December 12th

These blog posts are thinning out to say the least, partly because I'm busy, and partly because I've already said a lot of things I wanted to. Which is better, repeating yourself endlessly, or staying silent once you've said your piece?

Quote of the Week

  • "This house has been far out at sea all night, |The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, |Winds stampeding the fields under the window |Floundering black astride and blinding wet |Till day rose; then under an orange sky |The hills had new places, and wind wielded |Blade-light, luminous black and emerald, |Flexing like the lens of a mad eye." - Ted Hughes, Wind

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Advertising (Continued from The Corporate Mechanism)

Now, continuing on from my last post aboutthe Corporate Mechanism (which you must read to understand this), market dominance and controlling consumer tastes, let’s go back to Ah Keat’s set of advertisements.

You will remember that Ah Keat, after attempting to increase the productivity of his company (Fashion Belts Inc.) by forcing his employees to work harder and longer for less pay, has found an edge over Colin’s company (Fancy Belts Pvt. Ltd.) in advertising his products. In the process, he has to increase the price of his goods (Fashion Belt) to pay for the extra cost of his advertising campaign.

Initially, Ah Keat advertised Fashion Belts as a luxury item for parties. He attracts only partygoers to buy his belts, but other consumers are not interested – his initial aim is to wrest control of the existing fashion market from Colin. But Ah Keat cannot afford to advertise to only a small group of people, because advertisements cost money, and the market simply isn’t big enough for him to earn back that amount. Ah Keat’s first round of advertisements does not work quite as well as he would like, so he tries something else, and starts to bring in movie stars and singers to say how cool these belts are.

Ah Keat soon realizes that after this new set of advertisements, the total sales of his and Colin’s companies has increased –Ah Kiet’s piece of the pie is smaller than before Colin came along, but the market as a whole has expanded.

How on earth did Ah Keat’s advertisements increase the market? He hires a consultant to figure out why. The consultant, after some research, tells Ah Keat that people actually want to feel like the people in the advertisements – that is, they believe wearing these belts makes them feel like movie stars, singers and the lot, so they buy them to feel cool, and as a result the market gets bigger. Ah Keat is rubbing his hands in delight – he can make the market grow by advertising, and a larger market means more earnings. He realizes also that whoever controls the market has more to earn than ever before.

It comes to a point where virtually everyone in the city has a Fashion Belt, and there is nobody else to sell to. Will Ah Keat be a victim of his own success? But Ah Keat is a sly one. He comes up with a new belt called Fashion Belt X, and sells it as the hipper, trendier and better version of Fashion Belt. But before releasing the product to the city, h unleashes another wave of advertisements to announce its arrival – and people go crazy in anticipation. Now they are being told that a Fashion Belt is not enough to feel cool at a party – the Fashion Belt X is even better! As the product hits the market, people flock to Ah Keat’s stores to buy up even more of the product, which turns out to be a cooler, better-designed version of Fashion Belt (exactly as had been promised) – and they lap it all up. Even the people who already have the old generation of Fashion Belt are compelled to buy ‘the X’ as it is soon labelled, because it’s simply too cool to ignore!

After the initial craze, as people are beginning to get comfortable in their new belts and have just locked up, thrown out or given away the old ones, Ah Keat floods the market with his next big hit – Fashion Belt Summer Season, and the hype begins all over again. Of course, Ah Keat makes big bucks while his workers struggle to pay their electricity bill, and his buyers are forced to pay extravagant prices for goods that are actually cheap to make.

Impossible, you say? Well, look around you. Have you ever been excited about the next new item of clothing or piece of technology to hit the market? Have you gone out of your way to buy these products, thinking that it would make you feel better? Has it really made you feel better? Or has it deprived you of hard-earned money, money that you could have used for something else, like paying for your college education, or having extra tuition classes, or even giving a few dollars to the beggar down the street?

I’m not telling you not to buy the next new product on the market. By all means, buy it – if you believe it is genuinely useful to you. Otherwise, why are you wasting money on something that looks slightly different from another, and has the same function as a cheaper good?

Don’t be a fool for these things. Don’t let yourself be manipulated by businesspeople like Ah Keat, who care only about money. Spend your money wisely, in a way that makes it worth the sweat shed to earn it.

