Merry Hallowthankmas Eve

In a Time oped titled "Merry Hallowmas", Nancy Gibbs complains that corporations are forcing a longer holiday season on us, for nefarious reasons:

"A perpetual Holiday," George Bernard Shaw said, "is a good working definition of hell." This year the perennial ruckus over little girls’ slutty Halloween costumes was still going strong even as the perennial ruckus over the War on Christmas began. It’s as though we’ve supersized our holidays, so that they start sooner, last longer and cost more, until the calendar pages pull and tear, and we don’t know which one we are meant to be celebrating. …

August is the rare month with no shared celebration in it, when we gasp along for weeks on end without collective permission to overspend, overeat and overindulge.  Given that hardship, retailers seize the opportunity. Now it’s not only school that starts the day after Labor Day; so does Halloween. Target and Wal-Mart had their spooky gear out by the following weekend. Monthly magazines do Halloween in the September issue, so Christmas can hit in October.

Sorry, I don’t see a conspiracy of thugs beating up retailers who refuse to join a holiday campaign.  Instead, I see a vigorous competition among retailers trying to attract customers who want a longer holiday season.  Complaining that retailers force a long holiday season makes no more sense than saying studios force violent movies, or that newspapers force horse-race style election-coverage.  Retailers, studios, and newspapers mostly just anticipate consumer demand for such things.  If you want someone to blame, stand in a crowd and look around.

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  • Gray Area

    Perhaps some, or even the majority of consumers want longer holidays, however I don’t see how you are disentangling the mutual causation here (since advertising can create demand as well).

  • http://profile.typekey.com/tobyord/ Toby Ord

    Robin, I don’t think your argument is sound. For example, we can quite rightly blame newspapers for their horse-race style election coverage. This style may well be what will sell the most papers, but the fact that they are trying to maximise profits cannot excuse them of blame. Sometimes doing what is right comes apart from what is profit maximising. Indeed, this happens all the time. Similarly, in politics we can rightly blame a politician for his or her doing what the majority want when that is actually a bad thing. In such cases we can blame both the politicians and their voters or both the newspapers and their buyers.

    Your case that they don’t ‘force’ us is stronger than your case that we can’t ‘blame’ them, but the quoted piece doesn’t seem to be relying on their ‘forcing us’ just on their ‘taking advantage’ of us.

  • Carl Shulman

    It’s plausible that such retailer innovations can reduce overall consumer welfare via a heterogenous consumer population and a signaling arms race. In that case most consumers might be justified in blaming corporate innovators and a minority of consumers for the negative outcome.

    For instance, in some case corporations can utilize their advertising spending to create new norms that reduce consumer welfare. For instance, the De Beers “Diamonds are Forever” campaign (utilizing celebrities and such) was able to create a norm that engagement rings should be exchanged, that those rings should be diamonds (enabling De Beers to use its cartel and individual market power to extract consumer surplus), and that spending should be approximately 3 months salary of the giver. As the norm is established with the collaboration of consumers with certain preferences, others are faced with losses, and switching over to emeralds requires facing a large collective action problem. If we should tax medicine to discourage its signaling-related overuse, the same argument surely applies to diamonds.

    Likewise, corporations can facilitate negative-sum holiday signaling arms races with the collaboration of a minority of consumers eager to signal, e.g. families that wish to have the scariest house on the block for Halloween, or the most attractive Christmas lights by innovating new product categories of visible holiday activity. In extreme cases marketing departments of retailers literally invent or import a holiday to a country (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Day). Then we face more costly status competition, possibly exacerbated by other biases (http://www.overcomingbias.com/2006/12/bias_in_christm.html).

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Toby and Carl, can you agree the corporations don’t deserve any extra blame, beyond what all of us may deserve for participating in an economically inefficient or morally unjust social equilibrium.

  • kc

    I’m sorry if this critique is redundant but I can see a way in which the “anti- holiday-shopping” perspective might be different from violent movies or “horse race” style election coverage.

    Holidays are a Schelling point or focal point for shopping. Therefore, retailers can focus their sales events by having them coincide with days that the public will already remember, such as Labor Day or Independence Day. If a company were to try to “behave nicely” they might schedule their sale on September 15 instead of Labor Day and consumers, sadly, would not have reason to remember it. Of course, the result is a collective action problem in the form of that cacophony that we all hate. Each individual firm offends only a little–like drivers emitting CO2–but we’re ultimately stuck with noise pollution.

