Posted by: David Kiley on February 22, 2008
As I have been examining the commercials and stump rhetoric of Senator Hillary Clinton, I keep wondering why the once presumptive Democratic nominee’s message has come across as so cynical.
There is an aspect of the Senator’s lapses into Rovian-like message making like “words don’t matter,” “talk is cheap,” “I’m the only one who is ready,” “plagiarism,” etc. But then I remember where I read political philosophy and practice just as cynical; in Microtrends, the book written by chief Clinton strategist and message shaper Mark Penn.
“America’s elite—the wealthiest and best educated of our society—have become less interested in America’s economic and strategic challenges than they are candidate’s personalities.”
“…in the American meritocracy of the twentieth century, elites were a special breed who had worked their way up the ladder and had a very real appreciation for those now struggling to come up as well…Today’s elites have been spoiled longer, and are more removed from the struggles of their parents and grandparents.”
“While today’s elites are reading Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat, the rest of America is living it.”
And he is talking about the very Democrats Clinton has tried to target!
My question for Senator Clinton: If you won’t do an interview with Bill O’Reilly, then why did you hire him to be your chief strategist?
“Come to a political town hall, with America’s regular voters, and you’ll see that personality never comes up. Voters zero in on healthcare, education, and friends serving in Iraq.” They have levels of knowledge about Medicare, Medicaid, our school system and the global economy that would put many PHds to shame.”
Really? Some do for sure. But the gross generalizations in Penn’s view of the electorate are cynical and irrelevant.
Reading Mictrotrends, one gets the distinct impression that Penn views the country under a microscope, and also that he views too much of it through the lens of focus groups, surveys and polls. Having watched, covered and practiced marketing for more than two decades, I have seen an awful lot of bad decisions made by people who do not have good instincts about the brand they are handling and the customers they are targeting.
Companies today are nearly obsessed by “return-on-investment.” ROI” tools can be valuable tools, but not determinants of strategy.
Senator Clinton has changed slogans and messages with the wind, with each passing defeat. This is the recipe for failure written by 90% of the chief marketing officers I have observed. And for this, Penn, according to The New York Times, has collected some $10 million, including spending for direct mail. Direct mail—perhaps the most ineffective primary tool there is in terms of ROI and message delivery.
It appears that while Penn was pushing this year’s election as a collection of mind-numbing microtrends—commuter couples, extreme commuters, pro-Semites, sun haters, Old New Dads, Christian Zionists—he missed the idea that national elections tend to turn on macro effects. One thing that will never go out of style—voters want to be inspired. To do that, you have to be tapped into the common denominator of a majority of voters. That’s where Penn’s strategy went off the rails. He never saw it, while his nose was buried in his microtrend focus roups and surveys.