OUR LANGUAGE DOESN’T COMMUNICATE

There are 55 million users of illegal drugs in the USA.
America accounts for half the world’s consumption, $60 billion annually.
Roughly the same revenue as Microsoft.
So this is a big market with a big demand.
And, in classical economics, demand creates supply.
So the supply of drugs from Mexico to the USA is big business.
In the last 6 years, around 100,000 people have died in violence related to this big business.
Because the supply side of this equation is very competitive.
I’ve just seen a Yale professor lecturing about this.
Putting the drugs trade into language his audience can understand.
Marketing speak.
Explaining it as a business model.
He says “an effective organisation requires an integrated strategy including good organisational structure, good incentives, solid identity and good brand management.”
Breaking that down for non-marketing people, what is he saying?
For a start, what is their “business strategy”?
He says “It requires that they guarantee to their producers that their product will be reliably placed in the market where it’s consumed, via absolute control of geographic corridors.”
In other words, they will get the drugs to the people who want them, no matter what.
Nothing and no one will stop them, which explains why 100,000 people die.
Okay, so what does he mean by “good incentives”?
This refers to the choice that underpaid police officers are offered “Plata o Plomo?”
(In English that’s “silver or lead?” – take a bribe or take a bullet.)
And as an incentive, it’s been very effective.
So what then is their “organisational structure”?
He says it is a “perfectly structured chain of command with clear hierarchy and a clear promotion path, that allows them to supervise and operate across many markets”.
The first part seems to mean if you disobey the boss you die, and someone else gets your job.
The second part he himself describes as “diversifying into kidnapping, prostitution, and human trafficking”.
So, in marketing terms, profitable line extensions of the brand.
That just leaves “solid identity and good brand management”.
He describes the brand management as “terror” and the brand strategy as “violence”.
He finishes by saying “They currently run a franchising business and, like any multinational, they protect their brand by outsourcing the more questionable parts of their brand model”.
In non-marketing terms, that means they use local gangs for drug distribution, and murder where necessary.
Which, again, explains why 100,000 people die.
So now you know.
We can understand the way drugs, crime, and human misery work.
We can understand it because he’s put it in language that marketing people (us) speak.
It’s comfortable. It’s detached, it allows us to distance ourselves from the real world.

Because that’s what the language we speak does.
It distances us from the real world.

  • basilg

    Not the point you were making I appreciate – but one might presume therefore that the way to deal with the drug problem is to “regulate” (or legalise) the supply, raising revenue for the states and bankrupting the cartels, who are no longer competitive.
    If lawmakers were economists…

    • Dan Madden

      If policy makers thought it would win them an election, I’m sure they would

  • Dave Trott

    Funny tweet on that very topic gentlemen, from the Economist: https://twitter.com/emilybabay/status/432316804426645504/photo/1

    • dave trott

      Bill,
      Those are not academic words, they are marketing words.
      The fact that the professor teaches marketing doesn’t make the words academic.
      And the purpose of most marketing words, in my experience, is obfuscation not distance.

      • Bill Maslen

        Hm. ‘Mr. President, that’s not entirely true’.

        Granted, jargon of any kind can become obfuscatory, especially when used by those who wish to pretend that they belong to the ‘in’ group who regularly use and understand said jargon.

        But jargon is essentially specialized language – in specific contexts, used by knowledgeable people (i.e. people who actually understand the jargon), it streamlines communication rather than hindering it.

        The trouble is, as soon as you have any kind of ‘closed’ group (of, in this case, specialists), our ghastly human hierarchical instinct tends to emerge, both within the closed group and among those who want to belong to – or at least pretend to belong to – said closed group.

        At which point jargon becomes power, equivalent to knowledge becoming power (or in this case, pseudo-knowledge, because jargon consists of symbolic references to knowledge concepts rather than the knowledge itself).

        Academics are as vulnerable to this temptation as anybody else. That’s why academic literature – like management or marketing literature – is so full of BS.

        So I’m not entirely disagreeing with your point.

        I’m simply saying that framing something in marketing language – or businessspeak, for that matter (there’s a significant overlap, as you acknowledge yourself when you refer to business models) – is not necessarily obfuscatory. Nor does it necessarily distance us from the ‘real world’ (whatever that is).

        It can do. Used by idiots (and there are many idiots in marketing, just as there are in any field of human endeavor), it usually does.

        I work with dozens of marcomms companies. For agencies that specialize in, ahaha, communication, they excel in obfuscation.

        But sometimes, reframing something in a different language (jargon, metaphor, poetry, whatever) can present the listener with a fresh perspective that’s actually quite helpful. Not least because the act of re-articulating the unpleasantness in sober, amoral, non-judgmental terms has the paradoxical effect of highlighting the horror. Of revealing to the listener just how completely we human-beings are capable of subverting our moral/ethical frameworks in the interests of the particular social group to which we belong.

        The use of ‘distancing’ jargon actually highlights the ghastly fact that those perpetrating these horrors have learned to live with them. For them, it’s normal, it’s natural. It’s obvious!

        An impact not unlike Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt: he was furious when audiences wept at the end of ‘Mother Courage’. But in fact, he’d triumphed. He’d given people a taste of ‘real-world’ horror. Despite, or because of, his unrealistic presentation.

        But then again, I wasn’t there at the lecture, and I’m assuming it didn’t move you to tears… ;-)

  • Bill Maslen

    I really enjoy your articles.
    But this one annoyed me.
    Because the ‘real world’ is a construct. Created by each one of us, individually.
    Using a lot of emotion, and occasionally a little bit of intellect.
    Academic worlds are constructs, too.
    Using less emotion (mostly), and lots of intellect (in principle).
    But sometimes they help shed clarity on the ‘real world’ construct.
    Just as this professor did.
    Just as any change of perspective does.
    Your articles are all about looking at things from new perspectives.
    In fact, you’re a master of shifting perspectives.
    So don’t sneer at ‘distance’.
    As you know,
    sometimes you need to step back in order to get closer to something.

    But seriously, I love your stuff!

  • Vicente

    Dave,
    It´s the first time I´ve read your blog and I like the way you´ve structured your point. I am a Marketing Strategist and a Mexican so this particular topic your are touching is close to my heart as most of the 100,000+ (oficial) lives lost you are mentioning are mostly from my country. I would differ that our Marketing language distances us from the real world. The fact that students were able to understand the drug industry by using Marketing terms in my opinion is due to the fact that Marketing language labels and groups parts of processes and systems to facilitate understand how those groups work amid those systems and thus helps a general understanding of a bigger system which in this case was the drug industry. I believe the language we speak helps to clarify ambiguities and complexities of the real world. Cheers.

  • benbeale

    Dave, if you haven’t seen this, it’s well worth the watch.
    A retired police chief picking apart the war on drugs.
    Eye opening, and truly excellent.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8yYJ_oV6xk

    • dave trott

      Articulate and intelligent argument Ben, I’m persuaded.

  • Simon Guest

    I’ve heard you quote something similar to this before Dave and it’s very true – ‘you can tell when someone is confident about something because they can explain it quickly and they use simple words. When they have dress it up with long words you know it’s probably crap.’ I like this George Carlin 10 minute routine on euphemisms: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuEQixrBKCc

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