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Sunday, 6 November 2011

Politics and marketing: why I won’t shut up no matter how much it bores you

Two weeks ago one of the speakers at EADIM took me aside and made some helpful suggestions. One was that I should stop writing about politics – “I find it infuriating” he said.

He said I should stick to marketing, because that’s what I’m known for and what people want to hear about from me.

I respect his views so I listened, said nothing and thought about it.

He may be right but I don’t think so.

I believe a narrow focus on marketing stunts your thinking. We live in wider world; everything we do is affected by what politicians do. If you doubt it, consider the current chaos and ask who is responsible.

If you’re in Europe ask yourself, for example, how much European legislation - drafted by people you never voted for - affects your ability to use direct mail or to hire and fire. Or how much you personally will be paying to sort out Greece and other countries. Then work out how much your marketing results must improve to for you to afford the money.

Moreover how politicians market themselves - or fail to - teaches many lessons.

In the 1950’s the Eisenhower campaign was the first (as far as I know) to use tested direct marketing methods. They actually tested several messages to see which got the greatest response (most big firms, 60 years later have still not got round to this).

I worked on the Thatcher, Major and Blair campaigns. None of the people running them had a clue from a direct marketer’s perspective.

When I was working for the Tories I had chat with a friend who was working for the Socialists. He told me,"All they're interested in is 'what are you going to say about me." This is exactly the thinking that leads to the self-congratulatory bilge large marketers indulge in.

Obama ran the most sophisticated campaign ever, but is a telling instance of the fact that you should never over-promise.

As Bill Bernbach put it, “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.” I am not suggesting Obama is a bad product. I am suggesting his is a case of “No, you can’t”. Obama could never in a million years change everything. He is in a far, far worse situation than if he had made more modest claims.

But let me turn closer to home where some extraordinary marketing is likely to defeat the biggest clown to run Italy since Mussolini - and in some ways a worse man. Mussolini almost destroyed the mafia. Berlusconi was financed by them.

Italy is in a far, far worse state than it was before they started complying with European employment legislation which puts you off hiring people – even temporarily - because you can’t fire them. From having the fastest growing economy in Europe they have regressed to becoming a basket case – and it all started from the moment they started following the rules.

Many Italians thought that even if was a crook, Berlusconi was able. They were disappointed - which brings me to what is happening in Italy right now.

Michele Santoro, a broadcaster whom Berlusconi tried to destroy, looks like destroying him. How? Partly because he is the most popular broadcaster in Italy – but also by extremely clever marketing.

Berlusconi controls either directly or indirectly all the major broadcasting channels. He fired Santoro – twice. Santoro sued and was reinstated. Then, what a surprise, Santoro’s programme – the most popular in Italy with 8 million viewers- was cancelled.

So Santoro went out and made deals with all the small local independent channels so that people could see a programme untrammelled by state interference. In 48 hours he raised 230,000 Euros from private individuals in payments of 10 euros. Enough for the first programme to be filmed at Cinecitta, the famous film studios in Rome..

2 million people watched that programme. Nobody knows how many more watched on line but 200,000 people posted messages on facebook during the programme.

Santoro is a very witty man – and shows great stuff.

One example is a sequence showing a meeting of Berlusconi supporters. They would feel at home in the BNP. Another is a series of shots of Italian legislators in parliament all listening to their mobile phones. They are being told how to vote.

But one shouldn’t be patronising. Our own politicians are just so much lobby fodder.

Maybe this sort of thing doesn’t interest you and you don’t think it is worth learning from. I disagree. As John Donne wrote, "No man is an island". Nor is our trade.

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