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October 17, 2008
From Wasilla to Madison Avenue
Forget politics--Sarah Palin’s a natural born ad person

Frankly, I think that when she’s done in the Alaska Governor’s office, or the White House, Sarah Palin ought to start an ad agency.

She’s perfect for it. Because she’s living embodiment of what many people have come to expect from advertising and in particular, many of the people who make it.

I’ve met my share of Sarah Palins in the ad business. The ones who succeeded despite being light on substance and thick on vacuousness. Funny thing is, many of them were men. The men don’t wink at me, though.

Everyone over-analyzed the winks she gave during that debate. But spend enough time in agency meetings and you’ll understand. She winks not because she likes us, she winks because she’s bullshitting us and she wants people believe to believe her BS. That’s upper management material in ad agencies. So many of us would love the ability to pull that one off on our clients. I’m full of BS a lot, and I’m not always that convincing.

I have an idea: Put her on the new business team! She’s got the ability to take a simple question and spin an answer that, when dissected, is nonsensical gibberish. That’s a highly valuable skill. Come on, who better could spout off on a “holistic approach to best-in-class, paradigm-shattering messaging strategies”?

Or, we could put her in charge of consumer insights. Lots of people say they like Palin because she’s “one of us.” In other words, she connects with the target audience. But the reality is she claims an authenticity that she doesn’t really have. Does living in rural Idaho and Alaska your whole life give you the ability to inherent understand all of America? No. But neither does living in Brooklyn and working in a Manhattan ad agency. It’s a big country and a big world—and we need to see and experience some of it before we can effectively market to it. But in advertising, as long as you can fake authenticity, you’ve got it made.

Palin also seems like she’d be a natural survivor in the minefield of office politics. She’s got a good screwed-on smile that masks the “don’t screw with me” attitude. We’ve heard some rumblings about her abuse of power as Governor. No problem. Many senior advertising executives are much more comfortable developing personal vendettas and secret shit lists. Like John McCain, the out-of-touch person at the top, there’s always a second-in-command or other underling who’s entrusted to wield the hatchet.

Now, you might be thinking, “But she’s not qualified—she’s never worked in advertising.” That’s OK. In the advertising industry, it’s not as if prior qualifications matter. Plenty of ad agencies are founded or run by people who are former TV reporters, jingle-writers, sales weasels, charlatans, and all sorts of other types. Palin is governor of a very significant state, and rightfully so. She’ll do fine in advertising. I’ve met many an ad exec who got promoted beyond his/her competency level. Like a mid-level copywriter suddenly promoted to Executive Creative Director. What could possibly go wrong?

A lack of depth, coupled with a lack of facial blemishes, gets many people by the ad biz, just like in politics. It’s no accident Palin was chosen over many more qualified but homelier looking Republican women. Popularity, whether in politics, business, or high school, can propel people straight to the top. Maybe she’ll work. Maybe it won’t. We’ll find out November 4th.

The Palin phenomenon is just like any advertising campaign we launch--we simply don’t know what the ROI will be. There is a target audience of loyal Republican brand advocates she’s being pitched to, and they’re eating it up. Many people, however, aren’t buying what Sarah Palin is selling. Just like consumers are slowly tiring of insulting work perpetrated by advertisers who don’t care about the consequences of their actions. Perhaps the notion that some people see through Palin is also a harbinger that consumers might welcome more intelligent marketing. Or not.

Advertising, like politics, is a business where superficiality often triumphs. But still, our clients these days are much more eager to give ad agencies the boot than voters are to throw politicians out of office. So maybe Sarah Palin has the right idea. Maybe we’re better off taking a page from her wink-and-platitude playbook.

Besides, what’s the difference between an advertising professional and a hockey mom? Lipstick—placed lovingly on the client’s butt.

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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