Long ago, when I was a mere slip of a girl, and RipVanWinkle had only just dozed off, I pitched up at the London Hilton for a job interview. I can no longer remember what the advertisement had said that attracted my attention, probably no experience or qualifications required. I do clearly remember the interview.
Two archetypical New York Jews, in loud check trousers that ended six inches above their shoes, identical tweed golfing hats, and Hawaii surfing shirts sat side by side on the edge of a single bed, leaving me the only available chair. They spoke in unison, finishing each others sentences with a rapidity of speech unknown in England. They were a sight to behold, and I struggled to keep a straight face. It was a job interview like no other before or since.
Their first question was ‘when did you lose your virginity?’ – given that they were sitting sweating on the only bed in the room, I looked at each of them in turn and replied, ‘why, is that the fabled Hollywood casting couch?’ ‘Good answer’ they said, ‘we just wanted to see how you reacted, the last girl got up and walked out’. I’m glad I didn’t. I got the job, a most unusual job, and came to learn some valuable lessons from the Rosen brothers.
Jack and Lennie Rosen were salesmen par excellence. They specialised in a lateral thinking that was totally original in those late 60s days. Finding themselves the proud owners of several tons of sheep’s lanolin, quite how, I forget; they set about creating a market for it. ‘Have you ever seen a bald sheep?’ said Jack, or it might have been Lennie. ‘Who would like to have hair like a sheep?’ – only a bald middle aged African Negro, was the answer. The lanolin was put in pots marked ‘hair tonic’, and a dozen nearly bald middle aged African Negroes were surprised to be given an unusual job. Not to sell the hair tonic, nothing so difficult, but to create the market. Day after day they toured pharmacies in their district, enquiring in vain for supplies of the fabled ‘Rosen’s hair tonic’, ‘the only product that had ever worked for them’. Other pharmacists had run out of the product and now they were looking for a new supplier…
A month later, the Rosen’s would arrive, searching for a fictitious pharmacist that they had a delivery for. The fictitious pharmacist couldn’t be found, but the pharmacist they were talking to would be glad to take the whole order off them, he had customers for Rosen’s Hair Tonic; Boy, did he have customers! Dozens of them, they were driving him mad, in every day looking for pots of the stuff….
They used the money they made to invest in Florida swamp land. Dirt cheap. You needed a glass bottomed boat to see the land. Nobody wanted it any more than they wanted several tons of lanolin. All the Rosen’s needed to do was find people who thought they wanted it…
They set up signs along the Tammy-Ammy trail that runs down to Miami. ‘Bet you’re thirsty’ read the first one. A few miles further on came another ‘Bet the kids are thirsty’. ‘Florida orange juice, cool and quenching’, read a third. Eventually, came the punch line – ‘Stop here for free Florida orange juice’. Classic Rosen thinking – first create your market of people who think they’re thirsty…
The reason they wanted people with cars full of kids to stop and talk to them was pure ‘Rosen’ too. ‘Retiring to Florida’ was the American dream, like ‘doing Europe’. They wanted to sell plots of swamp land for building retirement homes on. No point in trying to sell them to retired people, they could see there was no foreseeable ‘town’ built there. No, they wanted to sell the plots to people who dreamed of the future…$30 down and $5 a month, and you could secure your future retirement home, it would be ready by the time you retired…every six months the Rosen’s would recoup the cost of a plot, after that it was $5 a month from thousands of families living thousands of miles away, dreaming of the time they would retire.
