Taking a break ..part one

The blog is taking a break for a while – back in the New Year unless some sudden inspiration on some obscure topic provokes a post. In the meantime – some odds and sods – in two parts.

Politics and brands

For decades people have bemoaned politics being marketed like soap powder – despite much political discourse resembling the soap powder market in having lots of activity and lots of promotion about products which underneath are pretty much alike.

Now the pollster and strategist who advised Barack Obama and is now working on the Hilary Clinton campaign, Joel Benenson, is talking about how to bring campaign tactics to brands.

In Marketing Week (10 December 2015) Benenson has been interviewed about “how both brands and politicians can tap into the ‘hidden architecture of public opinion. Benenson’s firm is currently working not only with Hilary Clinton but also clients such as the Campbell Soup Company, Pfizer, Toyota and Walmart. He concedes that there are key differences between the political and brand realms (mainly because one is a win or lose situation while the other doesn’t need to ‘win’ to be successful).

The key to his work is marrying two sets of things: first, language expertise and innovative research techniques; and, second a mix of “big data” and “small data”. The former is the conventional nationwide data base and firm’s customer data and the second data collected through things such as ‘long-form diaries’ using small samples to write at length about their day to-day experiences. The whole exercise is underpinned by a significant, and admirable, emphasis on economic, anthropological and psychological theory and practice. Some case studies are available on the BSG website. http://www.bsgco.com/

Benenson also says “the media should get a lot more suspicious about the plethora of polling out there. They ought to have a set of guidelines about what they do and do not report because most of these polls are really done to promote the name of the polling company, not to accurately assess where the electorate is.” This, of course is about as likely as abandoning stories on leadership. The interview can be found here and was brought to the blog’s attention by Kevin Luscombe, Chairman of the Growth Solutions Group.

Libraries and de-accessioning

In Australia most libraries, unlike in the UK where the Cameron Government is ripping billions out of local government forcing widespread closure of libraries and other facilities, are pretty good although de-accessioning policies are sometimes a bit odd. The blog once picked up for a few dollars a slightly battered but serviceable 1850 four volume edition of Carlyle’s Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches which had been de-accessioned from a private school library (they obviously get so much money they don’t know the value of educational materials any more); and, a first edition of Ruth Spalding’s biography of Bulstrode Whitelocke for free – this time de-accessioned from his local library.

In the 26 June 2015 issue the TLS reported on a Jarndyce (not a Dickens character but an antiquarian bookseller) catalogue of books by and about Trollope. One of the items was a first edition in three volumes of Marion Fay (1882) which had come from the Beechworth Public Library and Wangaratta Regional Library. The price was 380 pounds sterling and one wonder what the library would do with that nice sum today. Did the edition end up in the UK after some delinquent borrower took it home on the steamer, or did the library de-accession it?

And while on the subject of 19th century writers

Daisy Hay’s biography of Mrs Disraeli, Mr and Mrs Disraeli, as well as reminding us that Mrs Disraeli was not quite as ridiculous as many thought her (and probably less ridiculous than her husband) repeated the timeworn, but always satisfying and apposite, Thackeray comment on Disraeli’s characterisation of Peel’s Government as one “which conserves nothing, which proposes nothing, which resists nothing, which believes nothing.”

How to become a celebrity

The obsession with novelty is always obscuring the fact that a lot of what appears new is actually not. A useful example is a newish book by Antoine Lilti Figures publiques: L’Invention de la celebrite . Never fear there is no need to refresh your French, or despair of it being translated, because the gist of it is conveyed in a review by Robert Darnton in the NYRB (21 May 2015). Darnton reports that the first line in the book is (his translation) “Marie-Antoinette is Lady Di” – a quote from Francis Ford Coppola made while watching the filming of his daughter Sofia’s 2006 film with Kirsten Dunst.

Darnton also points out that, despite the title, the book is a serious, rigorous and original piece of work. He describes Lilti as situating celebrity between the concepts of reputation and glory and illustrates factors such as ephemerality, the superficial public knowledge of the famous and the role of publicly produced images. There are lots of major and minor case studies such as Chamfort, Garibaldi, Byron, Liszt, Andrew Jackson, George Washington, Mirabeau, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire and Rousseau with due attention to the extent to which these celebrities ‘managed’ their images.