Technocratic Shamanism: Propaganda, Marketing and Mystification

In the course of my studies of the history of branding, as part of my attempt to contextualise the meaning of this strange critter called “marketing 3.0”, I’ve noticed that there has been a shift in the meaning of the word “marketing” over time. Earlier — mostly after the First World War and prior to the Second World War, “marketing” largely meant organising and arranging the distribution channels for products. Advertising, and advertising cost, was a small percentage of marketing. That’s what’s called “marketing 1.0”. But, especially in the fifites when “psychological marketing” emerged in relation to consumer “motivational research”, marketing became predominantly a matter of organising the channels of communication and “information”. Over time, the word “marketing” has come to mean what was formerly described as “propaganda”, while propaganda was renamed (probably more accurately) “perception management”. That is the phase called “marketing 2.0”.  “Marketing 3.0” should be called what it is: “Propaganda 3.0”.

Propaganda 1.0 focussed on selling the “virtues” of the product. There is, in that sense, already an implicit “magical” component to the act of selling since a “virtue” was considered, in the past, a certain quality or power — mana — inherent in something. Plants and herbs, for example, possessed certain magical “virtues”, essences that they shared with certain planets. Now, it’s less about the plants than about technologies and artifacts possessing this “virtue”.

Take radio, for example. In shamanistic or magical cultures there is the “wind speaker” — the man or woman who can command the wind to carry the voice and words over vast distances. The same is true of other technologies — television, telephony, telegraphy and even teleportation. There are precedents for all of them in magical culture as clairvoyance, telepathy, remote sensing, flight, and so on. By the time of the Age of Myth, however, these virtues had become the property and special powers of the gods or demons, and if a human being happened to be gifted in that respect, it was presumed that they were “possessed” (ie en-thused) by a god or demon. Today, you can go down to the store and buy these virtues formerly considered magical and mythical, but which formerly were inherent faculties and capacities of consciousness itself, or of especially gifted and talented individuals.

In fact, both Saruman and Gandalf, the two wizards in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, are windspeakers, as you may recall. And there isn’t a great deal of difference between that and Orson Welles’ famous panic-inducing radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. That’s the kind of effective magic — “motivation” — that the propagandist aims for also. In the case of commercial propaganda, it’s always a matter of overcoming “sales resistance” by finding the right “triggers” or “buttons” that will motivate people to consume more and to adopt certain values and lifestyles considered desirable by the propagandist — what adman Martin Lindstrom calls “branded behaviours”. So, there is in that sense a more or less implicit political propaganda in all branding practices. “Branded behaviours” are rewarded, in some way or another. “Unbranded behaviours” are discouraged.

The progression from “marketing 1.0” to “marketing 2.0” to “marketing 3.0” suggests a general evolution in the sophistication and refinement of propaganda technique, which can only mean one thing — a ever greater and more efficient encompassment and encirclement of the senses and of human consciousness, mainly facilitated and abetted by changes in the mass media and the range of its reach — from print, through radio, through television, and now through the “Internet of Things”. The extraordinary efforts that are made to ensure that no group and no one escapes the “marketing message” attests to this impulse to total encirclement — guerilla marketing, the generation of “buzz”, specific and subtle techniques to get around the skeptical mind, etc. The duplicity and double-think that is often involved in such campaigns is just as extraordinary, And Michael Schudson, who, despite being friendly to “business culture”, smells something “fraudulent” about all “non-price advertising” ( in Advertising, the Uneasy Persuasion) is quite right. But for some reason, he manages to overlook the real “hidden persuaders” in the whole communications complex of late capitalist society — the men and women of his own profession: the professors, who are, in effect, the “technocrats” of Mickunas’s “technocratic shamanism”.

