The Thing, The Other and That Momentum Thing

Posted by on Feb 16, 2008 in Uncategorized | One Comment


One of the most interesting things about watching coverage of this year’s US presidential campaigns is observing how important The Other (other people) really is and how – relatively – unimportant The Thing (the candidates).

Most of the conversation by the pundits (on- and offline) is about Things – as if the candidates were being rationally evaluated by millions of individual party electors on some (as yet unclear) tangible dimensions.

But the truth is glimpsed in a number of ways: the participative and iterative shape of the process for choosing candidates is clearly a social one – I for one love the curiously olde worlde grassroots caucuas mechanism. And let’s be honest, something other than rational evaluation is being used to sort out would-be candidates. Indeed, the widely referenced notion of Momentum (see here here and here) is all about sensing what the Other (what other around you folk think). Whatever the value of his candidacy or the tactics he deployed, Rudy Giuliani discovered how difficult it is to compete as a Thing when The Other is so public and well articulated: when what other people think and do is the main show, Things just don’t cut it.

This makes the rise and rise of Obama less about the man himself than about Americans and America:

The reason Obama is winning and will win is so simple. Americans want to believe in themselves again.

Now a fan of rationalist democracy might object to all of this – as if the social side I’m higlighting here was some aberrent, twisted version of our fine democratic institutions. Indeed in certain countries Opinion polls are banned during elections as the information they contain about The Other is believed to have an unfair influence on each individual voter – I’m sure it must have been this way even in the Ancient demos’s deliberations.


1. Politicos take note: if you win, it’s about them and not about you so use your power wisely. Ditto, Marketers: if your brand is successful it’s likely to be more because of the Other (people being ready to interact around something and take up your brand for their interactions) than it is about your Thing. Be humble.

2. So whether you’re campaigning or marketing, don’t focus on the Thing: it’s largely not about the product or the ad or what you do but about them and how they interact with each other. It’s about how they see themselves: how they see the other folk in the perpetual dance that is human life. Help them do so.

3. So what else do you do? Understand that the dance was going on before you arrived and will go on long after you’ve disappeared, so try to understand the dance they’re dancing, how they see each other and then try to enhance it…

1 Comment

  1. mark l.
    February 28, 2008

    Your post is spot on, but particularly true of Obama. No one really knew him before the process and many doubted that he had the experience (i.e. brand stature) to run. But by proving himself in Iowa and getting some wind behind him, he has succeeded (well almost).
    But the counter point to to your argument might be Mike Huckabee. If he had not been the only real evangelical in the race he would not have won Iowa.
    So I agree with you about momentum, with the exception that if something/someone can break off part of the market, it can change the dynamic of the whole system.