What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In case you don't believe me

Before we get to the regular post, here's this new thing. See, the "Public Option" has no chance of reducing costs because the government can't manage anything, so we shouldn't do it. And the "Public Option" would also compete unfairly by leveraging the buying power of the government to negotiate lower prices from service providers and pharmaceutical companies. Contra meet Diction. You should hang around together. Now back to our post.

In some arguments I've been making recently, I know that I haven't been as persuasive about somethings as I could have been. It's difficult for me to talk about the very deep intricacies of advanced marketing and PR skills, both of which I do have some experience at. It can sound a little "woo-woo"ish when I talk about how making that shade of blue in a background 8% more magentaish can mean a 10% increase in sales and satisfaction rating, but a 15% move in the magenta can mean a slide of 20% in both, and how changing one word in a headline can also do the same thing.

The word thing is a little easier for people to understand after all the process stories since 1994 on the wordsmithing of the Republican Revolution and the subsequent stories on how politicians choose words and phrases that poll well, but have nebulous meanings ("family values" for instance, or "public option"). So there is a cultural template with which to put these discussions in context, and I'm not the first one to broach the subject.

When it comes to some of the other more subtle marketing and PR means, the ground is less well prepared. There was a bruhaha a few years ago over "viral marketing" and how people got upset when they realized they had been taken in by somebody who looks "normal" but is actually an actor selling a product. Some viral marketing continues to be below the radar (like making sure all the "pretty people" have iPhones to play with in front of the cameras at the oscars and other award shows) and some of it has gone "legit" (like sponsored nights at certain hip clubs). A lot of it is still at the level of "seeding" people into a crowd and let them interact (and even some blog commentators are paid for their posts, not very well, but pizza money if you're in college, if you like, pick one of John Scalzi's political posts and then check the timing of the dissenting voices, if you're like me you'll begin to see the patterns, although lately I haven't been as involved with those so the spigot may have been turned off - again, not all of them, but they bring out the template and provide the framework of discussion).

It also works when you develop a narrative that hits into the public zeitgeist in the same way "urban legends" work. Those narratives then get picked up and repeated. Why? Because they're easily remembered, they ring "true", and people aren't as bright as they like to think they are. There's a little thing I like to do with people around me. I'll introduce a phrase and then see how long it takes to go around and see when it starts coming back to me. You can also check this yourself as to how quickly you pick up on acronyms and then how quickly you use them yourself. Or if someone asks you "How are you today?" instead of replying "Fine" say something memorable. "I'm higgledy piggly today. You?" See how long it takes for "higgledy piggly" to work into everybody's lexicon. Marketers use the same function.

Most of you know how pernicious "advertising" can be, but most people in "advertising" don't know how they really function (and I admit here, while I'm not the most clueless, I'm also not one of those that people spend thousands of dollars for a day to listen to my advice, and those people exist believe me). You may know that "sex sells", but do you really know what "sex" is? Sure, Clairol Herbal Essence may give you orgasms in the shower without the fancy massage shower-head, but do you know that some marketers of "impulse items" (those things near the checkout) make their blister packs define as "sex" in our brains? That there are certain colors that also define as "sex" in our brains (this year it all seems to be about the candy)? And did you know those things change over time? You can only press the joy-button so many times until you need to find a new kink to get the same high.

T-Mobile does a great send up of this with their advertising. Send a team of economists around to explain the benefits and you'll get the door slammed in your face. However, send Catherine Zeta-Jones around and man you're going to be selling the phones like hot-cakes (cellphone service = sex). Well, actually it's just that people will give you the time of day then.

So here's a commentary by Wendell Potter who used to do such things for the Insurance Industry. Now he's swinging for the other team as it were. (very brief SourceWatch article, you can also google him).

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