Month: May 2010

Quick May round-up

Some interesting stories in the last week for those interested in manipulation… First off, Best Buy. I really need to do a special blog entry about Best Buy at some point. It is a company that consistently pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable. A year or so ago, Best Buy admitted that they kept up a fake web site to trick customers. Essentially, if someone checked the Best Buy web site and saw something at an attractive price and then went to the store to ask for it, a salesman would access the web site from inside the store and show the customer that the price had gone up. It turns out that accessing the web site from within the store would transparently redirect browsers to a ‘fake’ intranet web site, made up to look just like the normal web site but with higher prices. Very hard for customers (and even salespeople) to spot the difference, at least prior to iphones and androids. Think about it for a second – someone went through the trouble of setting up an entire web site copy with higher prices to catch the (presumably wary) customers who did their homework on the web before shopping. And, like all good manipulations, fairly hard to spot for the manipulated. The reason that Best Buy is in the news today? Well, it turns out they...

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An image is worth 1000 mouse clicks…

So let’s talk about media for a few minute (and learn how to embed pictures in this blog!): Media manipulation is fairly subtle. It can take many forms, but I want to talk about a basic one first – manipulating images. Back in 2009, for example, Ralph Lauren published this ad: It was promptly picked up by Boing Boing, the Mail, and others for the ludicrous look of the ad. Clearly, no woman can look like this and not topple over. We’re not talking slight editing, here, either – here is what the model actually looks like: Now this is a beautiful woman, already more attractive than 99% of the general population. Why bother altering her picture to such an extent? Why make her a walking caricature? You all should know that magazines edit images significantly before publishing them – especially ads, covers, and ‘feature’ pictures. A few years ago, the edits were mostly innocuous – cropping the picture, changing the contrast ratio, and doing ‘macro’ changes of that type. Over time, as the cost of processing went down and more and more people learned to use (and then abuse) program like Photoshop, edits became a lot more complex. Photoshop artists started to change skin tones, the lighting and shadow plays on body parts, the overall appearance of models. Compare two People covers, for example, one from 1988 (before...

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A how-to memo and astroturfing – an intro

Okay, let’s take a break from corporate manipulation and let’s look at some government manipulation. Governments (at least Western ones) tend to be careful when manipulating the electorate, because the press really likes those types of stories (as compared to boring corporate manipulation ones, which are the purview of deluded bloggers alone).That, at least, was true for a while; with the polarization of news, though, and the advent of channels such as Fox News, the media doesn’t do as much expose on government manipulation anymore, because this kind of news tends to be seen as partisan and generates less interest. Consider this story, for example: A memo, obtained by the Environmental Working Group, back in March 2003, which was written as a playbook for Republican politicians to handle environmental questions. This memo should be required reading for anyone interested in political manipulation. It was written by Frank Luntz as a “how-to” guide for the Republicans to address environmental issues, which they were seen as weak on. Consider some of his advice: – “A compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth.” – “As Republicans, we have the moral and rhetorical high ground when we talk about values, like Freedom, Responsibility, and accountability.” – Mr. Luntz devotes a lot of space to advice on how to handle climate change. He...

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Do Not Print This Post

Is it news that printer companies manipulate their customers? Probably most of you know that printer companies follow the razor-blades business model: sell printers cheaply to make money on ink refills. There’s nothing wrong with that business model, but over the years printer companies have found a bewildering number of ways to make sure that you purchase an ever-larger number of their print cartridges. Most of you will know some of these, but I was surprised by the sheer number of techniques that manufacturers have found to ‘encourage’ you to replace your cartridges – often. Printer ink is expensive. Estimates vary by manufacturers, of course, but estimates of $8,000 per gallon are fairly common. That’s several order of magnitudes larger than the price of oil, for example, or even many pharmaceutical drugs. Black ink, on the other hand, the kind that is not in a printer cartridge, is sold at retail for $20 for a bottle of 8oz, which works out to a price of $2,560 per gallon. The plastic that goes into making the actual cartridge is, let’s say, $10. That means that manufacturers essentially charge a 300% margin by packing ink into plastic cartridges. A good business, and one that deserves some creative thinking about how to maintain it. So how have manufacturers tried to protect this very lucrative business? Most of their techniques fall into two...

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