Cioff's first essay on advertising

25 November 1998

Slightly edited by fravia+
Courtesy of fravia's pages of reverse engineering

Well, a promising reverser, oh my! I don't agree with Pilsner Urquell, though very good, being better than simple Leffe's blonde, geschweige denn superb Grimbergen or splendid Ename: I wonder what kind of even superior beers the incredible Belgian wizards could produce if they where not continuously bogged down (and lobotomyzed) by their idiotic "flemish" or their stupid "walloon" crap... oops, a political reversing thought escaped...
anyway I quite agree with most of the rest... Enjoy an interesting (and once more: promising) essay!

Dear Fravia+

You asked me to do an essay on advertising. "A sitting duck..." -you said- "...bring along the beef". OK, I'll put a cartridge in my multi-barreled shotgun. Let's hope the ducks are too busy browsing on the Lemnae (Lemna minor, I suppose) of
the lake to take notice of me when I fire.

But they must get a little closer first. My shots are small -designed for birds- and their range is short. So the aim must be good. Hence the delay.

I can't guarantee beef in this situation. I could mistake oxen from cows, but not ducks 8--\ Hopefully what comes out of the hunt will be some hard-to-identify mincemeat of sorts. OK, let's call it beef. Beef is OK. If you make a hamburger, then put it on a slice of Dr Kneipp's marvellous bread together with some fried onion and serve it with a glass of real Czech Pilsener beer. Undoubtedly the best.

After writing the main portion and the main thoughts of this paper I got to read +ORC's essay for +HCU 1998. I think that one is his best. It takes me to my entry point of your site, the .pdf cracking, that I found only weeks after discovering your site, so one of my circles is closed.

In the essay I will, as you requested, take a look at marketing - hopefully with little emotion and some analysis. No propaganda, only hard and cold Ice. I edit this final version with Netscape. I need footnotes in the document so that my digressions will not disturb the flow of the text. But you can't do that with an ASCII editor 8:--[ Then I gotta use Word, which I believe common netiquette has now explicitly forbidden 8::-[


This is where the big investment money is, I think. Billions of Euros are used annually for marketing commodities to the general consumer. Others have made a better job of describing that than I can ever do  - on this very site - quoting great analysts like McLuhan (the only one I have heard of).

Public advertising is relatively easy to identify and see through. Everybody recognises it at a glance. But let's try a crack. The real point of advertising is

- to make you buy something you don't need, or
- a particular brand of what you need, or
- a more expensive variety than you need of a commodity you definitely do need.

I will dwell only a little more on the tricks; +ORC has done it well enough. Read him. I would only add Thorstein B. Veblen's analysis with the keyword "Conspicuous consumption". There are only a few English links to be found on Altavista ( is the best), but Amazon has the books: (this time spam could have been useful, but I had thought of them anyway)

- Theory of the Leisure Class (Penguin Classics) -- Thorstein B. Veblen; Paperback
- The Theory of the Leisure Class (Dover Thrift Editions) -- Thorstein B. Veblen; Paperback
- The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts -- Thorstein B. Veblen;     Paperback

In very short: There is a great market appeal in goods that makes the customer look or feel (or believe they are sort of) rich.

Advertising on this level is easy to crack. No need for Zen cracking here. But
it is bloody hard to reverse because it is completely open.


The lowest level is the mass-market advertising, which is a nuisance to everybody. The industries going for the mass market quite frequently have rather low profit margins, but huge turnover. I'm sure Kleenex isn't very profitable, competing against that recycled paper that I always use (instead of that old cloth that smells and that needs washing and is useless for all other purposes, particularly after I used it to clean up after frying onions in olive oil *--).
With my meagre knowledge of hacking: Mass advertising is like hacking into a system with the ambition of seizing an ordinary user account - to have the privilege of using the owner's Microsoft Office. Stupid, unless you are content with little reward for a considerable effort and expense, like telephone bills - and high risks of detection.

The cracker goes for the Administrator privileges. The more sophisticated industries go for the higher level where each customer represents a higher share of the market.


