January 23, 2004
The Dean, The Dead
Don't know why Rob Walker doesn't publish his sporadic email blast, The Journal of Murketing, online. But its free and well worth subscribing too. From the latest:
I was interested to read, post-Iowa, a Dean media adviser comparing his man's events to Grateful Dead concerts. This strikes me as a more realistic assessment of Brand Dean's DNA than the earlier hype. The business of the Dead was built on fanatical loyalty, intense community -- and total indifference to the fact that most of the world can't stand the Grateful Dead. You can build a brand around that, but not a mass one, and you pretty much have to go mass if you want to be president.
posting the whole entry below since its unclear how else to send anyone to it, and it captures my own thoughts on the matter better then I ever did.
The Journal of Murketing shuns politics, but this whole Howard Dean thing can't be avoided. What has happened to this one-man brand? He was so hot, a champion murketer! Recently a business-magazine columnist (who presumably had a pre- Iowa Caucus deadline) pointed to Dean's grass-roots cultivation skills as a model for forward-thinking businesses, since "everyone knows" that his "web-driven campaign is a huge factor in his success." And just a month ago a heavyweight pundit said Dean's brilliantly viral, buzz-building use of the Internet was schooling the "political establishment" just as file-sharing and The Blair Witch Project "blindsided" the music and film industries. The meetups, the stealthy fund-raising -- it's like flash mobs, it's like Friendster, it's changing the paradigm! "The Internet," Dean campaign mastermind Joe Trippi lectured, "puts back into the campaign what TV took out — people."
It's true, people are a big deal in elections, something Trippi was no doubt thinking of while his candidate was being crushed in Iowa. One reporter hanging out at a caucus center wrote: "The precinct captain for the Dean campaign said he was hoping for 25 to 50 Dean voters between the ages of 18 and 25, but only one showed up. 'I think if we could blame [Dean's loss] on anyone, blame it on the 18- to 25-year-olds, because they were nonexistent,' he said."
Ouch! So is (was) Dean just a youth-driven fad? Or will he come roaring (or howling) back in New Hampshire? The Journal of Murketing does not make predictions. Instead, here are three thoughts. First, I suspect that a lot of the early buzz around Dean had little to do with him and much to do with the vague idea that he presented a "challenge to the status quo." Which can mean almost anything. Mystery and curiosity might help sell movie tickets or a trendy product, but it doesn't really work in politics.
Second, I was interested to read, post-Iowa, a Dean media adviser comparing his man's events to Grateful Dead concerts. This strikes me as a more realistic assessment of Brand Dean's DNA than the earlier hype. The business of the Dead was built on fanatical loyalty, intense community -- and total indifference to the fact that most of the world can't stand the Grateful Dead. You can build a brand around that, but not a mass one, and you pretty much have to go mass if you want to be president.
Posted by Abe at January 23, 2004 05:48 PM
Third, the celebrated Trippi says he learned about the power of Web community as a participant on Raging Bull, a site for day-traders, in the heyday of the tech-stock bubble. He was entranced with some traders' devotion to a company called Wave Systems. I've read "Wavoids" explaining how "word of mouth" built a "loyal following" of investors who "kept the company afloat." Yeah? I'd never heard of Wave Systems, so I looked into it. It turns out that at the market's peak, WAVX traded at $50 a share. Today it's around $2.18. And even that price seems wildly optimistic: For the 12 months ended September 30, Wave had revenue of about $183,000 (that's thousands, not millions), which of course is not even enough to cover the annual salary of its president and CEO ($411,000); losses for that period exceeded $23 million. Last month the company disclosed that it is under S.E.C. investigation. This suggests that those Wave true believers Trippi was so impressed by were not so much a movement as a feedback loop. Again, no prediction is implied, but Dean fans better hope that his current viral, network-building efforts have a more solid foundation.