By the time I met them in London, they were highly successful millionaires. They had refined their thinking. If ‘retiring to Florida’ was part of the dream, why not talk to people who were already living part of the dream ‘doing Europe’? They’d set up camp in London, found themselves a ‘free’ conference room – the 007 nightclub in the Hilton – who uses a nightclub during the day? The Hilton was happy to let them use it in return for a minimum of five lunches to be bought every day – all they wanted me to do was hire a coach, find a tour guide, and fill the coach everyday with Americans, married to each other, with kids, in employment, between the ages of 25 and 45, and give them a free tour of London and a free lunch at the London Hilton. Easy-peasy. I got £5 for each one on the coach…
Why hang around outside Buckingham Palace chatting up anything in trousers six inches above the shoes? It didn’t take me long to figure out that there was one group of people who knew exactly who was American, the right age, with kids, etc, etc, – hotel porters. They were holding the passports…I did a deal with every hotel porter who would listen to me…all they had to do was give away a free tour of London and a free lunch at the Hilton, £1 for every ‘qualified’ couple on the coach…
The Rosen’s were delighted, coaches rolled into the Hilton three times a day, filled to the brim with happily chatting American couples, mostly military. A team of salesmen sold them their ‘retirement dream’ over lunch and in no time at all the London branch of Gulf American Corporation was cheerfully shipping a million dollars worth of signed contracts for plots of swamp land back to the Miami bank accounts of the Rosen brothers. If I had ever heard of the rape of the Everglades swampland, or the trail of broken dreams and foreclosures that the Rosen’s left behind them, I don’t suppose I would have taken much notice back then, I was earning a small fortune.
Eventually they were forced to cease trading – but not before I had learnt some valuable lessons from them. The key to a successful enterprise is to give your customers what they think they want. It may not even be what they could really do with. Even if you have to start by persuading them that they want it. You don’t start by trying to flog them the product that you want to sell. You find a way of turning what you want to sell into what they dream of having.
Now that the flabby fabulist, Andrew P Withers, has finally found a way to exclude all true Libertarians from his Totalitarian empire, the formerly well supported Libertarian Party, there are many Libertarians wondering whether to set up a new party. Some are even arguing over the name. Sooner or later there will be a discussion on whether the business cards should be embossed or not. Or who should have which title.
To me, and I stress that it is a personal opinion, it is starting at the wrong end of the stick. The discussion should be centred round the product you are trying to shift. Libertarianism. Lanolin. It makes no difference. Can you flog it in its purest form – ‘anarcho-capitalism’ – or do you need to adapt it slightly? Who could it appeal to? It is only when you have answered that question that you can start working backwards to create the framework to make that happen.
There are a great many disaffected voters in Britain. A lot more than there are committed voters. UKIP answered the question by honing in on the dislike of the European Union, and have landed themselves with a reputation as a single interest party, ditto the BNP. Do those disaffected people even want a ‘Party’, are they really interested in a vague chance of electing an MP? If they are not, what is the point in forming a party? What does it matter what it is called? Isn’t there an anomaly in a ‘Libertarian Party’ trying to get elected into a system they despise?
The fat fraudster has said that the ‘new revived Libertarian Party UK’ won’t be ‘Internet based’, which seems to me about the dumbest thing I have ever heard. If there is any reasonable group description of the followers of the Blogsphere, it is Libertarian. Independent. Unherded cats. It is a ready made, messily formatted, tribal following.
Let’s use the Internet. Write a blog post. You’re doing that anyway! Ask your readers – ‘If you are a disaffected voter, what would persuade you to get involved? Involved in what? Another political party? Is an MP of a different hue actually of any interest to you, or would you rather form a lose association of like minded people to being pressure on the government to listen by other means? A ‘Union’ of disaffected voters perhaps? Mumsnet seems a pretty effective lobbying group and they are not a ‘Party’. So does the anti-smoking cabal come to that.
When you’ve finished writing that blog post, get out there and talk to some people in real life. You are never going to persuade the Tory or Labour supporters to vote Libertarian, but out there, in cyber world and beyond, is a vast mass of people who don’t vote Labour or Conservative.
What we need to do is understand why not. Then to build a product that they can relate to. Then we can worry about what to call it.
That product may not look anything like a political party, but if we can harness the dreams of the vast majority of the population who don’t vote, don’t have any faith in the present system, then we might have something impressive jostling for position behind a Libertarian flag.
Get writing, get talking. Whilst you are about it, register your interest on Gavin Webb’s site.