“Movement” Marketing

ethan This political marketer with the hippie visage is Ethan Roeder, departing data director for Obama for America. Mr. Roeder has just published a New York Times op-ed titled “I Am not Big Brother.” He doth, of course, protest way too much.

Ethan says his “day job” — he fancies himself a movement organizer, but more on that howler in a minute — is “political data.” Sadly for him, it seems he feels somewhat besieged by public distaste for this job. He is not, he swears, “an all-knowing super-genius.”

But think for a moment, Ethan: Is that really what people hate about marketing in general and political marketing specifically? Do folks think the Ethan Roeders of the world are mad scientists running amok? Or is it more that they know the Ethan Roeders of the world allow corporate politicians to manipulate voters with more efficiency and no more honesty than ever?

Ethan doesn’t ask that question, of course. Instead, he heaps on more hyperbolic straw-man accusations against himself:

If I’m not spying on private citizens through the security cam in the parking garage, I’m probably sifting through their garbage for discarded pages from their diaries or deploying billions of spambots to crack into their e-mail.

If all those things are false, Ethan concludes, then he’s just a humble campaigner trying to help us all “engage” and share our ideas.

Of course, he also doesn’t mention the obverse of the coin with which he fancies he’s purchased his innocence, the assurance that “campaigns don’t know anything more about your online behavior than any retailer, news outlet or savvy blogger.” That flip-side is the reality that modern political campaigns are neither more nor less than ordinary brand marketing efforts, and votes are merely the purchase people like Roeder are hired to finagle.

“[T]echnology,” he says as if it’s some comfort, “is allowing campaigns to finally see through the fog of the crowd and engage voters one by one.”

That one on one relationship is entirely about product-positioning, and zero percent about candidates genuinely seeking ideas and proposals from constituents. (Not that Ethan doesn’t try to sell the latter notion.)

And what about that nighttime struggle? Mr. Roeder is also apparently a principal at a place called, Orwellianly enough, the New Organizing Instutute, where he peddles the idea that the encroachment of political marketing into movement organizing is somehow an advance, rather than a severe malignancy, in movement organizing.

He even has a brand name for his confusion — “engagement organizing.”

Engagement Organizers start with time-tested grassroots organizing strategies, grounded in the behavioral sciences and hardened in the field. We combine these strategies with emerging online tools and technology.

Translation? “Engagement organizers” are people who use marketing research on behalf of their clients, to try to surreptitiously provoke some action that would not otherwise occur. They are the Ethan Roeders of the world.

Remember the talking point?: “Not Big Brother.”

10 Replies to ““Movement” Marketing”

  1. It takes a high level of something–intelligence?–to be able to create such a narrative. In a land where the schools are crumbling from the inside, dozens of millions of adults consider Twilight and Harry Potter quality novels, and people get handed graduate degrees without being able to properly structure a sentence, it’s interesting to see how many of these marketing dynamos are able to ape the language of high-formed deception so well that they become propagators of its original spirit, not merely carriers.

    Granted, they’re just duckspeaking. The things they say have nothing to do with the external world, and are merely strings of code that they mentally cut and pasted from a few textbooks they once read. But still, it comes in complete sentences, and more importantly, it fits into a complete narrative of social progress without internally contradicting itself.

    Imagine the sweet, easy, ghastly horrible technicolor walking nightmares inside the heads of the legions of people who actually believe that sentences like any of those quotes are actual communication. It would be like having the contents of your soul scooped out and surgically replaced by a facebook data stream.

  2. High Arka:

    That ‘merely strings of code’ tag is beautiful.

    “I am not, I swear, an all-knowing super-genius. I am, in fact, merely a string of code beneath an ultra-hip skin.”

  3. The physical appearance is pretty fascinating, isn’t it? Can you imagine the kids working in the Obama marketing office? “Oh, here comes Ethan! He’s so cool! We really are a social movement.” A con man down to his organic cotton socks. “New Organizing.” What puke.

