When the going gets weird, the weird go pro.
–Hunter S. Thompson
Ad people are a pretty left-leaning bunch (the great Hal Riney and a few others being notable exceptions) and that certainly describes me. So like my fellow progressives, I’ve been in a self-pitying sulk since last Tuesday night. Staying off Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo for a week freed up some think time, and since this is a
dead siteblog focusing on advertising, these thoughts are addressed to my colleagues:
Stop blaming Comey.
Stop blaming Bernie.
Stop blaming Millenials.
Stop blaming the media.
And most of all, stop blaming people with different values and different cultural reference points than yours.
You’ve all sat in enough focus groups and “ethnography” studies to know America isn’t Billyburg or even Hoboken.
You know–because you’ve told your clients this in defense of your craft–that emotions guide decision-making, not reason.
You were taught—or should have been if you weren’t—that before a customer can care about what you know, he needs to know whether or not you care.
The Democratic campaign leadership failed on all these counts. They wrote off an enormous swath of the voting public as Flyover Zone yahoos: too dumb, too ill-informed, too bigoted and too Jesus-loving to bother with.
And only after the damage was done, did they consider the possibility that some of those yahoos might have voted for Hilary if they were accorded just a smidgen of respect and attention.
Progressives—and I’m assuming at my peril that means most of my advertising cohort–were appalled at the alternate universe of Trump supporters: an echo chamber of true believers reinforcing and validating each others’ views.
The irony, of course, is that the exact same could be said of our own liberal bubble. Confident in our enlightened perspective and superior grasp of the facts, we commiserate with each other online and express our wonderment over this turn of events. We need to spend less time on HuffPo and more time with real people unlike ourselves if we’re ever to get our heads out of our collective asses and turn this thing around.
Remember the Maslow hierarchy from Psych 101? Let me jog your memory:
Basic, primitive needs come first. That’s how we’re wired. When the crappy, highly processed cereal filled with government-subsidized corn and sugar is $2 a box and the locally produced, GMO-free granola is $8 and I’m making $10.25 an hour, I don’t want to be lectured about healthy eating. I may or may not be willing to support gay marriage, or welcome immigrants, or keep crazy people away from guns. I may be open to understanding and accepting the validity of other people’s religious beliefs.
But right now, I got other shit to think about, OK?
That’s what we lefties always get wrong. We’re always assuming the issues we’re passionate about—equality, inclusion, personal growth, the environment—should be everybody’s top priority. But all those issues fit into the tiny blue triangle of self-actualization at the top of Maslow’s pyramid. The rest, a giant submerged iceberg of hurt and need, is what the Democratic campaign ran into and then sank.
Here are two books that I highly recommend to fellow coastal and urban progressives and to advertising people in particular. In them you’ll find a more nuanced and more empathetic portrayal of people who live in a very different world than ours, but who are nonetheless recognizably human.