Deja Vu, All Over Again

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So the Dow hit a bull-market high last Wednesday and gas costs more than $3/gallon. You know what comes next, don’t you?

It’s not a question of if but rather when we’ll all be complaining about falling stocks and rising gas prices. We should be particularly aware of this inevitable reality since most of us are still smarting from the wounds we received over the past year or two.

Oil exporting countries have not changed their policies to be more supportive of our individual lives or our collective well-being; in fact, their pricing model is to exact the absolute highest costs from users while stopping just shy of pushing them away from purchase. The $3 threshold is enough to get people thinking, however, so my prediction is that the number will fall just a bit in the coming week or two before resuming its climb in anticipation of summer’s driving vacations. Every dollar we spend on oil still risks going to governments that aren’t necessarily friends to America, if not to groups who make it their business to kill us or our friends. I’ve seen this movie before, and so have you.

The old age about the stock market is "it’s up and it’s down," and that’s an accurate description of the visibility we individual investors have into the machination of its outlook. The financial media still talk about markets as if "they" had personalities and "their" actions can be deconstructed and understood; we now know that this is at best a fantasy and more likely a comfortable lie. Talk about recovery (or any activity) is no more accurate or clear than market movements before the Great Recession, whether reported or missed entirely. Your latest 401(k) statement is only a snapshot of a moment wrapped in an instant. It tells you nothing. 

You’d think that the branding brain trusts at big financial services firms and oil companies would have gotten together and recognized these facts — the context of reality in which their brands exist — and modified both their business operations and marketing accordingly:

  • Prices going up? Fortunately, oil companies upped their investment in alternative energy, so there’s good and tangible, near-term benefits coming from other sources of fuel. They invented new ways to purchase gas, such as hedging prices for individuals, so consumers have alternatives to manage their costs. There are partnerships with services firms, like real-time traffic reporting and routing, to help consumers save money, and localized charity giving to direct a percentage of every gallon sold to meaningful community improvement.
  • Stock market wobbly? Your brokerage and/or bank instituted massive changes to the ways they analyze risk generally and investment instruments specifically, and explained these steps so you could be more comfortable with your decisions. The asset allocation model, which effectively advises "buy a little bit of everything and hope for the best" has been replaced with more focused insights that match individual need with marketplace reality. Advisor training was overhauled and there are more people, with more education, available to help you. This transparency ensures that the next shock will be different than the last.

Er, not so much.

In fact, all we’ve gotten from these brands is the same old feel-good advertising nonsense. Oil companies running spots on Sunday public affairs TV programs, replete with raically-diverse employees talking about investments in exploration and new sources of energy that are dwarfed by the amount of money spent to create the commercials themselves. Full-page newspaper ads from financial firms declaring their expertise as if the Great Recession never even happened, and web sites full of the same sources of information that allowed us to stay in the dark up to now.

No change. No context. No truth from these brands.

So what if the market might crash and oil might get a lot more expensive? It would be almost funny that none of the businesses involved in these areas are doing anything differently than they did before consumers got burned, and it would be stupid if they are and haven’t elected to tell anybody. Maybe they’re betting that we consumers really don’t remember the recent past, and that we’re willing to consume their branding nonsense as if tomorrow (and our minds) are blank slates.

It’s deja vu, all over again.

Image source: swisscan

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