Month: August 2010

In the news – a mosque and a circus

I don’t usually like to pick current events to analyze for manipulation, for two reasons. One, it’s harder to divorce oneself emotionally from the content of a current event, and two, usually you need some time for the details behind a good manipulation to emerge. Things that seem very important today will look quite a lot less so in ten or twenty years, and tongues start to reveal secrets and that’s when you learn some really interesting things. Sometimes, though, you get too good an issue to ignore. So let’s talk about the Mosque at Ground Zero. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know, of course, that there’s a recent controversy in the news about building a mosque near the hallowed area of Ground Zero in NY. Some claim it’s an insult and it should never happen. Others that this is precisely what freedom of religion means. Even President Obama weighed in on the issue. So it’s now officially a National Controversy. To begin with, a reminder – as I mentioned before, within this blog I have very little interest in the content of a story, or the absolute right or wrong of a topic. I am far more interested in the underlying manipulation exercise itself. In other words, I want to focus on the underlying manipulation issues, not the legal or moral issues that others have...

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How it all began…

So I thought I would share with you all the incident that got me started thinking about consumer manipulation, many years ago… I will change some details, but I will keep the core of the story intact. At the time, I was a team manager at a top-tier management consulting firm. We were working for a large client that sold all sorts of consumer products, from soaps to cosmetics and even food. As it turned out, I was working with a small team to try and find a way to boost the profitability of one division, the one that handled soaps, detergents, and other similar products. As it turns out, this was difficult. Soap is a mature industry – people are not buying more and more soaps and dishwashing liquid every year. It’s a mature, stable industry, where every box that you gain is lost by someone else. And since the industry is dominated by large, powerful players, everyone has access to the same tools – the same distribution channels, the same marketing resources, etc… – it’s very difficult to make lasting changes on behalf of one player or another. Which is why, of course, some of these companies pay high-priced consultants to do it for them. One day, my team and I were brainstorming ideas in a conference room. The table had dozens of different bottles and boxes,...

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This post is censored, part 1

Censorship is an interesting topic. Done well, it can be a very good tool for government manipulations – it’s hard to object to something that you don’t know about, after all. It’s a blunt instrument, to be sure, but it can be an effective one. This is why governments have always tried to gain some types of censorship powers. Even in the US, a fairly censorship-lite country, various tools have been developed to allow government agencies to do things under the cover of night. I wanted to do an entry on one of them: tell me, have you ever heard of a National Security Letter? Well, I guess you couldn’t tell us if you have. A National Security Letter is a letter that the FBI and other agencies can send to someone to demand records – almost any kind of records: bank statements, web history, telephone calls, etc… The manipulative aspect of a National Security Letter is that a) the agency doesn’t need a judge or a warrant to use it, and b) it comes with a lifetime gag order – the recipient is never allowed to reveal to anyone, even to an attorney, that he received it. In other words, in theory, if you ever receive a National Security Letter, you have to obey it without any kind of recourse – no legal challenge, no going to the...

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An Impartial Judge

Few people like their cellphone company. Check some of them out at Brand Mojo, and you’ll see that people prefer leaky oil companies to their cell phone carriers. Why do consumers almost universally hate an industry that provides one of the most useful services around – after all, what would we do without them? Learn how cellphone industry manipulate consumers. Well, part of the answer is that cell phone companies spend an inordinate amount of time and effort trying to manipulate their customers. Cellphone companies could provide, on their own, enough material for a year of this blog, but I want to focus this week on one particular technique, arbitration. Or, more accurately, mandatory binding arbitration. Arbitration is a logical concept, in theory – let people take simple disputes to an arbitrator instead of a judge. No lawyers, simplified rules, faster conflict resolution – what’s not to like? In fact, in the 1980s, courts liked arbitration because they saw it as a way for employees and others to defend themselves against big corporations: arbitration was much cheaper (so hourly workers could afford it), and it would free up  the courts for more serious business. So the law provided the framework to let people, companies – even states – to choose arbitration to settle their disputes, instead of going through the hassles of the standard judicial system. Fast forward a...

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Caveat Emptor

I want to talk a little about the reasons for the existence of this blog. There is a good reason for this – the readership is picking up (if I read these charts properly, anyways!) and it’s good to a) welcome new readers! b) thank the commenters (Donto and gcagle last week), and c) disclose some of my own viewpoints so that readers can analyze my posts with the appropriate ‘filters’. First, and most importantly, this blog is not meant to demean manipulation or to portray manipulators as evil. We all try to manipulate those around us – it’s part of human nature. Admittedly it’s not usually our proudest feature, but we all have it; some of us are just better at it than others. In fact, my team and I have spent decades advancing the art of manipulation and charging a lot of money for that expertise. Manipulation is a tool, like an axe or a hammer. The tool is not evil, although those using it can be. Having said this, some things have changed in the last few years. Manipulation has become more mainstream, and the use of mass manipulation in corporations, government and media has grown tremendously. There is no counter force to this trend, though – no one is teaching consumers how to spot and resist manipulation, or citizens how to better avoid government manipulations,...

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