Advertising, Marketing Strategy

Are you being a good parent to your brand?

I’m continually perplexed by some brand owners’ attitudes to their assets.

They starve them of support. They teach them no new tricks. They give them nothing to say. And they still expect them to deliver.

They seem to think they can survive on air.

The same people who will agonise about whether to spend thousands of pounds privately educating their children (or spend even more thousands of pounds moving to a house within the catchment area of a good ‘free’ school) seem to feel clever if they can squeeze performance out of their brands, without preparing them for the competitive environment in which they have to live.

It’s a bit like sending your kids to school with no breakfast and no books, and giving yourself a pat on the back.

Tomorrow you could see if they succeed in getting to school with no shoes?

I’ve noticed that successful people with bright kids don’t say, “Oh well, little Ruby’s so clever, we don’t need to bother educating her”.

“I know! Let’s see if she can still win the junior poetry prize, after not eating for a week?”

Instead they teach her to swim and play chess. They drive her to ballet classes and buy her a pony. All so she can out-compete the other overachieving super-kids she’s up against.

Even the strongest need food to remain strong. Even the most innovative need to move forward to stay relevant. Even the luckiest need an edge to make sure they stay in front.

So if you’re in the brand business, why not ask yourself if you’re doing as much for your brand, as your brand is doing for you?

Are you treating it like your future and giving it every chance to succeed in a world that’s getting more and more competitive? Are you helping it talk about relevant things and dress in a way that doesn’t get it poked and laughed at?

Or are you starving it and beating it and expecting it to work harder and harder, in the same crushed velveteen flares that you bought it in the 1970s?

 

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Advertising, Behaviour Change, Equality, Moral Decision Making, Persuasion, Social Decision Making

Can we all agree to agree? Just sometimes?

I listened to Peter Hitchens’ piece on Stigma yesterday evening on the wireless. You’ll be able to get the full blast on iPlayer for the next few days.

He was arguing that, whilst we often pretend that our society has moved beyond stigma as a controlling force, it is actually alive and well – in a new and disturbing form.

Stimga itself, he suggested, has become stigmatised.

Postulating critical or even questioning views on the situations and lifestyle choices of others is now beyond the pale.

Try and share any kind of non-majority opinion about the way someone else lives, and prepare to be hounded by the Twitterati and Arsebookers with their digital pitchforks and burning e-torches.

It made me wonder about the film we’ve just done for Stonewall, the LGB charity (www.NoBystanders.org.uk).

It launched last Friday at the Stonewall 25th anniversary dinner – and has subsequently been shared (a lot) online.

Übertweeters Caitlin Moran, Stephen Fry, Danii Minogue, Clare Balding, Dame Penelope Keith and countless millions of others have supported, much to our – and Stonewall’s – delight. The elusive Zeitgeist seems to be with us, for a change.

The idea behind it, on the eve of the first actual gay marriages, was to make two points:

Firstly, even in our apparently permissive society, gay people are still routinely teased, bullied and discriminated against in schools, in workplaces and in public areas, up and down the country.

Secondly, the roots of homophobic bullying are similar to bullying levelled against any kind of separately identifiable group (Jews, Blacks, Honkeys, Fatsos, Gingernuts, Spakkas etc.).

We’ve been talking to  Stonewall about beginning to move beyond the core constituency of gay people they represent, and the liberal intellectuals who support their objectives through an innate sense of socially progressive conviction.

With the big legislative battles more or less won, theoretical equality is sorted.

Now they need to find a way to engage with more socially conservative audiences, who probably still represent an overwhelming majority in the UK, even if they have been cowed into the state of seething, non-PC silence that P. Hitchens outlines.

In this case, it seemed we might be able to forge a bond of togetherness by talking about humans in general, rather than humans in particular: How we tend to define ourselves and our groups not by who we are, but by who we’re not.

My enemy’s enemy is my friend – as the old maxim goes.

Our little film begins in the playground, a place where even the most confident have felt the odd-pang of vulnerability as they suddenly find themselves on the outside of the group, rather than the in. For some, it’s the start of a life-time of alienation and abuse.

It attempts to recognise that gay people are not the only individuals who are marginalised because of things about which they can do little or nothing.

So are we just bullying people ourselves?

Foisting our liberal values on the poor traditionalists who cling to their view of the world as it was bequeathed to them by their forefathers?

Certainly one man seems to think so.

A brave lone voice in the relentless digital agreement-fest stands out. Here’s one of his (many) contributions:

RussellTweet

I truly believe no one at Stonewall wants to force their “perverted” way of life onto this dude. Nor do I.

Really.

We were only trying to see if non-gay people were as against bullying as gay people are. And whether we could forge a huge “alliance of the different” to challenge some of the worst excesses of human nature, that we all share.

Surely there are some things on which we can all agree to agree?

It makes me regret we didn’t include “Bigot” as one of the insults.

And to try and get Mr. Russell to realise he’s just like the rest of us – and welcome him to join us.