    It would be nice if some wise and far-sighted companies tried to create separate equilibria by having regularly timed sales–say, the 15th of them month–that didn’t necessarily coincide with holidays. Ultimately, it could cultivate loyalty in a less crowded market. But perhaps the “quarterly earning targets” mentality precludes such a strategy?

    Bottom line: Horse race elections coverage and violent movies strike me as completely different phenomena…

  • Nate

    don’t back down, robin. you’re right on with this one. companies are just giving the people what they want. anyone who deviates is punished by missing the boat.

    we all claim to hate early christmas sales and events, but we attend and spend anyway. we are consumers who deep down like the 90 days of christmas. let’s not kid ourselves anymore.

  • Dynamically Linked

    Robin, maybe corporations actually respond to public blame by changing their behavior, because they care about public relations, so for an oped writer, blaming corporations may in fact be an effective way to reduce inefficiency and/or injustice.

  • http://lonelygenius.wordpress.com LG

    Nate, I have to disagree. I’ve opted out of holidays almost entirely — my family and I make things for each other, and we give our would-be Christmas money to charities that we think the other people would like to support. I am in the minority, but I notice that many of my friends do similar things. Maybe there’s a correlation between extravagant (as a function of percent of yearly income spent at Christmas) spending and low socio-economic status or lack of education.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/tobyord/ Toby Ord

    Robin,

    I think that sometimes corporations *do* deserve extra blame. This can be for several different reasons. For example, there is the fact that a few people in a corporation sometimes exert as much causal power on what happens as many thousands of people in the general public. In that sense, they can sometimes shoulder thousands of times as much blame. It can also be true that they have more information, or a position that entails additional responsibility, just as we might blame the lifeguard for not rescuing someone more than we would blame a nearby swimmer. Blame is a tricky concept and we could debate its nature all day, but I do think the above is a fairly commonsense account of a couple of feature of blame.

    I think that extra blame is probably appropriate in the holiday sales case and is definitely appropriate in the election coverage case.

    Nate, I take no part in the early christmas corporate activities, and hardly any part in the near christmas shopping. I can’t admit that it is ‘our’ fault since it is not my fault at all. I do agree with Robin that most people share some of the blame, though I think that the blame falls thickest on those identified by the cited article.

  • http://cob.jmu.edu/rosserjb Barkley Rosser

    I have gotten used to the Xmas ads before Thanksgiving, and I do not even mind if someone puts up lights before then (at least they are usually pretty). What really annoys me is the very recent trend in the last year or so of lots of radio stations deciding that people want to hear nothing but
    Xmas music starting shortly after Halloween. Gag. And then these stations revert to their usual formats on Dec. 26, when at least I for one am finally really feeling like hearing such music.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Dynamically, why would corporations be more altruistic or shameable than the rest of us?

    Toby, I can’t imagine what added relevant info you think corporations have about the holiday shopping season than the rest of us. Surely we are all well aware we have a long season.

  • Dynamically Linked

    Robin, corporations don’t need to be more shameable than the rest of us for it to be more effective to blame them. A corporation has more power than an individual, so if you can shame either a corporation or an individual into changing its/his/her behavior, it makes more sense to target the corporation since that produces a bigger impact on the world.

    To take this specific example, if the oped writer succeeds in shaming Target or Wal-Mart into reducing its holiday season marketing, that makes a much bigger difference than if the writer succeeded in shaming say Robin Hanson into not spending so much during the holiday season.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    I thought this site was supposed to be about overcoming bias. So, pray tell, what is the evidence that people want a longer holiday season, or horse-race election coverage? Where is the supporting evidence for this statement, or is it just more marketroid ideology?

    Let’s take the exactly parallel case of advertising. Merchants pump advertising onto every available square inch of public space, including billboards, newspapers, the airwaves, and the Internet. According to your reasoning, this must indicate a high consumer demand for advertising that the companies are merely reacting to. I hope I don’t need to point out that this is not, in fact, what is going on. Consumers don’t want advertising, and probably the merchants themselves would be happy if they could get away with less, but they are stuck in a competitive arms race.

