Monday, February 11, 2008

The Man Who Met Mark Penn (or Andy Griffith) (JM)

So tonight at the Strand I went to meet Mark Penn. For those of you not aware Mark Penn is the chief strategist and pollster for Hillary's campaign. He does not receive a whole lot of love at AOTG for his rather slimy spinning of stories and polls. You may know him as the guy who mentioned "drug use" as a way of not mentioning "drug use" about Obama (you see, like I just did). Anyway, he was actually pretty affable and a fairly entertaining speaker.

He rather scrupulously avoided the discussion of politics, unfortunately, but there were some telling ideas in his discussion. He was there to promote his book Microtrends, which is essentially Moneyball for all of society rather than just baseball. Basically the book examines a bunch of "microtrends" or small discrete social units that are often overlooked by a large portion of society and statistical analysis. I think I will post more concretely on this in the near future as I want to read more deeply; but, I think it is pretty fascinating that he insists on defining "microtrends" as functions of socially cohesive units. It's a social aspect of data trends that I am very interested in, and I want a more complete picture of his argument before I dive in. It, however, strikes me as possible that most of these units cohere not natural, but as a function being examined and marketed to. But before I get in to a weird pop sociology debate with Mark Penn (and Malcolm Gladwell for that matter) back to the point at hand.

One of the big trends Penn emphasized is what he called the LASers (or Long Attention Spanners). He argued that we have been so focused on the people with short spans of attention that we have lost an eye for the LAS market. This certainly seems to have borne itself in the Hillary campaign, looking at her strategic decisions to vote an affirmative on the legislation condemning the Irani Guard and her willingness to discuss policy in great details. More telling was his discussion of rich elites. He made the argument that working class consumers are much more particular and focused when making decisions. His argument was essentially that because of greater cohesiveness and access to information sharing amongst the elite, they are far more likely to accept major news stories and conventional wisdom of their community as gospel. He didn't have much evidence for this, just assertion (an assertion that I think undergirds much of his argument about "microtrends"). However, the underlying message seemed pretty clear to me, despite his disinterest in talking about politics. It struck me as a somewhat dressed up way to discuss the Obamamania sweeping the liberal wine-set. It's a point that merits some further consideration, and perhaps a deeper discussion at some point in the future.

Finally, I must say, the crowd who goes to hear a book talk from Mark Penn at the Strand on Monday night is a pretty darn intelligent crowd. Most of the questions were insightful and actually furthered the discussion (except for the few that tried to bait Penn in to a political discussion). Afterwards everyone milled around talking with each other and Mark, and I got to have a nerdily wonkish conversation about determining sample sizes for incredibly small populations and specific markets. Anyway, my point is that Mark Penn, not such a bad guy to talk to for awhile, despite any impression one might receive from the media.

Oh, by the by, first person to correctly identify the parenthetical reference in the post title wins a prize.

19 comments:

Steve said...

Mark Penn is slimy! Obama 08! Also, Andy Griffith is from Mayberry, RFD.

Anonymous said...

The Man who met Andy Griffith was the axe murderer in a two part episode of MARRIED WITH CHILDREN ; as a result the town pardoned him for the murders as they couldn't afford to lose both celebrities.

Jonathan said...

Why?! Why would you be ashamed of knowing that anon?! God... any respect you could have earned for being the first correct guess is totally mitigated by unfathomable unwillingness to own up to your knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I don't have an account and am using someone else's computer to follow the primary results at Politico.
Sorry if it was a breach of etiquette.

Brian Thomsen

Jonathan said...

Oh ho, I didn't realize that our commenting function was changed, also I was joking... well played, sir.

Steve.. Mayberry, RFD... Obama 08... ridiculous...

Emily said...

First of all, Microtrends is a piece of crap. If this was at the Strand I hope they were selling for $1 a copy, which would be 1000%more than the book is worth. Read this review if you want to spare yourself the Microtrend mush:
http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3320/trending_towards_inanity/


As for the rest, Penn is a greedy pig. He's soaking the Clinton campaign for every dime he can grab, and it is amazing smart people like MacAuliffe allows this. Terry -- check his bills some time.

I have given money to Hillary over several years but I stopped this year when I realized I was only lining this slob's pockets. When she stops paying him I'll start donating again. That is, unless he's completely destroyed her campaign by then (and drained every last nickel.)

