Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Making the audience work for it

Some years back there was a politician doing the rounds of his local suburbs. He had been in parliament a long time, was well liked, and brought many rewards back to the electorate, including a big new bridge making it easier to get into the city. He knocked on one of the doors to find an old lady he counted as a supporter and after some pleasant banter asked if she was going to vote for him again this year. ‘No’ came her surprising reply. ‘Why not’ he asked. ‘I’ve served the district well, I’ve brought many benefits to the area, I even brought in the bridge which I knew you wanted’. Her reply ? ‘Thats what you did last term, what do we get this time?’

Its an old truism of politics, though one rarely endorsed in our overly professionalised political class, that if you want someones help or attention, don’t give them what they want, but make them work to support you instead. That is the best way to truly lock in support. In the 2008 Democratic Primaries, Hillary Clinton quickly out raised Obama by getting her key supporters to all donate the maximum $2300 amount possible. Obama on the other hand went for a significantly greater pool of people all sending in $10 or $25 dollars. And whenever he was struggling he would go to them and ask for more. Now these people often couldn’t afford much, but having already invested in him they were not going to see their investment wasted with his loss. The same logic applied in the full election when he went up against McCain. His supporters not only were far more tied to his cause because they had helped him out, many went from just financial support to actively door knocking to help. His star was tied to theirs, and they worked far harder and longer for him because of this, than if he had tried to simply buy their votes with any lavish election spending promises.
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I was reminded of this lesson recently by a great friend of mine who posts over at The Refined Geek. The lucky man is just about to go on his honeymoon, but rather than tell us all, he gave little clues and wrote up a short story that he said claimed all the details needed to find out where they were going. If he had simply told his mates where he was going we would have stopped talking about it weeks ago. But for the last few weeks, and especially last 2 days since the wedding the most consistent topic of conversation has been speculation about where they are going. Because we the audience had to work for the information, we were significantly more involved and ready to dedicate time and effort than had we merely been told what we wanted to know at the start.

And as I write this post, I am just finishing a piece of Toast with Vegemite iSnack 2.0. I rarely ate vegemite as a kid, but the lure of a new type, and one without a name got me interested, and even though I absolutely hate the new name, I’ve had perhaps a half-dozen discussions on it with people in the last few days. And consequently found myself when getting out breakfast supplies, reaching for the Vegemite jar.

So never just give your audience what they want. Make them work for it just a little bit, and they will be significantly more invested in your success and towards the result you want to achieve. People like to be involved more than they want to be rewarded.

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