Selling to or winning a professional is much more rewarding than selling to or winning a single customer. Perhaps this is most systematically done by the pharmaceutical industry towards psysicians. In Europe the industry uses perhaps 10.000 Euro (slightly more than US Dollars) per year per doctor in various marketing efforts. Much of this goes to "detailers", well-educated persons pressing for visits with doctors, and telling them all the nice things about their firm's new drug, and maybe some not so nice things about the competition. These detailpersons are paid according to results, which are read from the sales statistics of the pharmacies in their targeted area. There is a codex of conduct; the detailpersons are not allowed to stray away from the "label" of the drug. But money doesn't smell, and nothing can be proven. The official version is that this marketing is purely scientific. But you can see the same tricks: the same beautiful women, the same weeping children, the same flowery fields, the same lovely lay-outs, the same free samples (in much too many countries).
You may have heard of wining and dining, and expensive travel. It belongs to the picture, but has largely gone out of use as a head-on marketing strategy. But see in the Stealth section!


I know only little of direct marketing in this segment. Some is straight marketing. Some is lobbying.
Selling fighter planes or big guns to a government is an art of its own. Afterwards you can read details in the papers. Lockheed, I remember. Messerschmitt, I remember. Bofors I remember. There must be lots of them, at the moment a Dassault/Augusta case is running in Europe as well.

Then for the really interesting part:


The term had a number of different meanings while I was writing this essay. Now it has settled as advertising disguised as news or hearsay. You cannot really spot the source; you will need to infer - along the old Marxist line of just asking: Who benefits from this? (The older ones said: cui prodest? :-)

I saith: We have all heard about sildenafil recently. Lots. Every day.
You reply: No, not me!

I persist: You have. I have only been witholding the trade name: Viagra. (This touches another strategy: the building of trade name identities. So a generic sildenafil pill will be of no interest to those who burgle the pharmacies in search of the Sex Pill.)

- Viagra - the sex drug. "Only approved for impotence, not for healthy persons - say the drug regulators on the front pages!" Which makes everybody believe that it makes a man able to perform better than his normal best (which must be
more than a non-medicated man according to Balzac (late 1700), who made only eleven, plus a dry one, and avoided execution by it). Who pays the regulators to do this exercise? Is payment in naturals?

- Viagra as THE sex drug for women. Haven't you read it? If it had been advertisement, all civilised countries would crack down on an advertisement claiming that sildenafil was a sex drug for women. Because there is NO scientific proof. "The results of clinical trials are promising." This is purely a rumour, it is a news story with a poorly identified source - so it is protected by the laws of free speach. But it's a lie at the present state of scientific development. When will a journalist ask for the scientific proof?

Again: No scientific proof - because the formal testing has been done in selected persons with a perceived problem and who have produced sufficient physical proof.

But to penetrate society with the marketing: "Viagra blue" has been launched as a fashion colour for women. Dressed so unsexily that a man will need a pill? Or is the message "Eat me first?"

And more: The sildenafil exhibited (!) in the Israeli Parliament was stolen. An exhibition of a drug to be approved by the parliament? Outrageous.

And this is all news stories. Because Pfizer officially states that they are worried by all this press. You may believe it if you like, sucker!

The main product of Pfizer, the manufacturer, is marketing. It has been strengthening its American sales force hugely, and have got themselves a new PR agency recently. They acquire co-marketing projects by showing potential collaborators their success record in previous projects. (Some of this information could be read on the Web side of the marketing analyst bureau Scott-Levin ( Unfortunately, the page appears to have been removed. )


"Clinical trials"

The pharmaceutical industry boasts of its high research budgets. Up to 15 percent of turnover  - same as marketing - (and 20 percent profits). All this comes from sales.

Now, how do you win the opinion leaders who can do the really effective marketing for you? You wine them and dine them. You flatter them by inviting them to hold lectures. But most of all you flatter them by admitting them into your research and marketing their invaluable contribution. But it often is reverse research. The answers are all there already. What is needed is documentation to persuade the regulators (like the FDA of the US of A) to approve it (grant marketing authorisation). So they start huge clinical trials projects. Thousands of patients may be included. Like the 4s (4444 Scandinavian patients) for the cholesterol lowering drug simvastatin (oh, sorry, Zocor).

