Tuesday was a very bad day for the new god of "big data." Having spent a career experiencing the questionable talents of the marketing research industry, I can honestly say I wasn't terribly surprised.
What did surprise me was the speed at which journalism has declined. Like all things that change just a little every day, the decay is hard to recognize until suddenly a threshold is crossed and the effect becomes obvious. That happened on Tuesday.
The American news media spent an astounding amount of time and energy covering the Presidential
race. It was a boon to ratings and they milked it for all it was worth. The only thing they got wrong was the, um, story.
It's hard to know where to put the blame for their misreading of the electorate, but I have a few theories:
First is gullibility. It's remarkable that news organizations still believe in the hogwash of "polling research." What passes for science in the marketing industry is mostly just the second-rate work of clumsy bumblers. There's not a "hard" science institution in the world that wouldn't laugh these guys and their methods out the door. But the news industry still takes them seriously.
Second is the problem of underfunding
of news organizations. The theory here is that as advertising dollars have moved online, serious broadcast and print news organizations have had to cut staff. In particular they have had to cut higher-priced staff -- i.e.,
the experienced reporters who actually know something. The result is that broadcast and print news is looking and feeling more and more like online news. In other words, like entertainment. In other words, like crap.
The third candidate is abject prejudice. This theory postulates that the news media had thinly disguised contempt for Trump and did everything they could to make him and his supporters seem ridiculous and feckless.
These three theories all have some points in their favor, but I don't think any of them really explains how the "experts" got it so wrong.
I think the true problem was "reporting by selfie-stick." Media executives, reporters, and pundits didn't see what was happening because, like most of us, all they could see was their personal frame of reference.
A blurb about my book, "Marketers Are From Mars, Consumers Are From New Jersey,"
says..."marketers and advertisers have lost touch with consumers and are living in a fantasy land of their own invention -- fed by a cultural echo chamber of books, articles and conferences in which people like them talk to people like them."
I think it's pretty clear that's what happened in the coverage of this election. It was a prime example of what goes wrong when an influential group of people live in a bubble. Sadly, I think the election made the point a lot better than my book.
From an email I received from Daniel Barnes, ceo of Barnes, Catmur & Friends Dentsu in Auckland NZ, "...he had clear, simple...messages (whether you like them or not), and no analytics, and she had the exact opposite. Which worked better - and cost less? In so many ways the Clinton campaign was the epitome of modern marketing..."