What’s going on in American politics these days is really interesting, if not somewhat scary, and I think consumer products marketers could learn a thing or two from it.
The Republican Party has never been more united, voting lockstep on almost every issue and willing to promote legislation that conforms to its narrow definitions of what constitutes its values. It has made compromise a dirty word, with most of its elected officials signing pledges to various interest groups apart from their actual constituencies (to never raise taxes, for instance). The resulting paralysis in the function of government (especially Congress) has all but confirmed one of the party’s guiding principles — that government is bad and can’t help solve problems — which is then offered back to the voting public as a primary reason for voting more of them into office…to further limit the efficacy of government.
Subverting the function of democratic government and then attacking its dysfunction is how the will of a minority gets imposed on everyone else. It makes the enemy not circumstances or events but some them who are holding everyone else back, though that doesn’t include the politicians who have been directly if not purposefully creating the paralysis in the first place. It’s brilliantly creative theater and a proven path to power for political parties that are motivated by strong, sometimes revolutionary zeal.
I’m not making a judgment about it one way or another, and I’m an equal-opportunity complainer. The Democrats have little to offer in response to this challenge; its members are a diverse lot, with some officials proud to claim progressive values, and others who act like Republicans in everything but name. They don’t vote in lockstep, even though one of their guiding principles is that government is good and can help solve problems, so you’d think they’d default to some group-think when expediency required it. But they don’t.
I do believe that our society benefits most from a government comprised of politicians with strong, principled differences who nevertheless understand that they’re not consistently right. Compromise isn’t as much about giving up ground on abstract ideals as it is realizing that those values aren’t the same thing as policies. Governance comes from ideas melded with one another and then vetted by reality, not ideology. We get that when Republicans can think and act like Democrats sometimes, and visa versa. This requires also a shared sets of facts and a somewhat agreed-upon version of history upon which future decisions can be based.
But I digress. Instead of debating the politics of today’s politics, however fun it might be, I’d like to riff on what would happen if consumer brands embraced the strategies that the Republicans are using:
Destroy your product category. Take soda pop, which is an established category in which brands are fighting one another as popular perceptions shift inexorably toward other drink choices, like juices and teas. So why couldn’t a brand like RC Cola make its strategy to destroy the entire category? It could aggressively tell consumers that soda pop is bad for you, that people shouldn’t drink it, and that its larger competitors are destroying not only consumers’ health but society overall. After continually taking down every other brand in its category, RC Cola could position itself as the only cola worth drinking if and when you wanted to drink cola.
Inhibit its function. A services category like auto insurance is dependent on lots of delivery variables, from the telephones used to report incidences and frequency of the U.S. Mail, to the proclivities of adjusters at any given moment, the math behind policy pricing, etc. What if an insurgent brand did its best to impede the tools that all insurance brands relied upon? Cut phone lines, stole mail from mailboxes, screwed up actuarial tables, for starters, then add bombarding providers with false claims. Could Brand X then claim to be the only reliable service?
Fail to disclose functionality. It’s a fair bet that many folks who voted Republican in the last election didn’t know half of what those state and federal legislators planned to do (for instance radical social policies on abortion rights, or war on public sector unions). Could a challenger brand in one category surprise everyone with functional benefits in another one? No, because then everyone would know. It would be disclosed. The closest parallel here is actually already happening with online social platforms, most notably Facebook, which exact a heavy and often under-recognized toll on user privacy for the privilege of enjoying benefits of the services.
OK, so I’m not sure any of it work would in the business world. Choices are made too often, where as politicians get to stay in office for a large hunk of time. And objective reality is harder to escape when looking for the causes for, say, tooth decay, than it is when it comes to explaining why there are no jobs for anybody anymore.
The will of the minority strategy sure works in the political world. Like I said, it’s interesting and sorta scary.