    And in fact the holiday season is essentially just a form of advertising, a rather powerful device to encourage retail activity. Like the advertising arms race it has its own dynamic that is more or less independent of the individual desires of the participants.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    M, the main evidence that people want something is the fact that they choose it relative to alternatives. The fact that people choose context with ads, over other contexts, suggests that people like the net effects. This is all standard microeconomics. I’m not saying that we always have the idea amount of ads, but surely the ideal amount, maximizing values minus costs, is non-zero ads.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    And what alternatives do people have other than to be bombarded with advertising and/or retail holiday festivities? You could go live in a cabin in the woods, I suppose, but that has other costs. In other words, what the hell are you talking about, what are the supposed alternatives that people are choosing among? And I don’t know what the point about zero ads is — I agree that people’s preference is probably for non-zero ads and non-zero Christmas, but that isn’t the argument, it’s whether the actual amount they get is even remotely close to their preferences and is driven by them.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    M, TV channels vary in their ad intensity, as do magazines, stores and malls.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    And who do you know who picks their magazines or malls by the intensity of their advertising? If microeconomics tells us that every consumption choice perfectly reflects the preferences of the consumer, than microeconomics is full of it.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    M, ad intensity if one of many factors that influence choice of magazines, TV channels, etc.

  • outeast

    Robin, can you show us sources on that please? Ensuring, of course, that these sources have controlled for factors such as price and non-ad content: ad-heavy media can be and usually are cheaper and/or able to afford more premium content, which is why Sky shows Premiership football and the Beeb does not… Sounds like a confusion of correlation with causation to me.

  • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

    Robin, suppose a psychopath demands that you choose between having your family killed and having New York blown up, and you choose for your family to be killed. Then you have chosen among the options available to you, but it doesn’t seem like it would be reasonable to say that the psychopath doesn’t deserve more blame than you do — because the context for your choice was shaped by the psychopath’s preferences (he’s determined to kill either your family or everyone in New York) and yours are very different.

    Corporations (according to your argument) demand that we choose between having more advertisements and having more expensive products. We (often) choose more advertisements. We have chosen among the options available to us, but that doesn’t mean that the corporations providing us with that choice don’t deserve more blame than we do: the context for our choice is shaped by their preferences, such as maximizing their profits, which might be very different from our preferences.

    The fact that two parties are both “participating in an equilibrium” with disagreeable consequences don’t mean that the blame is shared equally. You and the psychopath are participating in an equilibrium.

    (It’s doubtful, as mtraven says, how much choice we really get between “more ads” and “more expense”. The choice is made for us by people who think they know what our preferences are. If someone proposed to sell newspapers with absolutely no advertising, the project would probably get killed very quickly on the grounds that the price would have to be so high that no one would buy the paper. No need to actually try it. But it’s plausible that those people have a pretty good idea of their potential customers’ preferences.)

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    g, would you blame corporations for charging you more for a gold ring than a steel ring, when they face higher costs to obtain gold than steel? If not, what is the difference here?

  • Carl Shulman

    “can you agree the corporations don’t deserve any extra blame, beyond what all of us may deserve for participating in an economically inefficient or morally unjust social equilibrium.”

    I don’t think so, for two reasons. First, ‘all of us’ are not equally blameworthy, as early adopters of negative-sum practices can be criticized by those who are not, possibly including Gibbs. Second, the marginal harm done by a marketing executive crafting a new holiday will be orders of magnitude greater than that of an individual consumer going along with the new norm. An individual choice by the executive to help avoid that outcome would be much more effective than an effort by an individual consumer (offset to some extent by the increased costs to the executive, and dependent on the size of the consumer population and the intensity of competition in holiday invention). [I now see that Toby has made this point already.]

    However, I do agree that Gibbs ought to have criticized those consumers who contribute to the outcome she dislikes as well, if not necessarily to the same extent as very large retailers.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    Come on Robin, you are off the subject: “would you blame corporations for charging you more for a gold ring than a steel ring, when they face higher costs to obtain gold than steel? If not, what is the difference here?” the issue is not whether corporations are to blame for anything, the issue is whether consumers have a meaningful choice of avoiding advertising, and if so whether the cost of doing so is low enough that people will be able and likely to pursue those options (which have not yet been demonstrated to actually exist). And whether the existence of advertising proves that it’s something that people want. And whether microeconomics is really a way to overcome bias, or an ideology with severe blinders.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    M, I was talking to g. This blog has no ads, while other blogs do have ads. Therefore you have a choice of whether to read blogs with ads, and some people do choose to read the blogs with ads.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    Argh…I’m sure my point is not that obscure. Yes, you can choose between blogs with ads and no ads. But that choice is not independent of other factors, and in fact practically nobody chooses their blogs on the basis of whether or not they have ads. If you like the New Yorker, your choice is to get it with the ads or not at all, there is no ad-free substitute. If you like PZ Myers, you put up with the ads on scienceblogs, or block them (see below).

