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In the business world, it is rare to encounter anyone who is skeptical about marketing as a general concept. These people do exist, mostly in the accounting department or in the technical support areas of accounting. They have some sense of the real economic benefit of marketing campaigns, so they tend to be a bit more skeptical of the claims, but they have little say in the matter. The boys and girls in the C-suites are all sure marketing is the key to success.
This is why history books are full of bad ad campaigns. Even the dumbest ideas will win over some people, because it is assumed that all attention is good attention, so even a terrible ad can work. It is also why you rarely see marketing people get sacked for terrible ideas. The one notable exception are the white people who run afoul of the morality police. Put one picture of Hitler on your gigantic scoreboard and you will be fired before the game is finished.
A good recent example is the Bud Light controversy. It should have been obvious that hiring a pervert to sell working class beer was a bad idea. The customers for Bud Light are working men who want cheap beer. These are not the sort of people who squeal with excitement over the latest bourgeois decadence. Sure, the friends, colleagues and superiors of the horse-faced woman who cooked up the idea thought it was marvelous, but they would not be caught dead drinking Bud Light.
It took the executives of that beer company weeks to figure out that they had a serious crisis on their hands, primarily because they have been conditioned to think that anything that gets attention is good marketing. It never occurred to them that their customers would not want to be associated with a pervert. Instead, they were caught up in the excitement of having “gone viral.” It was only after the mockery reached the clouds that they fired the people responsible.
The truth of it is, most of what passes for marketing is nonsense. There is little empirical evidence to suggest it boosts sales. If Coca-Cola stopped running television ads, would people stop buying their products? Clearly not as the brand is globally recognized to the point where it is a generic term like Kleenex or Zipper. Coca-Cola could discontinue all advertising for a year and not see a change in sales. In fact, that would be a great marketing idea and it would surely go viral!
The same sort of psychosis grips politics. It is assumed that the formula for success works backward in that you start with having gained power. If you have power, you can do what you want, but you first must get power. That means winning an election, so you have to focus on that project. In order to win the election, you need to get the votes and that means getting the attention of the voters. In order to do that you need to market your candidate to the rubes out in the hinterland.
This is why the Ron DeSantis campaign is now circling the drain. They assumed that they first needed to make him a household name, so they contracted those who claim to know how to do this. Those people then hired lots of “social media influencers” who would talk about Ron DeSantis as if he is their old pal. Never mind that many of them are weirdos and conmen. After all, any attention is good attention and these social misfits have proven to be great at getting attention on Twitter.
Hiring a gold-plated phony like Bill Mitchell sounded like a great idea because he supposedly has half a million followers. It should have taken them five minutes to see that the follower number is fake. His account gets less engagement than many abandoned accounts, but what he does get is usually mockery. Even among the hardest of hardcore Trump fans Bill Mitchell was a ridiculous person when he was pitching himself as super-MAGA man.
The same logic was behind hiring Mexican Bill Mitchell. You can easily imagine the conversation when they made this decision. “He was on Tucker so those mouth breathers will listen to him.” They never stopped to think that it would be rather obvious that his support was purchased. That and his influence with Trump supporters was contingent on his support for Trump and his last name. When he was MAGA, he was the “barrio Nazi” but with DeSantis he is just Pete.
Of course, all of this rested on an assumption that is probably false. That assumption is that Twitter has an impact on public opinion. For those on Twitter every day, it certainly feels like it is the public square. To those not on Twitter every day, the vast majority of people, it is like every other social media platform they ignore. There is a reason that conversations in the real world about Twitter tend to be derisive. Twitter is not reality, but an alternative reality with little impact on reality.
This is probably true of the internet as a whole. Those old enough to have been online before the mouse recognized this reality forty years ago. Going back and forth with strangers on Usenet was a fun diversion from reality. You and everyone else were playing a role in a simulated world. When your internet time was up, you went back to work and forgot about it. Then when you had free time, you would pick up that thread about who is really the Nazi in the debate.
Like marketing in the business world, social media has become an article of faith in politics that is never questioned. Of course, you have to have a social media presence and of course you need to hire social media strategists. Imagine a big company not having a marketing department! It is the same mentality in politics, and it rests on the same assumption which is probably not true. At the minimum, the truth of it is far more limited than everyone assumes.
In the end, reality matters. If you are selling station wagons just when Chrysler introduced the minivan, no amount of marketing is going to change the fact that the minivan was a better family vehicle. If you are selling Ron DeSantis in the age of Trump, no amount of social media influencing is going to change the fact that he is just another conventional politician in an unconventional age. The best marketing is a product that sells itself, whether it is cars or politicians.
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