In Vance Packard’s famous book on the subject, The Hidden Persuaders, it’s not the admen and advertising agencies who are the “hidden persuaders”, it’s the influx into the communications complex of this cohort of technicians from the universities — sociologists, psychologists, social psychologists, cultural anthropologists, political scientists, statisticians, and so on, especially after the Second World War — each of which claims to possess some specialist technique for the conquest of some aspect or another of “human nature” — the secret of its motivations, the shaping of its desires, attitudes, moods, and wants. In some cases, academics, (mercenaries, really) founded and staffed their own corporations and consultancies for the purpose of hiring out their expertise in human behaviour to advertising agencies and public relations organisations — Social Research, Inc, The Psychological Corporation, The Institute of Motivational Research, to name three of them. Mr. Schudson dismisses the “pop psychology” of the advertising industry as being ineffective, and its sense of its own power over hearts and minds as being merely self-serving vanity and conceit, along its claims to being “scientific,” because it lacks a coherent theory, social or cultural, to guide its praxis.

That’s not entirely true, and in some sense not even relevant to its effectiveness or not. The irony of Mr. Schudson’s dismissal of the industry as largely ineffective (or at least, that it can’t definitively prove its effectiveness as a propaganda system) is that this doesn’t say much about Mr. Schudson’s estimation of the effectiveness of his own discipline and profession — sociology. There’s an ironic self-judgment in that dismissal. But, for the most part, Mr. Schudson overlooks the fact of these “expert” consultancies, and even the fact that the very largest ad agencies have entire departments staffed by social scientists. Mr. Schudson thinks this is largely just for show — to impress potential clients with a show of “expertise” and the mere belief that the agency is in command of an effective technology of “persuasion” that the client will pay big bucks to have working for him. And even if that were so, it’s still very effective propaganda and perception management. It wins the contract! It’s all Wizard of Oz stuff. The simple belief that an agency is in possession of a foolproof, effective, and efficient technique of behavioural engineering is sufficient to change the behaviour of at least some people.

A lot of behavioural engineering is precisely this Wizard of Oz stuff. And it hardly makes sense to say that, while it is effective with certain groups — clients, the owners of media, the distributors and retailers who believe in the technology — it suddenly stops being believable with the “consumer”. Where’s that at? Where’s the borderline of belief? Mr. Schudson believes, though, in the power of reason over magic, while failing to notice that its all magic! It’s what Mickunas calls “technocratic shamanism”.

In his memoir entitled The Other Guy Blinked: How Pepsi Won the Cola Wars, former Pepsi CEO Roger Enrico describes rolling out a series of commercial previews before a convention of Pepsi bottlers and distributors. As he describes it, and to his surprise, the bottlers and distributors became increasingly frenzied with each preview of the ads. His description of the hubbub very much brought to mind the response to Goebbels’ infamous Berlin Sportpalast speech of 1943 calling for total sacrifice for “total war”. It got the assembled Nazi minions into a frenzy, a frenzy that ultimately proved self-destructive for the entire German nation.

Well, come on! (You might say). You can’t compare war propaganda to brand warfare! Why not? Enrico himself uses military strategy and language in describing Pepsi’s warfare with Coke — brand jihad, as it were. Not only are the psychological effects the same, the historical fact is that Hitler and Goebbels learned their propaganda techniques by studying advertising. The same principles of “perception management” are involved, whether preparing and shaping people for cradle to grave warfare or for cradle to grave brand loyalty (and to prevent “apostates” from switching brands if possible). The principles are the same, the techniques are the same, the effects are the same, even if Pepsi loyalists and Coke loyalists don’t take brand jihad so far as to slaughter one another.

It’s incredible to realise that heads of companies that basically sell sugar water are treated as though they are leaders of sovereign states, with almost immediate access to heads of state and finance ministers and have influence in shaping public policy. Sugar water. But not just sugar water, but sugar water endowed with special “virtues” — the elixir of life and youth, or purification and innocence. That’s technocratic shamanism.

