Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mark Walsh on "micro-scripts": SIIA Interview

Mark Walsh is a bone fide pundit of politics and media, and also the CEO of GeniusRocket, a crowd-sourcing company for creative content and brand marketing. If you accept the conventional definition of Washington as "Hollywood for Unattractive People", then you have to believe that politicians are typically judged more by what they say than how they look, and that how they say it is increasingly important as 24/7 media coverage intensifies.

Mr. Walsh suggests that politicians have started using "micro-scripts" to penetrate the consciousness of an electorate suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder. He cited the use of terms like "maverick", "(bridge to) nowhere", "lipstick" and even "change" (as in "change we can believe in") as evidence that the last election had gone in this direction. Of course, Madison Avenue hit Washington a long time ago, so in some ways there's nothing new here.

I struggled a bit to see how a micro-script is different from a slogan or a sound bite. A micro-script seems to be a sound bite that has become institutionalized, and therefore part of the brand. It also brings with it back story, or a set of assumptions, that is hard to question once it gets established. (Dan Schaible of BurrellesLuce has a good take on this.)

Mr. Walsh also suggested that President Obama's tendency to speak more slowly and deliberately may end up having the effect of "human Ritalin" on the current political debate, making us all more thoughtful. One certainly hopes so. As I said in my last post, and as Henry Blodgett suggested at SIIA, the Internet does have the ability promote truth and reason, so long as the debate is lifted above knee-jerk phrases (like "big government") and disinformation (the Swift boat campaign).

I am reminded of an interview I saw on British television many years ago, where someone asked an aged contemporary of Wyatt Earp whether or not the legendary marshall really was fast with a gun. "No, he was deliberate," the old man said. In other words, he took his time and made his bullets count. I think that his may turn out to describe Barack Obama quite well, and it stands in stark contrast with some recent presidents, who have generally adopted a "shoot from the hip" philosophy.