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The Tentacle


April 15, 2005

Good Marketing, Bad Products

Chris Charuhas

The other day a friend of mine asked me why I wasn't a member of his political party. "You're a businessman," he said. "A lot of businessmen are members of my party. So why aren't you?"

I'm a different kind of businessman, I told him. I'm an entrepreneur. And not many entrepreneurs join his party these days.

It is true, I said, that I fit the old profile of his party's members. I run my own business, and I served in the military. But his party has become much less attractive to people like me. It has changed radically in the past 30 years. Looking at it from a business perspective, I saw an organization with great marketing, but awful products.

"What do you mean about marketing and products," my friend asked.

I told him that the main reason his party wins elections is that it is run like a business, and the other party isn't. So the best way to understand his party is in terms of business.

I said that his party has terrific marketing. It has built the most powerful political sales machine in history, with a network of right-wing multi-millionaires, big business PACs, fundamentalist religious groups, and similar organizations spending over $300 million a year to promote its ideology.

His party has mastered the art of direct-mail marketing, using data mining techniques pioneered by consumer credit firms to match mailings to recipients. With computerized precision, its candidates send get-out-the-vote letters on nonexistent liberal bible-banning to televangelists' audiences, and brochures about imaginary gay wickedness to voters in rural zip codes.

Its public relations operations are wide-ranging. A network of talk-radio programs, subsidized Web sites, publishing houses, and a cable news channel pump out its talking points. His party takes care to see that the pundits, hosts, and writers at these outlets are well-paid for that. The exposure of Armstrong Williams as a paid pundit, and "Jeff Gannon" as a fake reporter, is the tip of the iceberg.

This modern, well-financed marketing machine even acts on the local level: almost half the campaign funds used by his party's local state senator come from out-of-state donors. This marketing machine has given his party dominant market share, and fostered a high level of brand loyalty among its customers.

"So what's wrong with that," he asked. "We've got our act together."

The problem, I explained, is that his party lies to sell its products. Because its products don't really benefit its regular customers, it tells lies to sell them, like a crooked car salesman trying to move a clunker off the lot. To keep its customers from shopping around, it promotes fear, hatred, and doubt of the competition.

In my next article, I'll show how his party employs its misleading sales techniques.



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