My theory about National’s messaging in the preceding post isn’t a general theory of why National is popular. There are several drivers behind that: their success at fundraising, their very impressive organisational skills, Key’s personal qualities, Labour sucking for almost ten years now. It’s an explanation as to why their messaging makes so little sense and is often in total contradiction of the known facts (cf Key claiming that a loss in Northland would see the death of the South Korean free-trade deal) the theory being that, like advertising it’s about engaging people on an emotional level, not a rational one.
Some people in the comments to the previous post say that this buys into Bombers ‘sleepy Hobbits and stupid sheeple love National’ rhetoric. I don’t think people are stupid. But they often lack perfect information and advertising is often about exploiting that in ways that deliberately confuse them and draw them towards choices that favor the advertiser.
Consider painkillers. There are shelves full of them in the supermarkets, and they generally fall into two classes: name brand (Nurofen, Panadol) and generics. These products contain the exact same active ingredients (ibuprofen, paracetamol) and the generics are roughly half the price of the name brand, but most consumers buy the name brand.
Is that because those consumers are stupid? I don’t think so. It’s because people just aren’t that informed about the pharmacology of analgesics, and when they’re walking down the aisle and see a wall of different products they see Panadol and associate it with words like ‘trusted and effective’ (the exact same phrases National uses to describe its management of the economy) recalled by years of half-glimpsed ads. There is no rational argument name-brand companies can make for you to buy their products. (And you shouldn’t!) so the messaging is either emotive (trusted, effective) or disinformation (some name brand products claim to treat sinus pain, others back pain or migraines, they are all the same identical product).
People can find out about the qualities of generic painkillers. The box is right there on the shelf, so there is ‘balance’ in that sense. But the majority of people aren’t that engaged. They have other things to do with their lives other than inform themselves on active ingredients of painkillers – and that’s true, I think, of most political issues. How many voters really care about state housing, to the degree that if they hear Bill English droning on about how he’s being sensible and prudent and fixing the housing market they’ll go out and educate themselves to find out whether he’s telling the truth?