    And if you dislike billboards, you do not really have the option of living in an ad-free city. You could live in a cabin in the woods, but that has other costs. Isn’t there even a term for this in economics, like non-substitutable goods? Why am I (an admitted economic ignoramus) lecturing a tenured professor of economics on this?

    In short, ads are not something that people want, they are something that they put up with because they are associated with something they do want. I don’t know why I have to make this point since presumably everybody in the world knows this.

    So the existence of ads does not prove that they are something that people demand. At best, it proves that they are something that people will tolerate. In fact, software (AdBlocker) and devices (Tivo) that allow people to bypass ads are very popular and a threat to the advertising industry.

    If you could design HolidayBlocker spectacles that would allow people to actually control how much holiday material they get thrown at them, then you would be able to experimentally determine just how much they actually want. But you seem to think we live in this world now.

    I’m tired of this argument, going to go cook a turkey, Happy Thanksgiving, and any other holidays that might have blended in with it.

  • http://www.churchofrationality.blogspot.com LemmusLemmus

    Robin,

    are you willing to admit that the reception of the average ad creates disutility for the average person?

    Would you agree that advertising creates a collective good problem for companies – i.e., each company would like to avoid it (costs money), but if they do, they are going to fall behind the competition?

    Would you not agree that if advertising were banned, products overall would be cheaper?

    I hope this does not come across as rude, but your comments in this thread come across as having been written by a very intelligent person who is blinded to arguments because he has built his identity around a libertarian wordview: if that’s what the market produces, it can’t be bad.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com/ TGGP

    Why am I (an admitted economic ignoramus) lecturing a tenured professor of economics on this?
    You should dwell on that for a while. Remember the example of the gold vs steel ring. Remember that advertising subsidizes certain content that would not otherwise exist (at least to the extent that it currently does).

    your comments in this thread come across as having been written by a very intelligent person who is blinded to arguments because he has built his identity around a libertarian wordview: if that’s what the market produces, it can’t be bad.
    Robin has denied being a libertarian before. What he is saying here sounds like standard microeconomics, which does not necessarily entail libertarianism.

  • http://dl4.jottit.com/ Richard Hollerith

    Ms magazine has been ad-free since 1991. Denmark prohibits billboards on aesthetic grounds.

  • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

    Robin, I have no problem with charging more for things that cost more to produce. (Duh.)

    I do have a slight problem with being told I prefer steel if I actually prefer gold but happen not to be able to afford gold, but it’s only a slight problem because if you insist on saying that I prefer steel then it will be widely understood what is meant.

    But if I go to the only jewelry shop in town and they have nothing on sale but steel, because the manager has decided that his clientele will be unwilling to pay the extra for gold — why yes, then I *do* have a problem with being told that I “want” steel.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    Argh. tggp, you’ve known me long enough to suppose that I might understand the basic economics of advertising and advertising-supported media. I was not proposing to ban advertising, or even suggesting that advertising or advertisers are evil. I was making the somewhat more subtle argument, which I didn’t think was so subtle that I would have to repeat it three different times and still not have it understood, that the market does not present an infinite array of independent choices. In real life, choices are limited and bundled together. So if I want to read the latest T. C. Boyle short story in the New Yorker, I don’t have the option of buying an advertsing-free version of the New Yorker, just the one actually existing version, with ads. Similarly, to a first approximation I don’t have the option of shopping in ad- or holiday-free environments, and this proves nothing at all about consumer preferences for ads and holidays.

    If someone can produce a real argument from economics that I’m wrong, cool, but so far I’ve just gotten various attempts to patronize me while missing the point.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    M, no one claims the market offers an infinite array of independent choices. Not all feature combos are actually offered at any one time. Nevertheless, firms anticipate consumer demand for each feature when choosing product combos to offer.

    Lemmus, I admit many, perhaps most, consumers would rather see fewer untargeted ads, all else equal. But since the cost of providing ads is usually negative, all else is not equal, and consumers can easily prefer a cheaper or higher quality product that includes ads.

  • ScentOfViolets

    And Robin still hasn’t provided any evidence that this is the best of all possible outcomes. In fact:

    M, the main evidence that people want something is the fact that they choose it relative to alternatives. The fact that people choose context with ads, over other contexts, suggests that people like the net effects. This is all standard microeconomics.

