|I'm Rick Perry, and I'm not ashamed to admit|
that my marketing strategy is fucking AWESOME!
I like Barack Obama. I voted for him in 2008. He's intelligent, articulate, calm and reassuring. And, may I say, a damned fine-looking man. He's someone who's easy to admire. He's just fundamentally likable.
He's also one of the shittiest Presidents we've ever had.
Smart, affable, and largely ineffective, Obama has tried at various times to be everything to everyone. He's been hawkish, dovish, tough on crime, soft on taxes, for the rich, for the poor, for the middle class, against corporations, partisan, bi-partisan, a uniter, a war-maker, a Christian conservative, and a fireside chatter. That last one is actually kind of adorable.
President Obama has been so successful at inclusiveness that he's ended up being kind of...nothing. And there's nothing like a nothing President to make you long for one who knew who he was, what he stood for, and what he wanted.
That's right, Barack Obama makes me nostalgic for George W. Bush.
I have a kind of perverse admiration for Dubya. Say what you want, but it's undeniable that Bush and his pack of velociraptors knew how to GET SHIT DONE. They were on track, on time, on target, and always, ALWAYS on message. Bush executed his administrative agenda with the same nihilistic glee he used to execute Texas inmates. Idiot-savant or just plain idiot, one George W. Bush equals twenty Barack Obamas for knowing your audience and then giving them what they want. His base of "have-mores" only wanted their fair share, which was all of it. And boy did they get it.
Well played, Mr. Bush. Well played.
We'll Let The Market Handle It
Remarkable and manic marketing guru Seth Godin is probably best known for baldness and for his concept of "tribes". In our overcrowded, overworked, over-communicated and overstocked modern world, "the tribe" is a new-media marketing strategy that says the era of dominating the marketplace with "products for the masses" is over and done. How do you sell ketchup to everybody when there's fifty different brands of ketchup? How do you sell laundry detergent when customers want full-strength, industrial-strength, mild, gentle wash, skin-sensitive, biodegradable, hypoallergenic, dye, no dye, color safe, bleach, no bleach, non-toxic, Earth-friendly, fair-trade, or they don't give a shit and just want to get dirt out of their clothes?
By the same token, how do you sell a politician to burnt-out, apathetic American voters in a market choked with hacks, clones, and knee-jerk partisan finger puppets? By using tribes.
Tribes are narrow market segments that savvy marketers now talk to to the exclusion of everyone else. In the land of infinite choices, selling only to your tribe may not ensure success, but trying to sell to everybody will surely be your key to failure. Likable "transcender" Barack Obama wanted to be the Heinz ketchup of 21st century politics and has seen his market share take a huge nose-dive as a result. By trying to become something for everyone, he's become the worst thing possible in the political marketplace: mediocre.
Another way to describe mediocre is "forgettable". Like ketchup, forgettable is a quality most modern Democrats share. We all use ketchup, but when was the last time you actually gave a shit about it? For all their money and tech-savvy know-how, the Dems have never gotten on the same page or figured out who their "tribe" is. They want their tribe to include everybody, but tribes are by definition exclusionary. Everybody in the same tribe means there ARE no tribes. There's no "them" unless there's also an "us".
Enter "The Exclusioner"
Someone who obviously knows his tribe very well is Texas Governor and George Bush clone Rick Perry. He released his brilliant "Strong" campaign ad this week which shrewdly speaks directly to his tribe of gay-bashing Christian fundamentalists. After watching it, Bush called Perry to congratulate him and also ask him to please return his rancher's jacket:
This is tribe-based niche marketing at its best. Or worst, depending on your point of view. YouTube and Facebook have exploded in the last few days with numerous parodies and predictable outrage from various activist groups. However, "Strong" has catapulted Perry from "forgettable" directly into being the most talked about Republican candidate at the close of 2011. He's suddenly become what Godin would call a "purple cow": a shocking standout in an ordinarily boring field of everyday sameness.
By pushing powerful emotional buttons in his most ardent fan base, Perry is both calling them to action and stirring up controversy by pissing off all the other tribes. He may be a Christian homophobe on the warpath to rescue Santa Claus from Obama's "war on religion", but one thing Perry isn't is stupid.
I wish the Democrats would learn to package themselves this way. I don't admire Perry's politics, but I do admire the skill with which he sells his agenda. It's brilliant. His handlers have clearly mastered the art of market positioning. Meanwhile, Obama seems to be doing everything he can to not offend anybody. He's forgotten a fundamental rule for dealing with schoolyard bullies: sometimes you either fight back or you get your ass kicked. Let's hope Obama pulls his head out of his ass in time to give Perry the beat down he deserves.