Really great article in today’s New York Times by Kirk Johnson that looks at the ’08 campaign thusfar–including Barack Obama’s victory in Iowa.  It’s of interest here because it views the political landscape, particularly the rhetoric used in conjunction with the campaigns, through the lens of culture.  Basically, Johnson wonders why the language of the campaigns is framed around issues that may no longer be big issues to ordinary people i.e., capital punishment, abortion, race, and homosexuality.  Johnson writes:

Politics might be stuck int he slow lane, but science, capitalism and American culture and society are decidedly not, and all are making creative end runs around the gridlock.

You could just as easily substitute "marketing" for "politics" in the above sentence.  Both groups are often derided for being out of touch.  And, while the public might not have fully "moved on" to other issues, they way in which it thinks about them constantly shifts.  Johnson goes onto write:

Today, pop entertainment, sophisticated marketing, and the Internet can shift public thinking and tase as fast as a Britney Spears news cycle.  Are the evolving attitudes. . .about homosexuality, for example, a reflection of new science and genetics, or "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," of simply the fact that young people are more comfortable with gay friends who are acknowledging their sexuality earlier and more openly?

It’s quite a pickle.

One thing that marketers have to do is to keep things simple, particularly for themselves.  I was one a conference call where a marketer for a major QSR chain mentioned that she’d been in an all-day meeting about Wi-Fi.  To top things off, the prospective vendor never addressed how it was going to help her better engage consumers so that she could sell more food.  Upon hearing that, I felt like somebody really wasted her time.

At the end of the day, marketers can’t let themselves be dazzled by all the new technologies.  They’re just tools.  To be fair, these tools do change certain behaviors and attitudes, so it’s important to understand this interaction.  As attitudes and behaviors change, that means that the ways that people make meaning are changing.  Their expectations shift.  This is the kind of thing marketers and politicians need to stay on top of.  But before language (communication?) can evolve, the frame and our sensitivity to cultural shifts have to get better.

You can–and should–read the Times article by clicking here.

Posted by Rob Fields