The Marketing Bureau

Specialist Marketing & Communications Resourecs



Spin Doctors. Where Politics & Marketing Meet

By Brian H Meredith
From the NZBusiness"Marketing Maestro" Archive
First published December 2013

Spin Doctor n. Slang A person who publicises favourable interpretations of the words and actions of a public figure, especially a politician.

I may be naive but my understanding of democracy is, in simple terms, the concept of the people selecting who they would like to run (manage) their community (Nation, Region, City etc) on their behalf. And the role of the politician? To understand the needs and wants of the electorate and to deliver against those needs and wants as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Not a complex philosophy really.

In other words, the people are in charge and the elected officials (politicians) are empowered and instructed to act on the peoples’ behalf.

Now, remaining with my possible naivety, but this seems an awful long way from the reality of democracy in most, if not all, of the developed world. In fact, doesn’t it appear that the majority of governments and their component politicians are in the game for their own, rather than the people’s, benefit? And isn’t that a bit like the worrying definition of marketing that says “Marketing is the art of arresting the human intelligence for long enough to extract money from it”.

Does that sound familiar to you? Does it sound a bit like the reality, rather than the philosophy or concept of, politics?

Well, the reality of this definition of marketing is that it is not marketing, it is mugging. And its shows utter contempt for the only source of the money – customers.

The reality of marketing (albeit that it is a long way from being the only reality of marketing) is that a business or organisation will only achieve its goals by identifying and/or creating needs and wants amongst its chosen target markets, and fulfilling them (“at a profit” – commercial or “cost efficiently” – non-commercial) time after time after time. Surely, true democracy fits a similar definition/philosophy? A government will only achieve its goals by identifying and/or creating needs and wants amongst its chosen target markets (segmentation of the electorate) and fulfilling them (at a profit and/or cost efficiently), time after time after time? If a government achieves that, then life is good - for the electorate, the nation or the community.

The economy’s Balance Sheet is in good shape and a significant degree of trust and respect exists between the elected officials and those who elected them.

But it’s not like that, is it.

Trust politician’s? I would trust just about anyone before I would trust a politician. I accept that many politicians enter politics for very good, altruistic reasons but I would also opine that most, if not all, of them are, in due course (and usually quite quickly), sucked into the polluted waters of the political pond. At that point they either get out of the water or learn to swim with the sharks. And one of the most powerful yet cynical tools deployed by politicians is the Spin Doctor. Even the name, which seems to have become an acceptable term in recent years, is indicative of contempt and cynicism  – someone whose sole job it is to take whatever the facts or reality are and ensure that the message sent to and understood by the audience (typically, the electorate), is what the politicians wants or needs it to be.

Truth? Hah! Dream on.

Integrity? They can’t spell the word.

Morality? mmmm, Ask Len Brown about that one.

Ethics? Nope, don’t need none of that stuff.

Over time, the mainstreaming of these philosophies, strategies and tactics run the risk of brainwashing the electorate to the point where many of these behaviours are increasingly perceived to be OK. At the very least, a reality about which we can do little or nothing.

And when we reach that point, the future looks grim. And, increasingly, there are many businesses who adopt similar philosophies, strategies and tactics as governments and politicians. In other words, their primary objective is to find out where the money is and go get it, in any way that they can, and with no consideration for the effect on the customer.

Product quality deteriorating consistently over the years? Yep.

Product lifecycles getting shorter and shorter? Yep.

Built in obsolescence now an acceptable strategy? Yep.

Use of the equivalent of Spin Doctors to get consumers to believe whatever they need them to believe in order to achieve what they want to achieve? Absolutely.

All summed up in the phrase “contempt for customers”? Undoubtedly.

The interesting thing is, however, that there is extensive data that proves that businesses who adopt a true market orientation, which includes the concepts of integrity, morality and ethics, are more successful than all others in their sector on a wide range of key performance criteria.

So why do those businesses who set out to rip off their customers not know and/or grasp the reality that if they were to do it the right way, their performance would improve and they would likely be around a lot longer. And will governments ever get their heads around this?


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