The Consumer Is In Charge. Of What?

In a world in which a handful of companies largely control what we see, hear, and buy, how can anyone claim that the consumer is the one in charge? This, says Bob Hoffman – aka The Ad Contrarian – is “one of the inescapable clichés of modern marketing” which “shows a remarkable and frightening lack of understanding about what’s really going on”…

In a world in which a handful of companies largely control what we see, hear, and buy, how can anyone claim that the consumer is the one in charge? This, says Bob Hoffman – aka The Ad Contrarian – is “one of the inescapable clichés of modern marketing” which “shows a remarkable and frightening lack of understanding about what’s really going on”…

“The Consumer Is In Charge” says Kaiser Permanente CIO

“Consumers and their demands are in charge of business” says Frito-Lay’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer

“Today, the customer is in charge,” said SrVP for marketing at Wal-Mart Stores

One of the inescapable clichés of modern marketing is that “the consumer is in charge”. It’s virtually impossible to talk with anyone in the marketing industry for any period of time without hearing this trite lump of nothing.

There are three things horribly wrong with it:

1. It assumes that there was a time in the past in which the consumer wasn’t in charge of making buying decisions. I’d love to know when that was.

2. It assumes the usual bullshit about the web having “changed everything.” For a nice chuckle about this lovely bit of stupidity, I refer you to one of my favourite all-time classics of marketing doubletalk.

3. Most depressingly, it shows a remarkable and frightening lack of understanding about what’s really going on in the world.

Today, we going to focus on item #3.

Among the most disturbing aspects of economics and society today is the alarming degree to which a handful of companies control what we see, hear, and buy. Never before in my lifetime has so much power been consolidated into the hands of so few entities. Never before have the choices for consumers been so concentrated.

Here’s a look at the food industry in the U.S. According to the Huffington Post “These 10 Companies Control Enormous Number Of Consumer Brands”


 

Media is even worse. Here is an infographic from 2012 reproduced by Business Insider, that claimed that 6 companies control 90% of the media in the U.S. A few things have changed since 2012, but the trend is no better.

The financial industry is equally concentrated. Here’s a chart from Mother Jones that shows how 37 banks became 4.

As for the mythical democratising effect of the web, Google, Facebook and Yahoo dominate web traffic pretty effectively. Google alone is responsible for about 1/4 of all web traffic. And more than 50% of all web video is shared by YouTube and Netflix.

And please don’t get me started about the hideous amount of information these creeps are collecting on us.

You have to do some truly monumental logic torturing to come up with a story in which all this consolidation and concentration of economic, marketing, and communication power leaves the consumer in charge.

More than ever in my lifetime, the big guys are driving the bus. The bullshit about the consumer being in charge is just the blind utopian rubbish of clueless digital nitwits.

This post originally appeared on The Ad Contrarian.

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