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Brand Loyalty and Politics

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Jim Geraghty this morning commented on a gentleman that called Rush Limbaugh’s show to argue against Cruz:

I’m getting accused of being out-of-touch, snobbish, elitist, “Leftist Trotskyist”, etc. Ultimately, I see a lot of people making decisions that don’t make much sense. I don’t understand how you can look at Ted Cruz and, out of all possible flaws, conclude he isn’t willing to fight for what he believes in. (His flaw is more likely the opposite, quixotic fights and antagonism to potential allies that isn’t helpful in the long run.) And I don’t think this is a, “Well, you see it your way, I see it my way’ disagreement.’” I think a guy arguing that Cruz is too weak-willed, wishy-washy and excessively conciliatory — particularly to the Left! — is simply not that well-informed about the Texas senator.

This blog is part of Switzerland, so I am not going to comment on the argument itself, but the “uninformed” charge caught my eye given that I wrote on Tuesday about a possible source of the deep passions, often beyond reason, that seem to power the divide between the conservative intelligentsia and the base.  In that piece I wrote about religion as a source, but I think this illustrates another – brand marketing.

I am no expert on marketing, but decades ago in college I did take a couple of courses.  Back then it was all about “expanding your market.”  Somewhere in the 80’s that changed to an emphasis on “grabbing market share.”  This is important because it marks a move from thinking in terms of an ever expanding market to a market of limited and defined size and attempting to take some of the marketplace from the competition.  Lately, and particularly in media, it has changed to an assumption of a small, limited market and figuring out how many times you can dip into the pockets of the same consumer with essentially the same stuff.  This last instance it is a further evolution of “grabbing market share” into developing a “niche market” and it is all all about building brand loyalty.

In this last instance you can end up with some pretty bitter brand battles.  In the end, Coke vs. Pepsi or DC vs Marvel is a goof, but in politics where consensus is so important it can be highly problematic

The intelligentsia rely on media to transmit their thoughts.  The most successful of them develop their very own niche markets.  The internet has refined this to an art form.  As an example, not only can you read great stuff at National Review, you can wear the hat and tee shirt and go on the post-election cruise.  Suddenly the line between reading and dealing with the ideas that NR puts forth and simply being a loyal NR follower is a very thin one.  It all becomes a confusing ball, and affiliation can begin to matter more than consensus.  No longer do I agree with NR, now I am an NR disciple.  (I am not trying to pick on National Review here – they do fine work – they are simply a convenient example.)

Under such circumstances, brand loyalty can create conflict where consensus building should be the order of the day.  I think we see this is the seemingly endless discussions about “conservatives” and “Republicans.”  They may not be exactly the same thing, but the Republican party is the vehicle for conservative political thought, even if the compromise of elections and governance force it to be less conservative than some might like.

I think that part of closing the gap between intellectuals and the base has to be about finding ways to get thoughts out there without demanding brand loyalty.  I know, if you write good stuff, people want the tee shirts and the hats.  They want the cruises for the opportunity to interact with you.  (I do not know this from personal experience mind you, I’ve just seen it happen.)  There is nothing inherently wrong with such things, but we cannot let them become the goal of the enterprise.

Somehow there has to be a way to turn people from being mere consumers of information into intellectuals themselves – users of information.  Then they rise above the brand.


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