“And when they’ve given you their all
Some stagger and fall after all it’s not easy
Banging your heart against some mad buggers wall.” — Roger Waters
Yesterday we talked about Red Bull and Tesla. I ghost wrote this piece for another site as well and got raked over the coals. Unfortunately, it makes little sense for me to indulge myself there. I am but a guest. However, since I pay the freight here I can go into more detail.
I’m not sure how long the human condition has been this way. I haven’t even lived 50 years and I can talk to my parents about their lives, but everyone from the older generation is now gone. I suspect that a kernel of this has been around forever, but I cannot be sure. Suffice it to say, that the line between real quality and perceived quality has been blurred ever since I’ve been alive.
However, I can honestly say that it has gotten worse. The example of Red Bull and Elon Musk caused quite a bit of a stir. I don’t own a Tesla and have never driven a Tesla, so I can’t attest to its quality. I’ve never had a Red Bull, Monster, or any of those other energy drinks. The closest comparison I can make with actual products I have sampled is the whole Apple revolution that has occurred since the early 2000s.
See, we grew up using Apple IIe’s. I’m sure everyone my age remembers playing Oregon Trail on it when we were finished with our classwork in school. Others of us used those tiny Macintosh’s in classes like Yearbook and the school paper. Somewhere along the line, Apple went from a kind of cool alternative company to the it brand nearly overnight. Some of that was real. They did invent the Ipod’s, Iphone, and the Ipad.
Yet, one cannot deny that Android phones and tablets do just about the same thing. MP3 players were also a thing for a long time. Other companies are making the watches as well. They do the same things. They do them almost as well and they do them for a much lower cost. Yet, Apple is still the most popular brand on the market.
With the exception of the watch, I own or have owned each of those products, so this is not a judgment. However, it is a statement of how we collectively have become prey to a marketing tour de force. Red Bull and Tesla operate in much the same world. Sure, there is quality there I’m sure, but quality cannot fully explain the phenomenon.
Is it any wonder that our politics have also done that. The Affordable Care Act became Obamacare. Trickle down economics became Reaganomics. Heck, why do we think that Trump went to so much effort to put his signature on those stimulus checks? It’s all about branding and conservatives have been more successful at branding than progressives have.
There are definitely strong market forces at work here, but most of it is simply repetition. If you repeat something often enough it becomes truth and the subtle thought processes get soaked in. Think of the facts surrounding the ACA. It made insurance more affordable. It blocked companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions. It provided subsidies to needy families that could otherwise not afford insurance. These things became obscured when the ACA became Obamacare.
Conservatives spent a lifetime seemingly connecting Obama with socialism and communism. Obama became a buzzword for big government. It became a buzzword for government overreach. It became a buzzword for the government taking over our lives. I heard someone refer to a relative getting an “Obama phone”. Talk about a triumph in marketing. He hasn’t been president in over four years. How does he get credit for someone getting a discount or free cell phone?
We have to ignore whether these are good or bad things for the time being. The triumph is not in the facts, but the feelings attached. If I can associate Obama with a feeling then I have won. That feeling happens to be the feeling that government is too involved with our lives. It happens to be the feeling that poor people are getting too much free stuff they haven’t worked for. You not only have to untangle the feeling itself, but now you have to untangle a connection they have to a specific person that embodies that feeling. It’s an artful trick and one that deserves much consideration.
From there we play connect the dots. We spend time cultivating a feeling towards a specific person. In the case of U.S. politics it usually ends up being Bernie Sanders, AOC, or Nancy Pelosi. Are those perceptions accurate? Well, they end up linking Sanders to Venezuelan socialism and Hugo Chavez. No one likes Chavez. If you can successfully link Sanders to Chavez then you can successfully link any other Democratic politician to Sanders.
The trick is diabolical. Democrats do it too, but they don’t do it nearly as well. There is a ton to untangle in each case. Is the politician in question really similar to the conception they have set up for Sanders, AOC, or Pelosi? Heck, are Sanders, AOC, or Pelosi really how they are being portrayed? After all, the connection is to a feeling. They have each become a caricature of that feeling. They symbolize it.
So, in reality the ultimate trick is not the branding of the product itself but the feeling it invokes. It’s not that Apple is really great, but that I feel cool if I have one. It’s not that Red Bull really is better than Monster or any other energy drink. The marketing campaign makes me feel like it is. Sure, the Tesla might be the best electric car on the market. It might also be a complicated status symbol to massage the egos of those that bought one.
The real trick is convincing people that government overreaches. Government is incompetent and big business is a better provider of our needs. We are much better off on our own. My neighbor’s success somehow encroaches on our own. When you spend long enough driving these points home they become reality for some people. From there, you simply connect your opponent to the “evils” of big government, democratic (small d) ideals, and equality. Like anything else, you don’t come out against equality and democracy directly. That would be too obvious. You subtly push your mark there until one day you look up and a significant segment of the country seem to be fully onboard with fascism.
Combating this terror requires a few things. First, we must realize that this tactic doesn’t work with everyone. For some, the feelings of equality, democracy, and fair play is far too powerful to succumb to manipulation. So, we aren’t trying to convince most people. Some already were on the fascist train to begin with. The key is using their formula in reverse. We have to cultivate those feelings and emotions that will positively connect with progressivism. Then, you link conservative politicians as the opponents of those values. It should be easy enough because most of them are.