Anonymous said...

What Penn has done is isolate his client from the real world out here where people are mad as hell & have been carrying this painful burden unassisted by politicians in power since the stolen election of 2000. Our anger has only intensified as the likes of Penn analyze and triangulate & strategize and focus-group. As a result Hillary just doesn't get it. We need to be listened to & she can't hear. Obama's attraction is in part the feeling that WE will seize control. (Dangerous thinking, I admit, but that's another story.) Hillary has had power for years and done nothing positive with it while shutting the door on the base of the democratic party--the ones who don't like war or environmental destruction or racist behavior.

The Other Steve said...

"It's a social aspect of data trends that I am very interested in, and I want a more complete picture of his argument before I dive in. It, however, strikes me as possible that most of these units cohere not natural, but as a function being examined and marketed to."

Are you referring to a Heisenberg uncertainty principle as it applies to microtrends? That the simple act of trying to measure the microtrend, may in fact be influencing the individuals?

If so, i think that really is the lesson to be understood here in 2008, comparing it to the 2004 political discussion whereby Bush was supposedly microtrending voters.

I think that while there are certainly more individual components of our society, wide variations of music, of cable channels to watch, of websites to search, of games to play, etc. I think though that at the core of a society is a strong desire to have some shared experience. People naturally do move towards what is popular, in many cases because what is popular is also what is well done.

The idea of trying to measure some small subset of the population, probably does in it's own way reinforce a division that may not otherwise be there.

Can you microtrend a car design? There is a lot of variety out there. But a really good car design appeals to a very large audience. I look back at the Mazda Miata when it was first introduced. It's very impractical, but it was well done and as a result sold many units. Perhaps not as many as a Camry or Taurus, but it was successful on a much larger scale than any other roadster convertible had been for many many years.

Anyway, interesting discussion... I think an argument like what Mark Penn is making is controversial because it's so full of exceptions. Doesn't mean it's always wrong, but it also doesn't mean it's always right.

idlemind said...

Mark Penn reminds me a bit of James Burke, who created the popular "Connections" series on PBS a couple decades ago. Burke's MO was to trace the origins of some artifact of modernity by starting at some improbable point in history, and showing some of the key events that were necessary for the ultimate production of that artifact. It was entertainingly told, if a bit loose with history at times, and the hook was the "who'da' thunk it" connections between seemingly unconnected events. Burke sustained this by staying just a bit (but not too far) off the beaten track of "common" historical knowledge.

Penn strives for the same sort of unexpected "a-ha" moments. It's good -- sometimes captivating -- storytelling. There's just one problem. Although his observations may seem to be strikingly insightful, in the larger scheme of things they are just like Burke's artifacts: vivid examples that are, after all is said and done, just a tiny part of the overall picture. And in Penn's case, where statistical significance is the principle which rules over all, it's mostly just interesting noise that is dwarfed by (to coin a term) Macrotrends.

Anonymous said...

Also, Penn is the CEO of Burson-Marsteller, the slimiest PR firm in the world! Check out this Wiki on B-M:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burson-Marsteller

I can't believe I never knew this before about the Clinton campaign.

Anonymous said...

What Penn has done is isolate his client from the real world out here where people are mad as hell & have been carrying this painful burden unassisted by politicians in power since the stolen election of 2000. Our anger has only intensified as the likes of Penn analyze and triangulate & strategize and focus-group. As a result Hillary just doesn't get it. We need to be listened to & she can't hear. Obama's attraction is in part the feeling that WE will seize control. (Dangerous thinking, I admit, but that's another story.) Hillary has had power for years and done nothing positive with it while shutting the door on the base of the democratic party--the ones who don't like war or environmental destruction or racist behavior.

Well, the opposing point of view is that the Obama thing is a huge ego trip by alienated moderate people who have no real plans but incredible ego needs.

Exaggerating Hillary's power, blaming her for NAFTA and the conservative Democrats' implosion in '93-'94, revisionism about Iraq, and focussing on relatively peripheral issues just adds to the general sense of the "movement" being essentially therapeutic, its supposed substance to a large extent unserious. It's about resentments, there is no real plan, and (Penn's only significant observation) it's not really reality-based.