If the slogan of propaganda 2.0 was “perception management” and the marketing of “values and ways of life”, all that is still included in marketing 3.0 but with this new emphasis on “the management of meaning” and on “reason for being”. Those are the two memes that keep recurring in the literature. This is where the “death of God” finally comes home to roost. Brand names are the new deities — the gods and goddesses, spirits, sprites and nymphs — of the Adverse, endowed with magical virtues and powers, and the corporations are their immortal temples. Average Joe and Jospehine are the new Adam and Eve of the Adverse.

I really wish I was making this up, but I’m not. That’s the intent for “holistic branding” or “marketing 3.0”. It’s a peculiar form of neo-paganism and the return of the native, just as much as technocratic shamanism is a peculiar form of shamanism and the return of the magical consciousness structure. And there’s no question but that the “communicators” are consciously, and cynically, trafficking in magic and myth, knowingly exploiting the placebo effect and the nocebo effect, and justifying it in exactly those terms.

This is not for purposes of enlightenment. “Educating the consumer” has a funny and rather perverse meaning in the mouths of the brandmeisters. This is done for purposes of mystification, and quite for the reasons that the late Harvard political scientist and old Cold Warrior Samuel Huntington advised,

“The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”

That’s mystification. And as you may know from Gebser’s cultural philosophy, a concern with power and the will automatically invokes the magical consciousness structure, which then becomes expressed through the medium of the mental-rational in perverse and distorted ways. This, then, is the meaning of “technocratic shamanism”.



3 responses to “Technocratic Shamanism: Propaganda, Marketing and Mystification”

  1. monastic123 says :

    Love what Scott Preston is writing

  2. Risto says :

    Hi Scott!

    I came across this article about music industry’s usage of dark esoteric symbols. The article smells conspiracy theory miles away, but the phenomenon is very interesting and I think it links with your current theme of technocratic shamanism.

    Here’s a quote, that’s quoted from another source in the text:
    “The Illuminati symbolism we see in popular culture is becoming so prevalent that it is BECOMING popular culture. While some might claim that “it’s a trend” or that “Ke$ha is making fun of it”, they don’t see the important reversal that is happening here: Trends used to come from the streets to then be picked up and reflected by mass media; Nowadays, trends are CREATED by mass media and forced on the world through repetition and omnipresence.”

  3. Charles Leiden says :

    Good analysis. I mentioned the book by Lewis Hyde The Gift. It is a worthwhile book for his articulate of what a Gift economy is and its comparison to the market economy. He discusses usury throughout the book in several different ways. In a chapter on the poet Ezra Pound, Hyde writes how Pound connects “usury to the life of the imagination.” The spirt of usury. He uses two examples of the marketing of commodities to children. The one I am mentioning is the about fast food chain Burger King who in 1977 through research discovered that the child chooses the brand one of out every three times for fast food. They developed a character a magician names Burger King to “lure hungry children away from McDonald’s,” represented by a clown named Ronald McDonald. BK bankrolled a giveaway program in which they “gave” away little toys to children. Hyde writes that “BK was prepared to spend S40 million a year on advertising if they found their magician could attract and hold the kids’ affections.”
    “Several things characterize this advertising campaign. The company profits by marketing an image. Not just any kind of image. Magicians, clowns and men and women with superpowers appeal to children in part because children are powerless and seek to release themselves from that burden. Secondly, this form of marketing uses gift decoys. Burger King’s through the imagination, and in part because super people are the stuff of fairy tale and myth. Secondly, this form of marketing uses gift decoys. Burger King’s “giveaway” toys are technically bribes, not gifts. Sales rely on keeping these categories confused, however, for the intent is to use the bonding power of gifts to attach children to a product.”
    The bond is use to make profits. Finally, Hyde writes, these campaigns are directed toward children because children are not as cynical as adults; they are more easily stirred by archetypal imagery …”
    One could suggest that over the years since this was written there has been a trend for adults to become more like children. Richard Stiver talks about puerilism as a symptom of the present context.

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