Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Infomercial Wins!

There are only two things that we saw on TV this week. One is an infomercial about the “Bullet Express” which prepares an entire meal in 30 seconds. The other is Barack Obama making his case about Health Care Reform, or as I prefer to call it, (because it really that’s what it is), Health Insurance Reform.

Many of the television pundits have declared that Obama is overexposed. That the President of the United States, making a television appearance, is supposed to be a big deal. But he has been seen on so many shows, saying pretty much the same thing (change is good), that people, even those who are interested in what is going to happen to them if “health anything” is reformed, have begun changing the channel.

This is not the case with the Bullet Express. Yes, it is hokey and yes, the guy who is selling the product is an abrasive Brit, (or maybe a Scot, he’s so abrasive it’s hard to listen). And yes, there are six or seven annoying people who have been invited for ‘dinner’ and are appalled when they arrive and there is nothing to eat – they don’t know what we know, that they will eat in 30 seconds or however long it takes to sell the product.

Nevertheless, for those of us who have busy lives but like to eat, we are interested in how the thing works. Who wouldn’t want a gourmet meal in 30 seconds. (No they don’t say it’s gourmet, but I had high hopes.

Anyway, the host of the infomercial explains and shows us, with simple clarity, exactly how the machine works. “Here’s some dough,” he says, “Let’s make a pizza. You all like pizza don’t you?” And the next thing you see is a smiling young woman patting the tummy of her over weight hubby (doesn’t she know that at that size, the last thing he needs is a high cholesterol meal?). Never mind, this blog is not about the meal, it’s about the way things are explained. It’s about the way you sell a product, an idea, or dare I say, health insurance reform.

What was really interesting was that, even after all that television time, his numbers never moved. His presentation didn’t work, even though hosts like George Stephanopoulis quoted Merriam’s dictionary and appeared silly in the give and take with the President.
I was thinking that maybe all that time making jokes with Letterman, and points with Schieffer, would have been better spent making phone calls to Congressmen and women. When Tip O’Neill, who was a successful Speaker of the House, wanted to get Congressional business done, he worked the phones. He started with the A’s and went all the way to the Z’s, until he got what he wanted. The reality of a bipartisan effort is that it’s never going to happen with this Congress, so the President and the Speaker need to work the phones. Some would call that old fashion politics. I would call it a more likely way to get done what you want to get done. And wasn’t the reason Rahm Emanuel was appointed Chief of Staff to the President was because he knew how to get “stuff” through Congress? After all my experience in Presidential politics and government, I just don’t get it.

So here’s what I would suggest. The President needs to watch the Bullet Express infomercial with his speech writers and senior staff. They need to take copious notes about how to get something done. There is a certain charm in grating a pound of mozzarella in 10 seconds. They all need to learn a lesson from the abrasive chief (those can be found in the White House) and his talent-free dinner guests (also no shortage of these on the White House staff). Then they need to toss all the notes they’ve been using in the circular file, rethink the way sell this very important change, and use the President’s time. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

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