Political Animal

CROSSFIRE REDUX….I know I’ve been

CROSSFIRE REDUX….I know I’ve been going on lately about how liberals should market themselves, and I promise not to make a habit of it, but here’s another observation from the last few minutes of Crossfire that I caught today.

The subject was affirmative action and Paul Begala started in on legacy admissions: “Why is Bush against affirmative action when the only reason he got into Yale is because his Daddy went there? He didn’t deserve to get in either.” (Or words to that effect.) Robert Novak’s response: “What’s wrong with you people? I’m really tired of all the Bush bashing.” (Or words to that effect.)

Now, I have no problem with Bush bashing, but Novak has a point: Bush is still a pretty popular guy, and couching an affirmative action argument as an anti-Bush diatribe probably isn’t very effective. Maybe it’s OK for us bloggers with small audiences, but not for CNN where you should be trying to persuade undecided viewers.

What is it that keeps the liberals from just making a simple, straightforward case?

Universities give preferences for lots of things: athletic prowess, legacy admissions, musical talent, etc. [Insert numbers here if you have them.] All of these admissions prevent a more academically qualified person from being admitted, but all of them also serve the purpose of making the university a better place that serves a greater variety of people. Why is it that race is the only factor that Republicans object to considering?

I know that’s not necessarily going to convince anyone either, but at least it’s honest and makes the best case possible. Unfortunately, most liberals come across horribly on TV, acting as if they haven’t given even a moment’s thought to how they are going to explain their position, or what kind of explanation might best appeal to their audience.

It’s a shame.

POSTSCRIPT: Yeah, I know: it’s Crossfire, not exactly a bastion of reasoned commentary. But still….


DATABASE MARKETING….THE SECRET BEHIND ALL THOSE BARCODE READERS….Regarding my post on data mining yesterday, reader Carl Manaster writes to ask:

Yeah, as a matter of fact, I have wondered for a long time about those loyalty programs. I find it incredible (in the sense meaning “unbelievable”) that it’s worth ~30% of my gross bill to Safeway to keep track of my purchasing habits. I realize, of course, that the un-loyalty-discounted prices are just grossly inflated, but still: use the card, save 30%; don’t use it, pay full price – they’re paying me that much for the information. If you know something about this, I’d welcome an essay explaining why it’s worth that kind of cash to them.

Your wish is my command. For a start, part of the reason is that, yes, the non-loyalty price is inflated. To some extent loyalty programs have simply replaced other marketing programs.

But the fact is that information about your buying habits is worth a lot. To get a taste of this, consider a cat food manufacturer who wants to mail out a flyer to 1 million people. To do this, they buy a list of 1 million names, print flyers, and mail them. The problem is, they know that only 20% of the population owns cats, so most of their flyers are wasted. But what if they could send their flyers only to the 20% of the addresses that represented cat owners? Take a look:

Scenario A
1 Million Names

Scenario B
200,000 Targeted Names



Mailing List @ 1?


Mailer @ 20?


Postage @ 10?






Mailing List @ 20?


Mailer @ 20?


Postage @ 10?




In the second scenario the cat food guys have paid 20x the per-name rate and 4x the total cost for the mailing list, but it doesn’t matter. The total cost of the program is one-third, so they pay up happily.

This is a simplistic example, but even so it illustrates the power of highly targeted knowledge. This stuff is like gold to marketers, who all understand that the true foundation of marketing is not advertising, but market research. Supermarkets in particular can profit from this because they carry a lot of items, sell in high volume, and have extremely detailed purchasing information. There are a lot of suppliers they can sell this information to, and it can be used in a lot of different ways:

  • Send out 10? coupons to some people and 30? coupons to others and track their success.

  • Track people who buy combinations of items.

  • Real-time tracking: did last night’s commercial on Joe Millionaire trigger a frenzy of buying?

  • Track repeat purchasers and target them for special promotions.

  • Etc.

The database marketing revolution (in its current incarnation) is about a decade old now, but it’s just getting started. (Remember the fuss over Amazon’s differential pricing experiment a couple of years ago?) Most consumer marketing people these days just try to track everything they can, figuring that even if they can’t use it now they might be able to use it in the future.

You can fight this stuff by using cash and paying the extra 30%, but even that doesn’t always work. That’s what I do, for example, just out of paranoid crankiness, but since my wife does belong to all the local loyalty programs and she does most of the shopping, even this minor act of defiance does me no good.

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.


INSTAPUNDIT WATCH….The New York Times profile of Glenn Reynolds didn’t have too much new for those of us who already read blogs regularly, but one sentence caught my eye:

In InstaPundit’s early days, he hunted the Web for ideas. Now most are e-mailed to him; fellow bloggers know that a link from Mr. Reynolds guarantees a spike of hundreds of additional readers, if not thousands.

This confirms something I’ve suspected for a while, and I think that overall it’s probably a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with getting ideas from your readers ? probably every blogger does this to some degree or another ? but on a large scale it risks turning your site into an echo chamber of interest only to people who already agree with you. This is probably OK in the case of a site like Little Green Footballs, which is deliberately designed to be that way, but not so good for a site like InstaPundit that tries to cover a wider range of topics and appeal to a wider range of readers.

One of the dangers of blogging ? as with any act of political activism, perhaps ? is that it has a tendency to harden your positions. You start spending all your time with people who agree with you, you’re bombarded daily with positive reinforcement that grows stronger as your views become more extreme, and you start to see the views of your most extreme opponents not as outliers but as the mainstream. And if you think Noam Chomsky is typical of the left and David Horowitz of the right, well then, you’re not likely to cut even the mainstream of the opposition much slack, are you?

To be sure, much of this is simply an unavoidable aspect of human nature, but I think the virtual nature of blogging makes it worse. It is much easier to demonize people you don’t know than ones you do, and much easier to write flaming rants than it is to say them face to face. Blogging may be revolutionary ? or not ? but it has its downsides as well as its virtues.