The Absolute Truth About Marketing
Monday, December 12, 2005
  John Howard: Master Marketer
Recently Marketing Magazine asked me to comment on one of my own editorials from the mid 1990's, one that questioned our retro Prime Minister John Howard's marketing smarts. (They do it to rub my nose in it.) I wrote the following rather balanced appraisal, only to unleash the mighty pen of poison of a reader, quoted below. I received his criticism on the day we witnessed the worst race riots in Australia's history since the Gold Rushes. After a decade of Government-sponsored social change, this is John Howard's Australia...

Retro Marketing: Is John Howard in need of marketing advice?

John Howard is clearly a success story. He doesn’t need marketing advice from me. He is a great leader. He understands the Australian public better than any other politician for several generations. He knows how racist and xenophobic (afraid of foreigners) we are, he knows how greedy we are. He even convinced us that it was perfectly reasonable to confine children from the Middle East in concentration camps in the desert indefinitely, with no trial or recourse to the justice system. To take a nation known for its fairness and egalitarianism and transform it into a nation divided by power, status and race in a few short years is a major demonstration of leadership and marketing.

John Howard understands his market. He understands the deep underlying fear that runs like a yellow streak through our national psyche, living surrounded by Asian countries whose teaming millions would love to escape and take a piece of the Lucky Country (they think). He understands that we think we can’t stop the ‘Yellow Hordes’ if they want to come. Not without the help of a big white world power. For this reason he could convince Australians to happily follow Uncle Sam into yet another failure on a foreign battlefield, Viet Nam style. We would even be willing to make ourselves a target for terrorist bombings (Bali 1 and Bali 2) to stand loyally beside an American President and repeat his lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

He knew he could scare us into staying on our knees in loyalty to the kings and queens of little old England. He knows how we need the Union Jack in our flag to remind us of “home”, whose Queen’s authority is recognised in only a few decaying remnants of Empire, like Gibralta, the Falkland Islands and Australia.

I admire the way he manages his ‘brand’ so that the politician who, more than any other in recent decades, has mislead the public by his words (remember the ‘never ever GST” or “Lazarus with a bypass’) has managed to come across as “Honest John.” He understands that people have short memories (and beside, when the economy’s on fire, who cares?) In his dictionary ‘never, ever’ means ‘not until I think I can get away with it.’

He brings out the worst in us to do it, but he’s a winner.

> ------ Forwarded Message
> From: Damian Young
> Date: Sun, 11 Dec 2005 22:12:23 +1100
> To: sam.mcconnell
> Subject: Comments on "Retro Marketing" article in Dec / Jan 2006 issue
> Hi Sam,
> As a long term subscriber to Marketing Magazine, I would like to offer
> some feedback on Michael Kiely's "Retro Marketing" piece in the Dec /
> Jan 2006 issue.
> His whole commentary was out of place. An editorial on morality
> masquerading as a marketing viewpoint.
> There was no real marketing analysis, just a left wing viewpoint,
> pitching everyone that votes conservative as evil.
> If Mr Kiely does not like our current democratically elected
> government, may I suggest that he run for parliament, start writing for
> The Age, or stage a coup with Mark Latham so that they can institute a
> fascist regime where he decides on what is right for the rest of us.
> Does he really think that the alternative of Mark Latham was a better
> option at the last election? Latham has truly shown the state of
> disrepair that the Labour Party has unfortunately fallen into.
> Indeed, his lip service comments on massive social issues tended to
> trivialise them and their importance to Australia's future.
> I would be interested in reading analysis of the issues from each
> election and commentary on the messages that each party focused on,
> without the moral judgements. Just the science.
> If I want political commentary or editorial, I will consult the
> relevant mainstream media. I do not expect to open up Marketing
> Magazine and virtually be yelled at that I am evil and in need of
> re-education.
> If I want to hear about the latest trends and ideas in Marketing I love
> consulting Marketing Magazine. I trust that this will not be an ongoing
> trend for Marketing Magazine.
> I hope that you understand my need to give this feedback.
> Regards,
> Damian Young
> My reply is this:

Damien, I am sure you are a nicer person than you sound.
Yes, I am a much nicer guy than you would think. My mother thinks so, anyway.

I am not sure the "poison pen" comment is truly justified, although reading it again, I agree it was pretty fiesty! I guess I just miss my university days battling the evils of compulsory student unionism...

I simply do not accept your arguments that Australia is an inherently evil country and have decided to, in my own small way, provide an alternative viewpoint where possible.

I also do not believe there is enough public debate on these issues.

Needless to say, I must admit I look to Andrew Bolt for guidance and the Herald Sun is my bible for public opinion. Counter arguments have been a lot easier for right wingers like me since he came along.

I would have been interested in a more dispassionate analysis of Howard's success from a marketing viewpoint. He has been quite masterful in reflecting the public mood, in spite of The Age and ABC predicting his downfall on a daily basis.

I am usually quite interested in your contributions to the magazine, and look forward to reading more of your work.

Buy Latham a beer for me, next time you see him, and say "Hi" from Damo and Johnny.

Regards, Damian Young
Oh, and one other thing. I am probably the only client of all time who had a crack at JWT for doing freebie work for Greenpeace...

Gee, I practically have a portable soap box!
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