Annals of commerce

Let’s see, today we have Ebola, Gaza, Ukraine, and our freedoms under siege by an invasion of children.  Maybe we need a break for something a little less ponderous. Advertising never lets us down:
(1) ARCO thinks we want to buy gas everyone waits in line to avoid. “Eat at Joe’s! Nobody else will!”  Did this work in focus groups? Anybody shooing customers out the door to get a nice inviting empty store?
(2) Coors is selling beer with incredibly expensive little adventure sports productions, whose point is that their beer is really, really – wait for it – cold! Uniquely so: the cold is brewed into it by some secret process!  No other beer can possibly be that cold! This is probably well-targeted to the intelligence of their market, but…
(3) The Viagra people invite us to identify with a guy who drives around pulling a team in a horse trailer to rescue his truck, apparently because he (i) never figured out how to put the thing into 4WD,  or is too dumb to (ii) just drive around a mudhole instead of into it in the first place, or (iii) unhitch the trailer, drive up onto dry ground, and pull the trailer out with a rope. I guess the one who gets to play with the most toys at once wins.
(4) Finally, a blast from the distant past: Rheingold beer had a series of ads showing this or that ethnic group having a party…Greeks breaking dishes, Jews dancing the hora, and like that…drinking Rheingold, with the voice-over (from memory): “New York, a city of dozens of different groups and cultures. Who would think it would have only one largest-selling beer? Well, there is such a beer, and it’s Rheingold.”  I watched a fair number of those before the bell went off in my head: “You would think one beer would outsell all others, but no: it’s a dead tie, down to the last bottle!”

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

5 thoughts on “Annals of commerce”

  1. Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim has a beer advert : "Bowen's Beer makes you drunk." In a way this is the true hidden but unavowable message. Cf. the future of cannabis advertising.

    1. I'm happy to be reminded of Lucky Jim. Great book. I can still picture Jim disemboweling his comforter in attempt to cover up a cigarette burn.

    Daniel McFadden
    Department of Economics, University of California, Berkeley
    August 1996 (revised July 1997, September 1998)

    Footnote: This paper is dedicated to the memory of Amos Tversky, whose brilliant life profoundly influenced psychology and economics. In the subject known as Behavioral Decision Theory, Tversky's hand appears everywhere, through his papers, and through his ingenious and definitive experiments that have made clear the importance of heuristics and judgment in human cognition. He will be counted among the great minds of the 20th Century. It was a delight and an education to have been his friend.
    Early versions of this paper were presented at the European Meetings of the Econometric Society, Istanbul, 1996, and at the NSF Symposium on Eliciting Preferences, University of California, Berkeley, July 1997.

    ABSTRACT: Rationality is a complex behavioral theory that can be parsed into statements about preferences, perceptions, and process. This paper looks at the evidence on rationality that is provided by behavioral experiments, and argues that most cognitive anomalies operate through errors in perception that arise from the way information is stored, retrieved, and processed, or through errors in process that lead to formulation of choice problems as cognitive tasks that are inconsistent at least with rationality narrowly defined. The paper discusses how these cognitive anomalies influence economic behavior and measurement, and their implications for economic analysis.

    Here is a link to the paper:

    1. I remember from my college days big signs in the Underground stations that read something like "If you've been enjoying Newcastle Light Ale, you are obviously a person of judgement, discretion and taste. If you've been enjoying our brown ale, the train is the grey thing with the flashing lights".

      I'm also fond of the Saturday Night Live deadpan ad for the Gillette quadruple-bladed razor which ends with the line "Because you'll believe anything"

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