“Me Too” products, unfortunately, fail:
A Marketing Man’s Perspective on the US Elections
As a marketing professional and an international business consultant, I have often impressed on businessmen in developing countries that copying a current market leader does not create a successful new product. I was fond of parroting a basic in good in product development: Product differentiation is the basis of good marketing. This basic lesson was lost on our good President of the USA, a well-meaning and intelligent man floundering in the chaotic American political system who is seeing his former huge support base disappear from under his feet. Having convincingly won the election to office on the popular slogan of “Change We Can” he not only copied the opposition in many respects, but these fake goods were also sold at the same price. Imagine a customer faced with an imitation product being offered at the same price as an existing brand and you can guess his reaction. This is what happened to the Democratic Party during the recent elections for offering its supporters spurious products. They either ignored what was offered and stayed at home or opted for the genuine article.
The second marketing failure of the current administration was its poor communication skills. Even where it had solid achievements, like the Health Care Bill, It could not get the message across effectively. The opposition, on the other, understood they were dealing mostly with politically illiterate voters and ran colourful Road Shows (Tea Party, Sarah Palin) which played on the ignorance of the audience and relied on sound-bites without substance. For the most blatant example, they attributed the failure of the economy to the President’s “communism and socialism”, when it was unbridled capitalism run wild that caused the economic collapse under previous administrations. In fact, the two large surviving communist countries, China and Vietnam, have the highest rates of growth in the world in the last decades and were the least affected by the world economic downturn manufactured in the USA and exported abroad! But how would ordinary citizens in the Mid-West or the American South know so much? Of course, all politicians the world over know that the public have short memories. You can feed them with promises but after a few years these are forgotten or easily attributed to others.
The other popular misnomer, cleverly marketed by the corporate media and accepted by many citizens, is that the two opposing parties must collaborate and work together for the good of the country. This is the political principle that was advocated and carried out by Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mao Zedong. The basis of the multi-party system that characterises a democracy is that opposing parties oppose each other, vigorously, by presenting differing agendas and canvassing for them, so that the citizens can choose the best option they see. The Republican Party understands this: the Democratic Party which represents a more heterogeneous group of people, does not. Opposing parties unite only in times of grave crisis, such as was the case in World War 2, where all parties are agreed on a common agenda.
Every American understands that America is in a grave crisis, though many are unaware of the nature of it, thanks to the entertainment-oriented mass media and evasive political manifestos: banks and financial giants collapsing, giant corporations failing, 17.5% of the working population unemployed or on part-time work, 9 million homes lost to foreclosure or debt, a national debt now reaching $13.5 trillion and rising, endless wars in the Middle East costing a trillion dollars a years, etc. But the Democrats try to make a virtue of the need to work with the other party, which was mostly responsible for the present failures, on the grounds that it is only through this cooperation that the country could be best served. What a weak-kneed way to carry out the revolutionary promise of “Change We Can”! Revolutions are carried by tough, ruthless and confident people who clearly articulate their goals and objectives like Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan and damn the opposition.
The current American crisis requires an analytical plan, on the model of a business plan that sets out the nature of the crisis, how it came about, the new goals and objectives, and a work plan with the achievable targets. The financial institutions that were gifted with trillions of dollars in bail-outs and underwriting of bad securities are not lending adequately to revive business but giving managers fat bonuses and creating profits through speculation and the stock market, mortgage lenders are throwing people out of homes without restructuring bad loans, corporations are down-sizing and sending jobs overseas. The new form of American capitalism based on financial speculation and short-term profits has failed the nation but no senior politician is willing to admit it. They consider it unpatriotic and un-American to say the system has failed and needs to be restructured to make capitalism work for the people and not for a few profiteers and gamblers. Without changing this structure there will be no respite for the nation. Mao Zedong famously said that “Power comes out of the barrel of a gun”: it might be equally said of America that “Power comes from the billions of dollars that buy the politicians”.
A search for an articulated program from the Democratic and Republican parties for the American voters was frustrating. The websites of both political parties, their media appearances and public speeches, are mostly full of sound-bites and empty rhetoric and appeals to patriotism with an absence of substance. By late September, just before the elections, the Republican Party put out “The Pledge to America”. It was not a document presented and discussed at grassroots level and finally approved by the highest level of the party as an approved plan of action. It was a hastily contrived document prepared for the election: undo the Health Care Reform Bill, keep the prison in Guantanamo Bay open, renew the Bush administration tax cuts but reduce the government spending by $100 billion a year, fund a new missile defence program, cancel future TARP payments, give small business a 20% tax deduction, have more sanctions on Iran, and so on. No analysis of the real problem or how these projects would work and what results they would produce.
The Democratic Party website is even more fascinating. Open the website and it asks you for your e-mail, name, address, and some other details and seeks donations under different levels ranging from $25 to $1,000 and over that limit. Packages were sent to party supporters on the eve of the elections with a questionnaire on the administration’s achievements and, of course, requests for donations. But they were all the wrong questions, intended only to seek endorsement for the administration. It was a poor promotion and it produced poor results. The great presidential election promises were forgotten: setting a time-table to end the ever-lasting Middle East Wars, helping struggling homeowners with their mortgages, providing universal health care, giving jobs to Americans without outsourcing them abroad, etc. However, even these did not address the real issues.
America is facing its deepest crisis since World War 2. The average citizen who is not in the millionaire/billionaire class knows it when he sees jobs evaporating, investments and homes being lost, social services reduced and higher education put beyond the reach of the middle class. The people are desperate for quick solutions. Most of Europe, except for Ireland, Spain, Greece and the UK, has managed to partially move out of recession, while Australia has been even more successful. The developing countries of East and South Asia and South America are seeing strong growth and are showing their muscle in the international arena. But the politicians running America don’t even want to talk about the core issues, leave aside planning to overcome them. The founding fathers of the United States, perhaps the greatest single body of intellectuals, politicians and statesmen in modern history, must be turning in their graves viewing the current state of the nation they created.
07 November 2010
 It brings to mind Dr. Samuel Johnson’s famous statement on 07 April, 1775, that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. He was not condemning patriotism but its misuse by the British politician, John Stuart, the Earl of Bute.
 See http://www.gop.gov/resources/library/documents/solutions/a-pledge-to-america.pdf
 The popular myth is that jobs go to Asia because of low wages. However, Germany is the second largest exporter in the world, and German labour cost almost double the US.