I’ve never fired a gun, so perhaps this metaphor is a stretch, but as I understand it buckshot is tiny pellet-like stuff stuffed in place of a bullet that scatters out from the gun, hitting a lot of things on its way to the target. This is in contrast to a bullet, which is aimed, fired, and hits it mark.
Never do I feel more like a marketer than I do when I am being affronted by political advertisements in bulk. This may seem odd, since at this time I’m not actually, actively marketing. But it makes a certain amount of sense, because when I am actually, actively marketing, I’m focused on obtaining my goal by reaching out to my assumed audience—not on being a marketer.
I miss many ads, because I don’t watch television or listen to radio. But I get a ton of fliers. And I get even more phone calls. It’s all wasted on me. Not because I don’t listen to the message (though I usually don’t) and not because I don’t look at the flier (I usually do), but because none of it is targeted. All this stuff is designed for someone else! I just happened to be in proximity to the target.
I’m a voter. I’m independent. So, in the world of two-party politics, that means my vote is up for grabs. Unfortunately, I also pay attention all year round, over the several years it takes to get to another election. So, these last minute grabs for my vote rarely have any impact at all. I’ve been watching what you do and have already decided if you should have my support in continuing to do it.
Take, for example, President Obama. Even his base is so lukewarm about him they need a boogey-man Romney to motivate them to action. This impression is, of course, informed by countless Obama-supporting ads that are designed to vilify Romney to motivate the base. Generally speaking, when you have to motivate your base of supporters, it’s not a good sign. On the other hand, most of the advertisements I’ve seen against Obama have been based on his economic record. The problem is this is stuff I already know. The worst problem is that I am also well-informed enough to vet the sources they’re using, which are usually the most biased.
That’s where the other politicians come in. In the United States, the tone of the presidential election almost always impacts the tone of other elections. There is a certain amount of control by politicians—meaning that some politicians can and do hold themselves to higher standards—but it seems that when the presidential campaigns slide to new lows, so do the other campaigns. They also use the same sources, especially the bad ones.
Now, there’s a lesson in all of this for the rest of us. Yes, it’s true, many among your audience are going to be poorly informed and subject to the emotions of the moment. All this advertising that strives for the lowest common denominator, using the least reliable and most exaggerated sources, hits those people where they think. BUT those people are also, often, influenced more heavily by the people they associate with than they ever will be by your advertisements. These informed people are who you want as your base. So, when you go too far in your advertisements, those informed people will call you on it—and that makes you look bad.
I’m no longer involved in politics. I don’t go on marches. I don’t participate in political blogs. I don’t volunteer for a political action committee. But I did all of those things in the past. My voting habits are still influenced by those actions. A politician earns his or her first vote based on the promises he or she makes. A politician earns his or her second vote based on what he or she did while in office. Relatively few politicians have gotten second votes from me, because relatively few politicians do a good job in office.
A parallel exists with the writers that I read. If you make an attractive promise for a good read, then I just might buy your book. If you don’t deliver, then don’t bother making more promises, because I’m not going to be listening. This doesn’t mean you only sell the best of the best—if that were the case, then I’d stick to classics proven by time (and, seeing that Moby Dick makes that list, what a sad lot that would be). That does mean, however, that you have to base your promises on what you’re actually delivering.
Recently, I read an indie book. As I read it, I thought about the apprentice, journeyman, or master expression of quality. The author writing the book was a journeyman; he was NOT a master. But he did tell a good story, despite the executional flaws. He didn’t promise a masterwork. He promised a good story. And he delivered. So, I’ll be buying the next installment in the series when I get a chance. Before that, I read a traditionally-published book. This book was a masterwork. It had all the quality markings of a fully-established, professional writer. But this writer promised a truly great book, comparing the book in my hands to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (which is often done, but usually done badly). The Lord of the Rings trilogy is also a masterwork, but more than that they are truly GREAT books. The book in my hands wasn’t nearly that great. So, based purely on quality markers, the traditionally published book was the better book, but I’m not going to buy the sequel, because it didn’t live up to its promises.
You reveal something about yourself with your marketing. If you promise a good read, and you deliver, even if it’s a journeyman’s work instead of a master’s, you’re showing a bit of who you are and you are proving you can be trusted. If, on the other hand, you promise a GREAT read, and you only deliver a good read, even if it is a master’s work, then you are showing something else—call it arrogance or hubris or whatever. It’s not good. It breaks trust. And, in the traditionally published world, it’s often not reflective of you at all, but the publishing company trying to reach an audience with buckshot. Yes, it still works. But you risk losing the support of influencers in the process.