    Seems to have been rather forcefully rejected as ‘evidence’. And given that it is the person making the claim that has the burden of proof, I’d say Robin has failed to be persuasive. So I’ll repeat the question, albeit in a slightly altered form: what evidence would he take to show that his statement is incorrect?

  • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

    “All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee;
    All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
    All discord, harmony, not understood;
    All partial evil, universal good:
    And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
    One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”

    — Alexander Pope, Essay on MicroeconomicsMan

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Scent, I made no claim “that this is the best of all possible outcomes.” I am not saying we have exactly the right amount of ads or of holiday decorations. I said retailers respond to anticipated consumer demand for ads, quality, and price.

  • ScentOfViolets

    That was said rather tongue-in-cheek, and, like some other people have already noted, I think that’s simulating obtuseness.

    And which, in any case has nothing to do with my questions about your specific evidence for this claim, and your evidentiary standards. Again, what are they? What evidence do you have for your claims? What observations would lead you to disavow your hypothesis? These are simple questions. And something it now looks like you are deliberately avoiding answering. I would be happy to be proved wrong on that last.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/robinhanson/ Robin Hanson

    Scent, I am not going to post a summary of the evidence for the standard results of an entire discipline.

  • ScentOfViolets

    Iow, you have no evidence for your claim. Something you could have said many posts ago.

    More tellingly, however, you refuse to post any possible evidence that would refute your claim. So I agree with this observation made by an earlier poster:

    I hope this does not come across as rude, but your comments in this thread come across as having been written by a very intelligent person who is blinded to arguments because he has built his identity around a libertarian wordview: if that’s what the market produces, it can’t be bad.

    Now, you can claim you’re not a libertarian, but that’s simply not what I or others see. It is nice to know, however, that the company of libertarians are not being sought out these days. Hopefully, libertarianism will take it’s place alongside other discredited institutions such as communism and socialism – an intellectual movement having it’s roots in the nineteenth century and thoroughly played out by the end of the twentieth.

  • http://www.mccaughan.org.uk/g/ g

    (Please excuse the length of what follows. There seems to be enough misunderstanding going around to justify sacrificing brevity for clarity.)

    It seems plausible to me that the situation is as follows.

    1. When a given merchant issues another advertisement, or begins their season of holiday promotions one day earlier, this brings them some extra profit (which they may or may not use to lower prices). It also reduces other merchants’ profits (which may or may not lead them to increase prices).

    2. The net benefit to the customer — probably also to the merchants in aggregate — of this increased advertising, or longer holiday season, is negative. But it’s positive to each individual merchant, so they’ll do it.

    3. Supposing for the sake of argument that merchants respond to bigger or smaller profit by lowering or raising their prices, when FooCo issues another advertisement their customers do indeed benefit from lower prices on FooCo products. But they also suffer from higher prices on products from FooCo’s competitors, and from having to endure being advertised at more.

    4. (This shouldn’t need spelling out, but…) The fact that the customer loses overall doesn’t contradict the fact that FooCo gains from increased advertising. Advertising influences people even if they don’t like it. (That’s a large part of why some of us don’t like it.) So does a longer holiday season. “Oh, good grief, are FooCo really starting their Christmas promotions in July? Ugh. Still, since I have to suffer the stupid signs and lights and things anyway, I might as well take what advantage I can.”

    Of course I don’t know that the externalities really do make the effect of more advertising a net minus for everyone. Maybe everyone gains. Or maybe the merchants gain overall but the customer loses. It’s hard to tell.

    And the point, of course, is that in the absence of some actual evidence that the customers gain, or at least that merchants can reasonably expect that customers will gain, it is simply not correct to assert that the customers “want” or “demand” what they are being given. Yes, businesses respond to predicted customer demand. That demand is partially under their control, and their manipulations of it may make end up making everyone worse off.

    Aliter: The path from a shorter holiday season to a longer one has two steps. First, some businesses offer longer holiday seasons. Then, customers choose those businesses over their rivals. You cannot conclude from the second of these that customers prefer a longer holiday season. All you can conclude is that when already faced with a longer holiday season, they make the best of it. They might (and likely do) prefer a situation in which none of the businesses makes them that offer, because *the offer itself has negative value to them*.

  • Nate

    M. I believe sales have been tried across the entire spectrum of ad intensity. The ones you see in practice today are simply the most successful of those types. If people truly didn’t want or value ads, then a mutant firm would come in without ads and take over the market. Then a new equilibrium would emerge as others copycat. But it hasn’t happened.