The Corporate Mechanism

Let’s go back to basics for awhile. Imagine a small village where people make goods to cater to the village’s needs. For example, the people decide they need belts for work, so Ah Seng the local leather tanner (beltmaker) sells belts for a living to those who need them. Everything works fine, and everyone is happy.

The village grows into a town, and more people mean more goods are consumed and produced. Ah Beng also decides to start selling belts for a living. To outcompete Ah Beng, Ah Seng must come up with a way of making people buy his belts. So he works extra time to produce more, to out-sell Ah Beng. More of a good (e.g. belts) means producers have more goods to sell and thus more profit to earn. Sadly, this plan backfires – Ah Beng does the same thing, and now both have too many belts which they can’t sell. Now both Beng and Seng are in trouble – all their hard work has gone to waste. To clear their stocks, they have to sell off their belts – and thus they lower their prices. The townspeople, who only need one belt each, now have the option of buying an extra belt as a spare – or they can buy just one belt for a lower price – and so buyers benefit from this extra produce.

Ah Beng and Ah Seng, on the other hand, have to become better at producing belts, or they will lose money, time and energy. Ah Seng comes up with cheaper ways of making belts (e.g. by mass producing them), and he specialises – it becomes cheaper for Ah Seng to make belts, so he can afford to produce more belts to sell. Ah Seng Belt Maker grows into a company, with workers, managers and supervisors – people who need to be paid. Townspeople now benefit from the beltmakers by being able to buy more and cheaper belts, and they now have places to work.

But what happens to Ah Beng Belt Co.??

Aha, good question. By now, the town has grown into a small city, with people doing different jobs. Ah Beng decide to exploit this by making special belts which Ah Seng does not make – light ones for mountain-climbing, long ones for fatter people, or super-durable ones for soldiers. Ah Beng Belt Co. becomes Mountain Belt Makers Sdn. Bhd., and Ah Keat moves in to set up Fashion Belt Inc. People can now buy special belts for climbing mountains, fashionable belts for parties or plain belts for everyday life.

Okay. Good so far. The city has jobs and belts, and belt makers are all happy in their own areas. Everything is fine until one day, Colin sets up Fancy Belts Pvt. Ltd. in the region. Now Ah Keat is facing the heat – his business is coming under direct threat from this new company, and sales are falling. Both products are about the same quality and price, the only difference is in style. He has to find a new way of getting profit, and fast.

Sadly, Ah Keat is not the honest businessman that Ah Seng and Ah Beng are. He is concerned with profit, and since there are no more straight ways to increase profit, he has to play dirty. Of course, he is also cunning enough not to do anything illegal – he does not want to be thrown into jail.

His first course of action is to encourage his employees to work harder with job incentives, promotions and pay rises for the good workers– but when that fails, with threats, and decreased pay for the less efficient workers. Workers are forced to work harder than before, and are given less pay and job security. Here though, Colin is equally ruthless – he does the same thing, and now both companies are back on level ground.

Since nobody in the city needs two fashionable belts, Fashion Belt Inc. and Fancy Belts Pvt. Ltd. both face heavy losses. Ah Keat, now desperate to turn some profit, thinks of a brilliant idea – if buyers don’t want to buy his belts, why not persuade them to do so? He invests his remaining dollars in a massive ad campaign across television, newspapers and billboards – and people buy it. For a moment, a Fashion Belt becomes the compulsory item to wear to parties, and thousands flock to Ah Keat to buy them. Ah Keat starts to gain enough to set back the cost of his advertising campaign, and would be able to turn a handsome profit, if Colin had not launched an advertising ploy of his own. Again, the market swings between Colin and Ah Keat, with costs mounting for both players. The public, dazed and confused, spends extra money on both belt lines, convinced that both are necessary for their happiness.

Now, Ah Keat is at a loss – he has used every trick in the book, and Colin still shadows his every move. Finally, he resorts to increasing the price of his belts to make some money. Still misled by the advertising campaign, the public continues buying – and buying. Ah Keat begins to realise that his advertising campaign works so effectively that people will buy his goods, whatever the price – he realizes that he can afford to raise the price further and will raise even more profit, and soon does so. It doesn’t really matter that some cannot afford to buy his belts anymore, because the added profit he generates from other buyers is more than enough to cover the loss of some market share.

