The Theory of Inertia – Or, How to Understand the Presidential Election and Madison Avenue in One Easy to Digest Column (Notes from an Acrocanthosaurus Part 3)
Right now you’re wondering whether to read this. And no matter what these words say, the chances are you won’t read any further. That’s because of the greatest force in the universe – inertia.
That is: A body at rest tends to stay at rest. A body in motion stays in motion.
The same goes for human behavior, and as marketing people, we experience this firsthand. We fight like heck against resting bodies. We need people to move, to stand up and walk over to the phone, or turn on their computer, or at least think about replacing their car, their home, their smartphone, or their job. That’s why in direct marketing we implore our audience to “Act Now,” or “Click Here.” Brand advertising, the kind you see during the Super Bowl or on prime time sitcoms, works its magic in a more subtle way. You’re already at the mall when for some inexplicable reason those new Nike cross-trainers call out to you as you walk the floor. Just turn left into the Foot Locker, slip on a pair, and you’re ready for your next heavy breathing session in front of the TV.
We saw the theory of inertia play out in this year’s election, too.
“Make America Great Again” proved to be a powerful slogan because it tapped into the fear of change that so many people feel in a rapidly changing environment. Lives have changed. Relationships have changed. Jobs have changed. The neighbors have changed. The kids have changed. Prices have changed. The world has changed. It’s too much change for too many people.
Not to mention that these changes—the ones that have been so helpful to some—have been perceived as detrimental to others. So if someone promises you that things will go back to the way they were—when everyone on your block looked the same, and talked the same, and worked the same jobs—it’s easier to understand how Trump won.
“Stronger together?” Wha? I just want to get my own life back to how it was before. Back when I could go through my day and not have to deal with the new, the different, and the unfamiliar.
It’s not that the great majority of Trump supporters are racists; they’re just normal Americans who are simply uneasy with the pace of change. We are, all of us, bodies that are either in motion, or at rest, and many Trump voters apparently want to stay at rest.
Meanwhile, people who live in the major metropolitan areas voted for Hillary in greater numbers because they tend to be bodies in motion and apparently want to stay that way. Living in a big, bustling city is all about change. Jobs change. Partners change. Neighbors change. Neighborhoods change. The view outside the window changes. It’s not that urban dwellers necessarily like change, it’s just that they’re used to it and are comfortable with even more.
Will Donald Trump’s promise of reducing the amount of change in American life hold up? Probably not. The world is moving too fast now and could start moving even faster. And America is the pacesetter in an increasingly interconnected global community. Our technology, our culture, and our leaders – especially our business leaders – create and embrace change and are making very good money at it. And because the world is now moving so fast, it will probably keep moving fast. But that’s inertia. America won’t slow down for anyone, including the Donald, and anyone who voted for or against him. That’s just how the universe works.