The Truth Really IS "Out There"

Cross-posted at The American Street.

The Bush campaign is marketing a candidate as a consumer product. Where Senator Kerry talks of “issues” and “has positions” the Bush campaign talks about “feelings and values” and avoids specifics. As a person with a marketing background I understand that the Bush approach is very effective. After all, his campaign is handled by the kind of people who sell tobacco, convincing people to kill themselves and hand over their money while doing it; they are very good at what they do. But as a citizen I blanch.

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Sales and marketing is not about “truth,” it’s about forming an emotional attachment with a “brand.” Consumers tend to make purchases seeking short-term emotional satisfaction rather than long-term value. They buy “brands” based on emotional things like a “new car smell” or because “nothing says loving like something form the oven.” (Psychological studies show that this ad’s target demographic — homemakers — feel they best express their love for their families by cooking or baking things for them. So instead of selling taste or ease-of-baking or other attributes, they sell “says loving.”)

When we hear that Bush is trying to “define” Kerry, it means he is trying to establish a “brand identity” and an emotional attachment in the consumers’ mind. (Negative emotions for Kerry, positive for Bush.) Bush is selling himself as the “low taxes, leadership” brand. Here’s the key: in branding you only have to repeat it over and over, not actually be it, for the brand identity to stick. “Compassionate Conservative” is a great example of this. By repeating over and over that he was a “compassionate conservative” Bush BECAME that in the public mind. You don’t have to BE it, you just have to SAY you’re it. It works.

Unfortunately segments of the American public are increasingly trained to see themselves as consumers rather than citizens, so there we are. Bush blasts out another $10 million in ads funded by corporate special interests, and we see poll numbers move in his favor. (Bush is the “low taxes and leadership brand.” Can you tell me what brand Kerry is?)

Just this morning in a Washington Post article about the Republican National Committee’s Ed Gillespie, we read the following:

“Gillespie’s mission is stripped-down simple: He has a presidential election to win. You do that by having the most votes (okay, usually). To get the most votes, you expand your party. To expand your party, you make your message very clear, distilling policy until a voter can throw it down like a shot of whiskey.”

And, of course, you repeat it over and over. And again.

Most of us see Bush ads saying Kerry will raise taxes, or won’t protect us from terrorists, and we are insulted, and we wonder how anyone can be stupid enough to believe this stuff. We know lies when we hear them, and we resent that they would think we are stupid enough to be tricked by such deceptions. (We know that the Bush smell is anything but “new car” — not by a long, long shot.) But unfortunately many, many people are not as well-informed as we are, and are busy, and don’t know much about Kerry or about politics in general, so these ads do have an effect. Keep this in mind: polls show that most people STILL believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11! Meanwhile Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the Right are telling people not to believe any news other than FOX.

So the question is: How do we — informed online blog-readers — fight this? How do we do our part? We fight it with information. There is a tremendous power that comes from lots and lots of people with good information. And there are lots and lots of us. We must get more and more people connected to information and news sources that are willing to tell it like it is. There is a list of weblogs on the left side of this page, and every one of them is a great resource. (Start with BuzzFlash and go there every day.) Then we take our information out there and talk to people, and persuade them.

Note – I’m talking about us here, the well-informed, online, active people. In hi-tech marketing we would be called the “early adaptors” and “influencers.” We still need — more than ever — the short, condensed, focus-group-tested sound-bytes that convey our message in a few words, designed to be repeated over and over. That must also be there for the general public, and for US to use as talking points. And that’s the job of the professionals. (I hope they’re working on this — where’s my talking points?)

Air America Radio is off to a great start, and I can feel the positive effect it has on our morale and our courage to FINALLY hear a counter to the incessant 24-hour 7-day right-wing pro-Republican propaganda. It is just so refreshing and I hope you are listening, too. (You can listen online from anywhere in the world by visiting their website.) One thing that I find very encouraging is that I am hearing them using bloggers as their pundits! Last week I heard Atrios, and Kos, and Josh Marshall on the air! This is a significant development because it further legitimizes what we are doing here, offering an alternative voice.