Though Colin soon begins to catch up, Ah Keat has taken the lead – he uses his extra profit to come up with more Fashion Belt lines, and advertises extravagantly, hiring movie stars, singers and sportsmen wearing his belts to woo the crowd. Dictating market tastes like this, Ah Keat’s edge over Colin grows. In the meantime, the public buys Ah Keat’s belts like fools, and he pulls in money in the millions. Ah Keat’s advertising campaign is so effective, it even draws Ah Seng and Ah Beng’s trusted customers to him. Their revenues, in turn, begin to drop.

Now Ah Seng and Ah Beng are forced to make a decision. Should they continue the way they did and be forced to close down, or play dirty like Ah Keat? The answer is before them. Soon, the entire city is being bombarded by advertisements from the beltmaking industry, and the public eats it up and continues buying. Of course, advertising costs money, and where better to get money than from unassuming customers, who just don’t know when to stop buying?

Here we are at a turning point.

Compare the old scenario – where beltmakers produce enough belts for to those who need them at a low cost, of different variety, with the new situation – where they produce belts at a low cost, sell them at an inflated price, and work their labourers for longer, while giving them less pay. How has society turned itself upside down, with the public serving the producers’ interests instead of the producers providing for the public’s needs?

Now, as it stands, safeguards have been put into place by the government to ensure this does not happen. Laws have been passed limiting advertising, exploitation of workers and other underhanded tactics. But it is ultimately we, the people, who must take charge of our own destinies. Advertising is all around us, and it will never go away. We must be able to judge for ourselves what we really want to do with the money we sweat, bleed, and sacrifice to earn. Buying an item of clothing for two hundred dollars when it costs only twenty to produce is not a good example of being able to judge. We must not be beguiled by the profiteers, who only seek to fill their coffers with our hard-earned money. And we must never let what we really need be buried by the avalanche of what people want us to think we need. There is no substitute for a loving family, good morals, trusted friends and a noble purpose in life. These above all things we need to hold above the adverts, the ‘lifestyle changes’ that people want us to make, and the ability of producers to sway our thoughts and minds.

I hope you grasp the significance of what I am telling you, and make the right decision on whether to follow it. I would be even happier if you told me you had already realized this, and have been doing what you see fit about it. Otherwise, you will never rise above being a zombie, manipulated by people whose agendas are a far cry from giving you true happiness.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

I am a Jackass Who’s Never Happy with the World

There, I’ve said it. No matter how blue the sky is or how warm the sun is, it just isn’t enough for me. When things seem just right, I have to come around and find another skeleton in the closet, and screw up everything in the process. If it isn’t politics, it’s finding flaws in my friends, or questioning my purpose in life, or disagreeing with my superiors. Many say my life’s screwed up, and I readily admit it. I’ll never have as many friends, or be as content, or have as good a blood pressure, as the next person who is content with the world. Instead, I’m the worrier, the stickler who lurks on the edge of society and comes in to dig up a few skeletons once in a while.

Some tell me to change, for fear of losing everything I have and gaining nothing back. Some tell me to bury thee thoughts because the world I live in will never accommodate a person like me. Others tell me to run, away from this messed up country, to a place where my thoughts are valued and shared.

I see plenty of reason in all three.

But then again I’m stubborn. Unfortunately, I don’t give up my convictions that easily. When I feel I have to say something, I’ll say it – often to my closest friends, no matter how insulted they may feel. I’ve lost some friends that way. By now, I can count the few I really trust with my fingers. Then again, I’ve made a few friends too, people like me who can never accept the world as it is.

“Why?” you ask. “Why go through all this trouble, hurting yourself and the others around you?”

The way I see it, it’s this: There are two kinds of person – the one who is content with the world, and the one who isn’t. Which of these two is needed if the world is to become better?

The person who is content with the world will never try to change it, but rather would change himself to suit the world. He does everything everyone else does, school, university, work, family. One day, he dies, but the world still spins the same way it started. This person leaves no trace of himself, never stands out from the 6 billion others of his species, and has not scarred the world or made it worse in any way.

That’s great; if the world is ideal I think we should keep it that way. But it isn’t. The world as we know it today is a world which I would not want to be born into. This world is filled with war, diminishing resources, corruption, racism, global warming, famine, inequality, oppression and thousands of other problems. We know nothing better – the world has never been at peace for long. But should we leave it as it is, or do something about it? My decision is clear: I will do something about the injustice plaguing this world, and I will not tolerate people who tell me otherwise.