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August 5, 2008

Summary of My Discontent - Murketing Mitch

An interesting item spilled out of the mail recently. Mixed in with the skyrocketing bills, the desperate pleas from environmental watchdog groups, the 401k statement informing me that I’d be spending my retirement years Windexing the sneezeguard at Wendy’s — and other hallmarks of Republican handiwork — I found a flyer from Mitch McConnell. Its stark front panel was designed to look like a gas-station sign, blaring “$4.29 9/10” in massive numbers and in a forlorn font, “Gas Prices Have Soared Above $4 a Gallon …” 

When I realized the flyer was an ad for McConnell, I laughed out loud because I thought good-ol’-boy Big Oil politics was like Fight Club: The first rule is you don’t talk about it. Gas prices on a McConnell mailing seems like seeing “E. coli” on a Taco Bell coupon. 

With such a damaged brand, McConnell probably wishes he could do some serious “untagging” to his whole career. That’s the latest craze, according to The New York Times, among college kids attempting to cover their tracks on Facebook. It works like this: On Saturday night, Aaron puts on his trashiest finery and attends the local bacchanalia. While there, he engages in all manner of tawdry behavior, such as losing the bourbon-pong tournament and attempting to set the Guinness world record for feels copped. 

Within seconds, high-resolution photos of his every move appear on Facebook and each photo is “tagged” with his name. Once the tag appears, each of his “friends” (the Facebook term for “not friends”) gets an instant Facebook “newsfeed,” explaining that, “Aaron Maballsov was tagged in the photo album ‘Vomit in Tiffany’s Cleavage.’” Everyone can then flock to see photos of Aaron passed out in a pool of appletinis with “Swipe Below For Total Access” Sharpied above his coin slot.

This is not an urgent problem because everybody is too busy enjoying the orgy to look at Facebook at the moment. But Sunday-morning Facebook visitors will get to see the photos unless Aaron “untags” them first. Yes, it’s a high-pressure world for today’s youth, but kudos to Facebook for coming up with a way to get kids up early on Sunday. And at least they can untag, which Mitch cannot, despite the lies his ads tell. 

McConnell and other candidates are all busy with another new activity: “murketing.” That’s the term journalist Rob Walker uses to describe underground, or murky, marketing efforts in his book, “Buying In — The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are.” Walker’s book, which describes how marketing weenies sell us crap we don’t need, explains how companies use word-of-mouth campaigns to invent phony images for various products.

Of course, the Republicans practically invented this sort of ploy. It’s especially effective on the “low-information voters” who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim — presumably the same people McConnell is after when he blames world oil prices on a memo Bruce Lunsford wrote in 1980. Exactly how stupid does Mitch think we are? We’ll be finding out all summer long, as voters try to figure out when Mitch is telling a lie.*

In his book, Walker explains how Pabst Blue Ribbon beer abandoned its blue-collar image and successfully used “murketing” to portray its brand as the beer of choice among anti-capitalist hipsters by quietly sponsoring skateboarding and bike events. No big whoop, that’s just something else to inspire future Facebook newsfeeds. But Walker goes on to explain that Pabst isn’t even a brewer anymore. They outsourced brewing to Miller and the entire Pabst company is actually just a marketing business. 

When I was a kid, my father drank Falls City and my pal Danny’s dad drank Pabst. It was sort of a Chevy vs. Ford thing. Once or twice, we sampled the goods. I fondly remember when we “borrowed” a couple from each dad and stashed them in the ivy in the backyard on a crisp fall day, where they were perfectly hidden until later that night, whereupon Danny and I tested our brand loyalties. Kids, do NOT try this at home (and if you do, make sure your dad doesn’t sometimes take a clandestine pee in the ivy after dark). It’s a little heartbreaking to learn that such a fond childhood memory is now sullied by a scam murketing brand. Bruce Lunsford is probably behind this. 


*Hint: Are his lips are moving?