. Yes, conditions in Chinese factories are probably difficult. Yes, Mike Daisey is a theatrical performer and is entitled to a great deal of artistic licence when performing.

but…

Mike Daisey lied (we’ve got the tapes) and intentionally deceived journalists. He remains almost unapologetic and is playing the victim card now. TAL has gone out of its way to correct for errors – a remarkable action in this day and age.

The radio program made mistakes, but what the actor did was near criminal and deserves the bulk of the opprobrium. Meanwhile, Apple barely blinked.