Short of hiding in a cave, my efforts to avoid the granular, 24-hour media coverage of that festering pus of a fake presidential campaign have proved fruitless. It’s on all 26 televisions at my gym, projecting the orange-haired narcissist and his purposely inflammatory ramblings.
I’d be interested to hear from psychologists and psychiatrists whether my use of the word narcissist in this case is simply understatement or an actual clinical diagnosis. It does appear that we are witnessing the sad spectacle of real mental illness unfolding before us. According to opinion polls – which themselves are a form of mental illness 65 weeks before an actual election – a quarter of one segment of the electorate gives this bizarre reality show the thumbs up.
It’s a cliché at this point that stupid sells, that outlandishly juvenile behavior is fun to watch, that awful judgment is entertaining, that no one can look away from the train wreck. We’ve had grammar school beauty pageant contestants and developmentally-stunted New Jersey stereotypes and a silver spoon family so utterly bereft of talent or insight but redolent of breast tissue that their massive celebrity seems almost inevitable.
But even the cultural realists are having trouble wrapping our heads around a lowest common denominator presidential campaign, even if we know that it’s a cynical attempt to boost business and provide more fodder for an area-code sized ego. Surely, we would have thought, we at least want our presidents to be dignified and possess an intellect above the Real Housewives line.
It makes you wonder, if you’re trying to sell a historical site to tourists, or technology solutions, or real estate, how you can compete with the lunatics without becoming one of them. Can smart, segmented, integrated marketing communications, with well-targeted and media-specific messaging really triumph in the public mind against this miasma of cognitive deprivation?
Thankfully, of course it can. In fact, that’s still ultimately the only way to win in the marketplace. The media sensations listed above have mostly evaporated; you can only watch a train wreck for so long before the novelty is gone and it’s just plain grisly. Even the presidential sideshow will eventually wear itself out as Americans begin paying attention to the candidates – roughly four weeks before the actual election.
Henry Mencken was almost certainly right, that “no one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” But eventually even plain people act in their own best interests, so that if you sell the right thing to the right people, they will buy it. Yeah, I know, there’s a plethora of data points to support Mencken: pet rocks, 15 fast food chains, vaccinations causing autism, ambulance-chasing lawyers, $100 ripped jeans, Toys for Tots, supermarket tabloids, Windows 8, the South Carolina “educational” lottery, and on and on. But that’s a mere drop in the marketplace bucket, where trillions of transactions are consummated every day.
The explosion of technology and the ongoing degradation of culture will continue apace, but neither changes the core dynamics of marketing: find out what people want, give it to them and make sure they know about it. As you and I prove everyday (okay, maybe just you do) matching the product or service to the audience, medium, method and message, and doing it all as much and as creatively as possible, that’s the only sure formula for success.
But if that fails, it’s good to know that mental illness is your backup plan.