Thomas L. Knapp | thomaslknapp
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Early adopters, market share and the Libertarian Party

Jul 2nd 2010 at 4:58 PM

Apropos of nothing in particular -- I just happened to be thinking about this today.

Libertarians, and especially partisan Libertarians (as opposed to "small-l" libertarians), often think of ourselves as "early adopters," and rightly so.

As a matter of fact, when you're part of a political party that's always polled low single-digits in large elections, you remain an early adopter pretty much by definition: You're among the first people to pull that lever. If you were a "late adopter," you'd be voting for a plurality/majority party, one that lots of early adopters had put into the running before you came along, now wouldn't you?

Anyway, we pat ourselves on the back for being early adopters, and sometimes we deserve those pats. We were the first party to "adopt" the Internet, for example.

Thing is, there are two kinds of early adopters. One kind of early adopter discerns real, abiding value in something and "gets in on the ground floor."

The other kind of early adopter sees Vince Offer flogging the Shamwow!® on TV one week and has to have it. The next week, it's Billy Mays selling the Big City Slider Station® that (s)he has to have. And so on, and so forth, world without end.

There's probably a lot of overlap between these two types of early adopters, or at least a lot of the second type who end up picking some of the same things to adopt as the first type, if only through sheer volume. You see where I'm going with this, right? The Libertarian Party tends to be dominated by the kind of thinking exhibited by the second type of early adopter.

Let's stop now and get a couple of things straight.

First off, I'm not saying the second kind of early adopter is a bad person. I see no reason not to assume that the average Type Two Early Adopter isn't just as solid a libertarian as the average Type One Early Adopter (the one without the garage full of "AS SEEN ON TV!" boxes at home).

Secondly, I'm not saying that any or all of the products/ideas that Type Two Early Adopters tend to jump at are bad products. Hell, I've got a couple of those "AS SEEN ON TV!" items on my counter right now (didn't buy them on TV -- I adopted them late, after they worked their way to the clearance shelves of stores I happened to be in).

What I am saying, though, is that Type Two Early Adopters have a tendency to believe that that thing they have to have is going to be the thing that everyone else will decide they have to have ... if it's sold to everyone else the same way it was sold to them.

And that's just not the way the world works.

Most people are going to continue making their grilled cheese sandwiches in a skillet, not on the Big Boss Grill® ("AS SEEN ON TV!"). Most people are going to live their whole lives without buying a tube of Mighty Putty®, working out on the Ab Rocket®, or squeezing a bag full of oranges through Jack Lalanne's Power Juicer®.

Just like most people are going to continue voting Republican and Democrat if Libertarians keep thinking that a Michael Cloud sales pitch, an infomercial featuring David Ruprecht, or a Wayne Allyn ("RON PAUL ON STEROIDS! RELENTLESS! AS SEEN ON TV!") Root talk TV appearance constitutes a viable political marketing approach.

Those "AS SEEN ON TV!" products make big bucks for the people who sell them, and that's all well and good. They make things that people want, and they can profit by selling any given item to a relatively small percentage of the population.

Let's take a number not quite at random: 8%.

In the computer sales world, if you have 8% market share, you're the business success/comeback story of the decade: Apple.

In most elections for public office, if you have 8% market share, you lose, period.

If you sell your widget to 1/2 of one percent of the US population, you just moved about a million and a half units and probably have a big bonus coming. If you sell your presidential candidate to 1/2 of one percent of the US population, you're that little asterisk in USA Today's election coverage.

The glitzy/glammy/cheesy "AS SEEN ON TV!" approach is guaranteed to work ... on a small percentage of those exposed to it. The huge majority that approach doesn't work on finds it humorous at best and considers it a huge turn-off at worst. QED, absent proportional representation, that approach spells "epic fail" for a political party trying to win elections.

Oddly enough, the Libertarian Party's "winning elections must be the first priority" crowd seems to overlap heavily with its "AS SEEN ON TV!" devotees. Weird. But I guess that's something to figure out another day. For now, I'm going to wrap up in my Snuggie® and see what's on the tube.

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