I’m a sucker for market research.
Will I ‘Definitely’ do them, ‘Maybe’ do them, or ‘Not Lkely’ to do them?
Marketing is slick. You might not realize it, but most everything you see on TV, hear on the radio or read in a magazine is filtered through people like me. Ever hear of ‘cheesy queso’ sauce? Nope? Then you owe me a big thank you. While some in the group thought is sounded ‘rich’ and ‘cheesy’ and ‘delicious’, I suggested it be slathered all over a carne-beef burger served on a pan-bread bun, topped with lechuga- lettuce and a cebolla-onion slice. Call it the Redundant’s Spanglish-Special. I’d like to think that I, personally, put an end to cheesy queso sauce.
I’ve put food on your table, beer in your fridge, a phone in your pocket, and gotten you laid.
Aren’t you glad you know me?
Last week, I was part of a focus group evaluating political ads. For the first of two hours, me and 23 of my homogenous, carefully screened and selected friends sat through about 20 commercials for a pair of state-wide candidates. Some had already aired, others were clearly works in progress and they ran the gamut from home-spun, value driven puff pieces to libelous smarm.
It was like sitting through a time-share presentation. Twice.
‘Hey, I’m not telling you how to decide, it’s your vote after all, but you know my opponent worships the devil, yes?’
Well, maybe not that dramatic. But one candidate was clearly out to destroy America through their support of the Pelosi/Reed/Obama/Vlad the Impaler far-left agenda, while the other spent the last decade years huddled in the Cheney bunker plotting with Bush to destroy America the old fashioned way: good ole conservative corruption and cronyism.
Good times. Good times.
After wading through that river of bile, we broke down into boy/girl focus groups for discussion. My group was pretty interesting. Well, as much as 13 people from the same demographic and ethnicity (white) can be. There were a couple of Dems, some hardline Republicans, a few Independents such as myself (Recreation Anarchy not yet officially recognized as a political affiliation), and a couple of Tea Baggers. Sorry, I thought I could take the high road and call them Tea Pary-ists, but no. I have no use for those people. They lack a mouthpiece and an agenda and they’re not going to make a damn bit of difference. They’ve been astro-turfed by the Republicans and in two to four years they’ll be mad all over again. Fuck them.
Our group rewatched a couple of the ads, and got an opportunity to respond to them: what did we like, how did they make us feel, did they alter our perceptions. That was kind of interesting. The party people stayed loyal, the Baggers were indignant, and I was amused.
And then I was sad.
Politics affects us personally, everyday, from cradle to grave. We’re subjected to laws, regulations, taxes, whims etc. Deciding who’s going to man the switch is kind of a big deal. I was in a room discussing political advertising in the same terms as I had discussed, mmmm….handsoap. It wasn’t about big ideas, it was generalities. Did we like the pictures of the candidates and their families? Which we did, it made them look ‘real’. Do you believe these claims against their opponent? Not sure, but they sure look ominous. I thought there should have been some caveats to those questions, such as ‘Did you know that this event was staged?’ or ‘Did you know that the scandal in question happened in another state?’ But those are the kinds of details that don’t get shared or researched which is ironic when you consider most everyone in the room said they liked specifics. They were perfectly happy to accept the perception rather than the truth.
Such was the case of the angry old grump. He was mad as hell and wanted everybody to know about it. He didn’t care for these ads. They were all lies! “Gentlemen, please,” he implored, “Let’s be honest, the only way we’re going to know what these fat cats are for is to examine their voting records and they’re never going to release that information!”
“They’ll just tell us over and over again what they think they want us to hear! Then when they’re elected, they’ll just be another crook with his hand out! We have to find a way to get a hold of their voting records!”
The Congressional Record, easily available online. Check it out.
Hello sadness, my old friend.
The people who conduct market surveys tell respondents over and over again to be honest in their reactions. I suspect they already know the truth: we’re not. Well, I am, but that’s because I believe in calling a skeeze a skeeze. Also, civility and I don’t get along. If you want my honesty, you’ll get it. So do us both a favor and give me an out when you ask for my opinions.
But I’m not most people. Most people, I believe, will try and tell you what they think you want to hear. If they suspect they’re supposed to like something, they’ll find a positive. If they’re supposed to hate it, they’ll find a negative. Nature/nurture? Who cares, that’s how we are. So, as a group, we responded kind of like Pavlov’s dog, liking and disliking as we were told, which depressed me even more. At the beginning of the discussion, we all said these ads didn’t affect us. Yet, not twenty minutes later, we (not me) were saying that we really liked the ad where the 6 term congressman said he had a job plan, all we needed to do was send him to Washington. That showed leadership.
Ummm….there’s no sending him to Washington, he’s been there since ’96! He’s the minority whip for Christ’s sake! Just now he’s got a plan? What’s he been doing for the last 14 years? Oh yeah…passing TARP! Don’t look at the facts behind the curtain. Screw them, they’re in the way.
Sorry…had to get that off my chest. Again.
We are told, repeatedly, that negative advertising works, but I think that is another marketing lie. Like how the key to successful radio advertising is repetition. It isn’t, radio advertising doesn’t work at all. So before us, the marketers set forth a couple of real steamers. Horrible ads that treated the the truth like your brother’s Stretch Armstrong toy. You know, the one you tied to your tree and your bike and tried to see how far he’d stretch. One tried to pin all the financial ruination of the last 5 years on the candidate’s association with President Bush which wasn’t really a stretch, just an election cycle too late. Another, the real grasp at straws, tried to link a candidate to the ACORN undercover prostitution/tax evasion scandal. Nice try, but all that shit went down in another state. We almost all hated these ads. Thought they were devious, but goddammit if some in the group didn’t say they really made them think.
Yeah, you should, about how you’re getting jobbed, fuckhead!
Overall, all the ads were worthless, not just the negatives. They didn’t say anything of substance. They were thin and transparent and won’t make a bit of difference because they don’t stand out when you watch them. Well, not entirely. There was one that stood out and got people excited, but it was all about how the candidate supported Arizona’s tough new immigration law. Timely, but not really relevant to me. I might not have mentioned this before, but I live in Missouri.
Advertisers and marketers, for lack of a better word, lie. They shade the truth. They spin. They find out what we think we want and give it to us, regardless of the consequences. It’s not about the future, but the immediate. And we are largely complicit in this. Hell, me and 24 of my peers just helped them out. When I think about how our group responded to the immigration ad, I realized that that’s the ad we’re going to be watching from now to November, even though it doesn’t affect us directly. Remember that the next time you see an ad that has you scratching your head, wondering what it has to do with anything. You’re not watching it because it mattered, but because it ‘connected’ with me.
One of the Baggers quoted George Santana [Santayana] on the perils of not learning the lessons of history. It was apt, sort of, but I thought that Carlos Santana said it better with ‘Oye como va’, which roughly translates to ‘Hear how I go’.
So oye como va, motherfuckers. Hear how it goes. It’s not about what’s right, but what’s right now.
Politics SHOULD be above such things.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to cry for the republic.