Which is character of Republican campaigns have had for at least a dozen years.

That's not to excuse Hillary's campaign, but there is a lot to the Obama campaign that has blinking lights that spell out "STUPID" that you have to rationalize away to support him.

Jonathan said...

Other Steve and idlemind,

I couldn't agree with your analysis more. The way I see it is that there are infinite ways to slice and dice society. You can find any sort of trend you want. Once you pick up on it, it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. These are not actually discrete social groups- instead convenient fictions. I am not a specific demographic of "Person Who Likes to Talk About Defuncted 80's Sitcoms", I am person of many deeper demographics, who also happens to like talking about Small Wonder.

If Penn's overall mission is just to find new in roads to voters that we would otherwise not have in roads to, then kudos. But to think you can win an electorate on that principle alone gives me misgivings. When I finish the book I will provide a longer, more thoughtful analysis, but basically my problem is that he tries to sublimate people with a particular shared interest or habit in to a concrete social unit; that seems wrong.

Nathalie Guyol said...

"A Face in the Crowd," a movie in which AG starred, all about political cynicism.

fivetonsflax said...

What could be more "STUPID" than writing Bush a blank check to go to war in Iraq, I'd like to know?

Shane said...

Other Steve,

I think you're thinking of the Observer Effect, which is commonly confused w/ the Uncertainty Principle.

Jack Inglis said...

To Anonymous:
There are a lot of shortcomings to ascribe to Hillary beyond the odd collection of historical curiosities you hold out- foremost among them that she represents More Of The Same at a time that we so clearly need for a major break from the Long National Nightmare.

All atmospherics aside, this is the force propelling the Obama campaign- and no discussion of Clinton having a better plan changes the fact that knowing what to expect from a second Clinton regime offers us so little hope for better...

The Other Steve said...

"I think you're thinking of the Observer Effect, which is commonly confused w/ the Uncertainty Principle."

A bit of both, I suppose. The Uncertainty Principle applied to particles in quantum mechanics, and I thought it ironic in terms of microtrends.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the illustrations, and my analysis remains that revisionism and deliberate stupidity and Obama support go hand in hand in hand.

cect iphone said...

black mold exposureblack mold symptoms of exposurewrought iron garden gatesiron garden gates find them herefine thin hair hairstylessearch hair styles for fine thin hairnight vision binocularsbuy night vision binocularslipitor reactionslipitor allergic reactionsluxury beach resort in the philippines

afordable beach resorts in the philippineshomeopathy for eczema.baby eczema.save big with great mineral makeup bargainsmineral makeup wholesalersprodam iphone Apple prodam iphone prahacect iphone manualmanual for P 168 iphonefero 52 binocularsnight vision Fero 52 binocularsThe best night vision binoculars here

night vision binoculars bargainsfree photo albums computer programsfree software to make photo albumsfree tax formsprintable tax forms for free craftmatic air bedcraftmatic air bed adjustable info hereboyd air bedboyd night air bed lowest pricefind air beds in wisconsinbest air beds in wisconsincloud air beds

best cloud inflatable air bedssealy air beds portableportables air bedsrv luggage racksaluminum made rv luggage racksair bed raisedbest form raised air bedsaircraft support equipmentsbest support equipments for aircraftsbed air informercialsbest informercials bed airmattress sized air beds

bestair bed mattress antique doorknobsantique doorknob identification tipsdvd player troubleshootingtroubleshooting with the dvd playerflat panel television lcd vs plasmaflat panel lcd television versus plasma pic the bestThe causes of economic recessionwhat are the causes of economic recessionadjustable bed air foam The best bed air foam

hoof prints antique equestrian printsantique hoof prints equestrian printsBuy air bedadjustablebuy the best adjustable air bedsair beds canadian storesCanadian stores for air beds

migraine causemigraine treatments floridaflorida headache clinicdrying dessicantair drying dessicantdessicant air dryerpediatric asthmaasthma specialistasthma children specialistcarpet cleaning dallas txcarpet cleaners dallascarpet cleaning dallas

vero beach vacationvero beach vacationsbeach vacation homes veroms beach vacationsms beach vacationms beach condosmaui beach vacationmaui beach vacationsmaui beach clubbeach vacationsyour beach vacationscheap beach vacations