Spreading bad ideas

Today’s post relates closely to yesterday’s in spirit and maybe even topic. This may mean I am incapable of thinking up new ideas and need to stop blogging now. Anyway, here goes…

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You may have noticed the happy little fellows in the header of this blog. They are holding copies of Quotations from Chairman Mao, known in the West as The Little Red Book. Their presence is in no way meant as support for one of the biggest pricks in human history or the silly little book.

Mao’s book of nonsense offers an interesting lesson for today’s businessperson.

Though The Little Red Book was the most printed volume of the 20th century, its contents were weak and it was marketed overwhelmingly via a push strategy. These two realities meant that despite the high print volume it was sure to fall from its original position and be relegated to being a curiosity.

  • First, lets address the point about the content of the LRB being weak. Was it really crap? I think the proof is in the pudding. Today, the book is a kitschy tourist souvenir sold to foreign devils by vendors in Chinese cities – certainly not what the Great Helmsman would have wished for or a hallmark of great literature. Moreover, following Mao’s death the fabulous content and the book were essentially disavowed by Deng Xiaoping. The content has not stood the test of time in official circles or amongst the people.
  • Second, whattup with the idea of the LRB being marketed via a push strategy? In effect, coercion is the ultimate push. And large tracts of the Chinese population understood that bad things happened if you were caught by a gang of Red Guards or other assorted henchmen without this book on your person. People carried The Little Red Book because of the real physical consequences of not doing so – not because of its intellectual value.

In today’s business climate it is becoming harder to live off of producing crap and marketing it with a high-cost push strategy. By pursuing this approach all-in a firm places itself in a position to become a kitschy curiosity – just like the Little Red Book.

This almost happened to GM and Chrysler (it would have save for the bailout). Can you think of any firms that have gone or may go the way of the Mao’s book?

2 Comments

  • Danny Starr says:

    Let’s talk about this one next time we meet in person Jax. I say this because I see both sides of this argument.

    On one hand, I agree that it is becoming harder to sell stuff with massive push style tactics but that is based on my observations and gut feelings on how things might develop in the future.

    I would bet that in the meantime though, push style works because I have to say that I think the average consumer falls for that stuff and has been conditioned to fall for it.

    This example is based on email, but I worked at an organization with a not great quality email list… which I think is really common. We HAD to use strong language and aggressive tactics to coax customers into purchasing or we’d generate no revenue.

    In the end, I tend to think that we often spend so much time reading people who sell knowledge for a living (consultants, agencies) preaching the higher road because people won’t spend money to hear things like “push harder”…. they want to hear something “next level” or something shiny and new.

    I used to spend all kinds of time looking for data that showed “use next level strategies and you’ll get next level results” and I never really found much that was convincing.

    So I’m not really arguing that saying push is dead is b*llshit, I’m just saying that maybe there is a disconnect between thought and reality. Afterall, who wants to be peddling crap with crap tactics for a living?

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