Tuesday, August 11, 2015

When the channeling of information goes awry

As a corporate statistician, I cut my teeth on targeted marketing and discriminatory pricing and I still tend to think in terms of different messages for different segments of the audience, particularly when I read something like this (from the New Republic). 
Conservatives have joined the fight with relish, under the not-insane assumption that Planned Parenthood’s allies would lose the ensuing public opinion battle, creating an opportunity for the right to advance pro-life causes, or (more feasibly) to punish Democrats. What they’ve done instead, using ghoulish propaganda, is convince myriad religious conservatives that Planned Parenthood is making a business of harvesting baby flesh, and that something must be done to stop them. Against the backdrop of the presidential primary, this is turning a public relations nightmare for Democrats into an intractably escalating political crisis for Republicans.


Anti-abortion zealots are now demanding that Republicans in Congress refuse to appropriate money for government operations unless Planned Parenthood’s funding is abolished—a new test of Republican pro-life bona fides. To force Congress’ hand, they’re admonishing Republican presidential candidates that the anti-abortion vote will only follow those who support the shutdown effort. The purpose of Erick Erickson’s above tweet, alerting the candidates to his question days in advance, is to eclipse the instinctual aversion many of them will have to promoting a government shutdown, and get as many of them on the same page as possible.

When working from a customer database, marketers frequently try to divide consumers into three basic groups:

Those will not buy your product no matter what kind of marketing you use;

Those who will always buy your product regardless of what kind of marketing you use;

And those who can be moved from the non-buying to the buying camps with the proper approach.

These distinctions become particularly important when talking about things like price cuts and coupons, but even with traditional marketing, you can see the disadvantage of spending money on either the first or second groups.

It looks like we have something similar here, albeit a bit more complex. I would argue that, in terms of political issues, a party would like its opponents to be a zero on the passion scale, but would prefer for its supporters to be an eight or nine out of ten. Eights and nines are maxed out in terms of showing up to vote and giving you money but they are less likely to demand extreme positions that cost serious political capital compared to the tens .

And obviously you want to persuade the persuadables.

Fetal tissue research will make most people uncomfortable, even those who support it. If you were a Republican marketer, the ideal target for these Planned Parenthood stories would be opponents and persuadables. By contrast, you would want the videos to get as little play as possible among your supporters. With that group, you have already maxed out the potential gains – – both their votes and their money are reliably committed – – and you run a serious risk of pushing them to the level where they start demanding more extreme action.

With all of the normal caveats -- I have no special expertise. I only know what I read in the papers. There's a fundamental silliness comparing a political movement to a business -- it seems to me that in marketing terms, the PP tapes have been badly mistargeted. They have had the biggest viewership and impact in the segment of the voting market where they would do the least good and the most damage (such as pushing for a government shutdown on the eve of a presidential election).

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