Counter-culture Marketing

There’s always a market for going against the tide. Look no further than the surprising political candidacy of Ron Paul, maverick Republican/Libertarian running for U.S. President.

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(Disclaimer: this is not a political post per se, but a marketing post that touches on a political phenomenon. For my part, I actually haven’t decided who I’d vote for in the upcoming presidential election).

Ron Paul’s campaign is a great illustration of WOM (Word-of-Mouth) marketing. He doesn’t seem to have much of a professional staff orchestrating things. What has happened is that he has bunches of rabid fans who self-organize to raise money, campaign actively, and even create and fly a blimp! How many of us would like to develop a customer base that would go to such extremes!

This candidacy is a social-media fueled phenomenon, and it works because it taps into something very American – being counter-cultural.

Apple has always been counter-cultural. Unix users are of a similar (more technical) breed. Elvis was counter-cultural. Hybrid cars (at first, anyway) were counter-cultural.

In more recent political history, Jimmy Carter and Ross Perot were counter-cultural. People that either come in from the outside, or (much more difficult) who remain relatively untainted while on the inside, can tap into this vein, while those “in the mainstream” cannot. It is probably safe to assume that every culture has its sub-group that feels compelled to swim upstream, and that isn’t always bad if the river is flowing in the wrong direction.

Counter-cultural rebels value purity and focus, and don’t like compromise. They prefer to overthrow existing institutions, usually seeing it as hopeless to change them from within (fanatical terrorists, more ominously, are numbered in this group, marketing destruction as the means toward the end of some form of purification).

Those who see themselves as counter-cultural can be fabulous customers – but don’t step on their toes by diluting the message or by “backsliding”!

There will always be a sizable population of rebels, and they can be fanatical in their attachment to causes. That’s why it’ll be interesting to see how far this swell of support carries Ron Paul, or other such counter-cultural candidates in future years. In the meantime, as marketers, we are faced with an interesting proposition: at what point do we position ourselves and/or our offerings as counter-cultural? Jump into the comments and share what you think have been effective c-c marketing efforts – or those that failed due to miscalculation or insincerity.

(More from the Wall Street Journal on the success of the anti-establishment message in Iowa)

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4 Responses to Counter-culture Marketing

  1. Cam Beck says:

    I don’t know if Paul is counter-culture as much as his candidacy is counterintuitive. The name of the game is bandwagon politics, and the media won’t ever allow Paul or anyone who doesn’t meet their subjective criteria climb out of the basement.

    Huckabee’s rise is a bit of a fluke… Chuck Norris pulled him out of the basement kicking and screaming.

    They’ve been holding Obama’s torch since his 2004 speech at the Democratic national convention.

  2. experienceaurie says:

    Did anyone see the interview that Bill Moyer had with Ron Paul on PBS. It aired in my neck of the woods on 1/4/08 (Bill Moyer’s Journal).

    It was very eye-opening. I’m not sure if counter-culture is the absolute term for him, but he is certainly against the establishment as we know it. I was listening to his views and he explained why he was against the government’s involvement in regulating the internet.

    He even went further to say that if government & big business continues to go to bed with each other at the rate they are going, this democracy thing will eventually dissipate and we’ll be in real trouble when the constitution starts getting tampered with more and more.

    I believe that whether you agree with Ron Paul’s counter culture approach or not, it is important that we hear more than 1.5 points of view in the presidential debates. He has a clearly different message and should be given more airtime. No I am not a member of the Libertarian party. Far from it. However, I believe that democracy or whatever we call it nowadays, needs to make a comeback in a real way.

  3. Cam and Aurie,

    Thanks for your comments!

    There’s both a comfort and a danger in being an “establishment” candidate. Those who can sincerely run as outsiders to the “corrupt mainstream Washington establishment” will get a hearing from people who are more zealous for ideas/ideals than appearances. They might not have the endorsement of entrenched party insiders, but the popular appeal cannot be denied.

    It’s going to be an interesting run-up to the election in 2008, that’s for sure!

  4. Pingback: I Am Not a Republican « Steve’s Leaves

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