Persuasion versus Marketing

Every writer feels the tension at some point: Should I create content to attract sympathetic and self-affirming readers, or should I create content to persuade an otherwise undecided (or wrong) audience?

The topic was picked up in a little bit by political director / journalist Chuck Todd on “The Moment with Brian Koppelman” podcast (6/9/15), from 56:45, talking about this dynamic in politics:

Chuck Todd: This is the biggest change in politics, where technology is destroying the American political debate. No political party engages in persuasion anymore, because we have so much data that we know how to find people that agree with us and harvest them. Find issues that engage [voters] so that if they’re not interested in this issue, they’re interested in that issue.

Brian Koppelman: Obama’s race speech I think . . .

Chuck Todd: Oh, it was a persuasion argument no doubt, but Obama is a politician who was not wired for the 21st century. See that’s the difference. He wants to be a persuasion politician. Bill Clinton was a great persuasion politician . . . George H. Bush . . .

What I’m saying is that political class, the campaign strategists — the operators — they are not persuaders anymore, they have decided to become niche marketers. Look, it’s happening in television. People have decided, oh there’s an audience for this, so were going to make a bunch of [content] for where the audience is, but we won’t try to grow the audience. We’re in this mode where everybody should have their own programming — whether it’s fictional, nonfictional, news, political — rather than asking: Should we try to persuade?

In politics, October of an election year used to be two candidates arguing about the same issue. Now, October of an election year you may have one candidate this late in the cycle talking about reproductive rights because they’re trying to engage women to get out the vote, and you may have another candidate talking about gun rights to make sure gun owners are engaged, rather than them arguing the final big top three issues of the campaign. So when you don’t win via persuasion, when you don’t fell like you won with persuasion, then you have no incentive to govern that way.

So when people say there’s broken politicians, I say, no, what’s broken is we have politicians that no longer practice politics anymore.