  4. The 60’s called, Brother Ethan, and they want it back, they want it all back: the clothes, the wispy long hair, the pretend-cool diction, the faux hipster mocking of would-be critics.
    Individualism in the surveillance data – what a load of horseshit that sounds just about right for this age.

  5. lmfao, Michael; lmfao.

    Seriously, though, are organic socks more comfortable? Does your congressperson wear organic socks while flying to the home district for an appearance on the other side of a wall of riot barricades from some loving constituents?

    Moving on from the socks, cops have always known to use underclass- or bohemian-style plants to entrap people who judged safety based on appearance. For decades, American and British cops have used the “hippie” image for drug- and protest-permit-violation ops against small-time dealers or community organizers.

    The “hippie” thing still really works, against Americans. Think about all the marketing articles propagated by our vigorous, independent media about how hardworking Bill Gates, the software designer genius, rarely had time to wash his hair. Because he was too busy programming code, or something. As opposed, of course, to the reality of his being just another brainless inheriting capital manager, who wishes he had skills like Steve Jobs–the ability to give a presentation about something handheld, screen facing the audience, buttons being simultaneously used by the presenter, without tripping gawkily into a podium and ruining the press conference.

  6. RE: the hippie appearances and style.

    It may be obvious, but I absolutely must nevertheless emphasize that the true movers and shakers of the democratic movements of the 1960s – MLK, Malcolm X, Parks, Wilkins, and the run of the mill activist were all uber-stylish cats, dressed to the nines, suits, ties, and all. Only after they did the heavy lifting, the sloppy unwashed, pampered middle class hippies showed up on the scene.

    Ethan, listen up boy. I’ve got news for you. Whenever the next real grassroots political movement arrives there’s gonna be a goddamned dress code, and you ain’t getting in.

  7. Personally, though I would never tell people how to dress and groom, I have never understood why, if you are truly a radical, you would ever give anybody a visual/cultural excuse to dismiss you. If you’re really willing to fight all the way and not just rely on poses, then go “clean for Gene” (but not for Gene, of course). Having said this, I also realize there are some people who need the security of in-your-face visages, for whatever reason.

  8. Of course, it’s all tongue in cheek. Dress codes of any kind are inherently opptessive. However, dress does have political implications, and they can be both good and bad.

    For example, that the civil rights leaders and activists were so impecably dressed is probably not insignificant, even if secondary. The business uniform is what the white middle and upper class will pay attention to. So, an impecabbly dressed crowd of black activists can easily communicate, “Listen up, bitches, we’re here, we mean busines, and you’re going to listen” (rather than be ridiculed for being the ragged and unwashed scraps of society, which is one of the things that happened to OWS).

    Dressing up to the nines is loaded with negative meaning, but it does say “I mean business”, and that applies even in radical context. After all, power only listens when confronted with another power, and the suit is the quintessential colonial uniform, symbol of both military and capital. I say give ’em a taste of their own medicine, Malcolm X style. Don’t show up sloppy and unwashed as if you ‘don’t really mean it’ (irony, being one of the most infuriating traits of modern day wannabe activists).

  9. Very much agree, Marla. I also think dressing mainstream sends the signal that we want to seize power and run things our way.

    Of course, with the rise of neo-anarchism, this is perhaps not a point of consensus.

  10. Looks, as you say, Michael, make for cheap derision from all sides, offering theatrical targets without connecting that to the substance of any figure’s actions or proffered opinions.
    Yet, in this case, to have the Oppressor trying to palm himself off as the Hipster in words and looks is just too much. Yeah, we can all be scorned for this or that fashion hypocrisy, and it is always bizarre to hear monkey-suited business tycoon types, of obvious ill-health, scorn their punk opponents for their chosen expressions of fashion individuality, but Ethan the Rebel Political Advertising apparatchik should not be allowed to think he is fooling the sharp minds at anti-Ad Inc. here. Clothes do not make the man, and cannot hide that he is the Man, and this fact lies at the reason why he doth protesteth too much.

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