This exercise has an international set of rules. For instance you may within the legal rules discontinue the drug the patient already uses and put them on yours. And when the trial is over, you will most often have the State reimbursement system paying for the patients the rest of their lives, unless another clinical trial comes along.

But if you have a "research project", you can wine and dine the doctors, you can pay them for their efforts, you can send them for congresses on the Maldives or Seychelles or Australia, and you can give out all the test medication for free (otherwise strictly forbidden).

This is all legal. No rules against it, at least not in the European Union, Fravia+ (and +ORC). (BTW: I have noticed the marketeer trick of using your name time and again, Fravia+)

But what is the value of this "science"? Most often it is only the documentation that the test drug is similar to other well-known drugs on the market. Who needs another? Only the manufacturer.


Indirect lobbying

You have made a new drug. There are no real competitors. This enables you to put an outrageous price, say 15 Euro per tablet, on your product. Nobody will pay. What do you do?

You mobilise the potential users. You sponsor the establishment of the headache society, or the osteoporosis society. And then you let the chairwoman of the society go to the women of the Health Committee of the Parliament and persuade them that this drug is witheld from state subsidies because of sexism in the Ministry of Health.

Guess what happens!

This was the cracking bit. How about reversing?


I think we must know our limitations.

THE MASS MARKET, I think is beyond reach if we use the bottom up approach. We can all do our small things, like bicycling instead of driving a car, not following clothes fashions, preparing one's own food instead of buying
factory-made - and a lot of other (but this makes jobs insecure for others). In my rather well-to-do neighbourhood people buy a lot of used clothes and furniture; the poorer areas of the city do less of the sort. "My baby must have new clothes". As usual the poor ones are the most abused ones... some time ago appeared a quite interesting english film about this stuff: "Raining stones".

I perform a private boycott - like Fravia+ - of commercial TV (and most other TVs as well, come to think of it). It amuses me when the market analyst firm interviews me about the knowledge of current advertising and finally asks me about my family income, which is more than I deserve. There you lost a good customer. But I think the uneducated and/or poor are more helpless victims than I. And they are the ones that can less afford it, a sad (and cruel) reality.

Reversal of mass marketing?

So: How can we reverse the mass marketing? Most criticism is directed towards the IO-system (apart from the +HCU boys) or towards the peripherals. But I say: We must reverse the kernel. First find the name. Then attack it.

The name was identified by old Karl (amazing how many things that guy identified!). Profit. Advertising, and production of unnecessary goods, is profitable. So we must make the profits from any undesirable activity (from our point of view :-) ZERO or NEGATIVE. I can think of some ways of doing that, but that belongs among the hidden pages of Fravia+' reality reversing section...

Reversal of STEALTH marketing?

STEALTH advertising can be attacked by simple reversal: Exposure. I have some ideas about that as well, but -once more- only for the hidden pages... OK, I promise I'll put some beef where my mouth is... :-)

Finally: When the bottom up approach fails: How about the STEALTH top down approach?

My best example is Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. He was an ardent anti-socialist. He used authoritarian methods to suppress socialism in Germany - like anybody else at that time - but in addition he initiated sick funds, pension funds, and some support of the unemployed. This took away much of the sting from the foundation of socialist agitation. Splendid reversal.

He could do this, because nobody would suspect him of being a socialist. Similarly, Richard Nixon could open the communication with China because nobody could accuse him of being a sympathiser with Communism.

So if you really mean it: Keep reasonably quiet - and work yourself into a position where you can reverse within your field. The effect of one highly placed reverser will be far more important (and effective) than a handful of us "ordinary people". Imagine it's like in a LeCarré roman. You work slowly your way to the top (slowly!) -helped by the very fact that you know how to reverse the hell out of everything that confronts you- and then you act! Man! Minesweeper games in the administrations of the EU, UN, Pentagon, KGB, whatever!!

If you don't mean it - if you'r here in order to use these reversing techniques just in order to show off, simply to get hold of some attractive (and hopefully still braless) radical girl - then I guess any real reverser will know how to deal with you... you better be careful