Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Generating WOM - Mark Penn's cookies 

ATTN: Dept. of Emerging Market Segments

Walkback: American Prospect, March 22, 2007:
Penn, Inc.


While Penn did indeed invent the male category of "office-park dads" (all these evanescent categories are defined by Penn on the fly so they can never be tested), he has generally put more emphasis on winning over prosperous white women than on men. A year ago he published an op-ed in which he said, "In 1996 we identified soccer moms as the critical swing voters. Today they remain at the center of the swing vote, but they're a decade older and their kids are going off to college." This claim is inseparable from Penn's case for Clinton's electability: Well-off white women love her, well-off white women are the only voters who matter, therefore ...


But the real prize on the Burson-Marsteller web site is the one substantive product headlined on the front page: "The Mom-fluentials Research." Who are "Mom-fluentials"? They seem to be the ultimate Penn category -- and indeed, Penn calls them "the single most important new emerging market segment." They are soccer moms who are also wired workers -- sort of a group of wired-office-park-soccer moms. Like soccer moms and wired workers, they are identified using "a proprietary formula" developed by Penn.

Basically, Mom-fluentials seem to be wealthy, perfectionist busy-bodies. We're told, for example, that where regular non-fluential moms use e-mail to send jokes, mom-fluentials send coupons or product recommendations. They "generate WOM and shape key buying decisions." If you're a parent, you've probably seen a few mom-fluentials -- they're the ones you avoid on your way into school. Unless you actually want some coupons or product recommendations.

There's a lot of stuff on mom-fluentials all over the internet, though it all goes back to a single Penn survey. The best is this marvelous FAQ, in which the answers are delivered by a robotic avatar of a mom-fluential, with short blond hair and pearls, and a flat mechanical voice. I kept expecting the robo-mom-fluential to invite me to join some sort of national conversation.

Sound familiar? As our pot luck would have it...

Recipe: Light the short fuse of misogyny, toss the old darky winking at the white "sweetie" in the elevator charge into the mix... shriek! -- break glass, pull alarm, and WOM! -- you got yerself a "proprietary formula" for a regular fluential white-knuckle political squall. Just bake and serve.

What? You don't think anyone at Burson-Marsteller ever heard of the "perception management" cookbook?

(Next week: How to put out a grease fire; Elizabeth Edwards puts a lid on it)


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