    There is a brand of sun tan lotion called “No-Ad” lotion. It sells in many drugstores and is less than Hawaiian tropic and other name brands. (They claim on the bottle that they take the savings from not promoting their product and give it as a discount to you, the valued customer.) If you really need evidence, the miniscule market share of No-Ad should be it.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    Well, No-Ad is at least some evidence for something, although it’s rather weak — just one product, which could have small market share for any number of reasons, such as poor distribution.

    The reality is that advertising functions as a form of signalling — major brand names indicate major coporations indicate (and create) a large market share, which generates consumer trust, rightly or wrongly (a brand you’ve never heard of might have something wrong with it, but if everybody uses CopperTone you can assume that it’s a reasonably safe choice).

    So advertising is an important part of the psychology of consumer choice. That doesn’t mean that people actively want advertisements.

    I can see that my request for one of the many economists who haunt this blog to chime in with some actual economics will go unanswered, fortunately Google coughed up this excellent survey article as the first hit. People have actually studied this stuff.

  • ScentOfViolets

    Indeed, M. It seems that several people are working actively to promote bias rather than overcome it. Not terribly well either:

    M. I believe sales have been tried across the entire spectrum of ad intensity.

    A statement of belief, with no evidence given.

    The ones you see in practice today are simply the most successful of those types.

    A statement of conjecture, with no evidence or supportive reason given.

    If people truly didn’t want or value ads, then a mutant firm would come in without ads and take over the market.

    A statement of conjecture, with no evidence or supportive reason given.

    Then a new equilibrium would emerge as others copycat.

    A statement of conjecture, with no evidence or supportive reason given.

    There is a brand of sun tan lotion called “No-Ad” lotion. It sells in many drugstores and is less than Hawaiian tropic and other name brands. (They claim on the bottle that they take the savings from not promoting their product and give it as a discount to you, the valued customer.) If you really need evidence, the miniscule market share of No-Ad should be it.

    The first statements I quoted are merely evidence of an economic dogma. But this paragraph actively descends into extremely poor reasoning, as well as demonstrating a lack of conviction in the scientific method. First, the poster has confused converses with contrapositives; if the situation is as described, then the observation of poor market sales for products with small advertising outlays would be in accordance with it. But the observation that there exists products with poor market share and that also do not have an advertising budget per se does not prove that “the consumers” want advertisement (take that as a paraphrase for those who wish to use narrow interpretations as a debate tactic.) In fact, the only thing examples of this nature can do is disprove the hypothesis, which they do. I used to work for DataStorm in the mid-90’s. They produced modem connection software called ‘Procomm’ which was considered a superior product back in the day, and made it a point of pride to spend very little in advertising, in fact, went out of their way to promote it by word of mouth. If the libertarian types are correct, this company should have gone out of business due to poor advertising. In point of fact, they did not. Ipso facto, libertarians are wrong again, and the hypothesis has been disconfirmed.

    The other odd point is the posters apparent surprise that evidence to support the claim is requested. Isn’t that the exact opposite of what overcoming bias is trying to promote?

  • Chris

    As a newby here, I’m amused by this post string. Robin’s original post could just about pass as a Grinchy 3rd op-ed designed to amuse. Let’s leave it at that. There is scope for a serious piece on retailer led or consumer led behaviour patterns, but clearly we’re nowhere near that here. My serious thanks to ‘mtravern’ for solid applied sense.

  • Leo G.

    I think story-time would illustrate the fallacy here nicely.

    Frank is a drug-dealer in Appleton but nobody is buying any of his drugs. If you ask the people of Appleton, they say are not interested in his drugs. They much prefer TV and jewelry. So it goes.

    Frank begins advertising to convince people that drug use has a great value proposition–he even offers the first dose free of charge! Free doesn’t cost anything, the people say, so some try it and discover they like it. In fact, they like it so much, they start selling their TVs and jewelry. What a wonderful thing! The market has helped them discover something they value more highly! In fact, the people buy so much that Frank can achieve economies of scale and offer the same product for lower prices, so now everyone wins! All praise the Market (peace be upon it) for it is truly benevolent.

    That’s all for story time this week. Next week: Frank’s a monopolist no longer, as George enters the market. George and Frank get into a price war and once again, consumers benefit!

  • nolrai

    but thats ignoring social effects and the effects of advertising!

  • StCredZero

    The America you see during Merryhallowthankmas is the real America. This is what people are really like and what they’re really about if you dug deeper, which is neither what they’re really like and really about if you dug a bit deeper than that. In any case “normal” is not what its label would suggest. 

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