On the inside of the tent, pissing outwards.

http://youtu.be/agLrVvCUkzI

 

 

 

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Advertising, Marketing Strategy

The Obi-wan that got away…

WA5HHaving worked in marketing and advertising for more that (ahem!) twenty years, it’s rather extraordinary that I only have one real regret.

And it was from the early days, working on Persil at J. Walter Thompson in 1996.

They were after a “new news” vehicle.

This is ad-speak for a campaign structure in which all sorts of splendid new features and formulations can be showcased to increase the perceived dynamism and efficacy of the brand.

Matthew Lloyd and Giles Etherington came up with a really delightful idea in which C3PO, of Star Wars fame, had a new sidekick:

A washing machine.

He was called WA5H (of course).

In the campaign C3PO was his usual panicky, disgruntled self, but constantly beset with washing and laundry problems.

WA5H had a irresponsible, mischievous character – rather like R2D2. But, also – of course – had the appropriate Persil-based solution to all his companion’s detergent dilemmas.

It was a classic “Brand Novice + Brand Expert” construction.

Lever Brothers loved it.

Tom Darby and Lucy Figgis got in touch with LucasFilm, the owners of the rights to all the Star Wars characters.

And Lucas offered us UK advertising rights to C3P0 for £100,000.

(If this seems a lot of money to you, let me put it in context by telling you that shortly afterwards Lever  paid £30K to use “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” tune on another ad, and BT spent ten times as much for the rights to use E.T. in their campaign.)

It was going so well…

Until the consumer research…

Oh dear!

We tested seven or eight animatics (proto-ads)  in focus groups around the country with 35-50 year old Mums (Persil’s so called “heavy users”).

They got all the product messages. They enjoyed the ads and they laughed at the jokes. And they loved the WA5H character.

But then they told us Star Wars seemed a bit old-fashioned and wondered whether we should be using something a bit more up to date.

So Levers shelved the idea. “New News” campaigns have to be “new”, right?

This is despite the fact that “Episode One – The Phantom Menace” the new Star Wars film was already in production and everyone knew that two sequels had already been written.

We were gutted.

And I still am.

So by all means test your campaigns with customers, use research to gauge their reactions to the things you’re proposing.

But for God’s sake don’t ask them for their advice.

Or take it when it’s offered.

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Advertising, Behaviour Change, Behavioural Economics, Equality, Moral Decision Making

Fighting for equality is a job for the many, not the few.

StonewallBuilder

Our new campaign for Stonewall launches this week.

Stonewall are an amazing organisation, sensational campaigners and very nice folk to boot.

They’ve been fighting tirelessly for The rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual people since their foundation in 1989.

And they’ve been extremely successful: helping achieve equalisation of the age of consent, lifting the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the military, securing legislation allowing same sex couples to adopt and the repeal of Section 28, the clause in the Local Government Act designed to prevent the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools. More recently they’ve championed equal partnership rights for gay people under law, recognised first with the civil partnerships bill and then, last year, with the same sex marriage legislation.

All of these hard-won battles are vitally important milestones.

But as any campaigner for racial or gender equality can confirm, there’s a big difference between securing equal rights under law and actually putting an end to prejudice and discrimination.

Sad to say, prejudice seems to be hard wired into all of us and discrimination is very hard to prevent as a consequence, even when we’re trying super hard. (If you think you have your prejudices in check and under control, go to the YourMorals.org website. Trying a few of their online tests for yourself will swiftly relieve you of your illusions.)

Unfortunately we are still very much in the foothills when it come to getting the UK to accept gay people for who they are.

Nearly a million Brits have witnessed physical homophobic bullying at work in the last five years and two and a half times that number have witnessed verbal bullying over the same period.

No wonder a quarter of all gay people still keep completely schtum about their private lives at work.

In sport it’s still practically taboo to be openly gay. That’s why people like Thomas Hitzlsperger (football) Tom Daley (diving) and Gareth Thomas (rugby) should be so roundly applauded when they have the courage to buck the trend.

And you have to ask yourself whether we have the right to be proud of the progress we’re making when we all hear children all over the country (and many others too) using the word “gay” as a pejorative catch-all term for anything a bit rubbish and we nevertheless shrug it off because we know they don’t mean any harm.

Our campaign simply pictures two individuals in the same profession next to a headline that says, “One is gay. if that bothers people, our work continues”.

It draws attention to Stonewall’s continuing mission, in the aftermath of the equal marriage landmark, to help build a society in which we can all be open and confident about who we are, and who we love.

It’s running in the press and on buses and in the tube in London.

Our campaign is an uncontroversial statement of fact, underpinned by the presumption of equality under UK law of all gay and straight people. The literal and legal equivalent of a gender rights action group picturing a male and a female executive under a headline that read, “we’ll carry on campaigning until he no longer earns 20% more than her for doing exactly the same job.”

And yet it still wasn’t easy to get our message heard.

Transport for London are currently having to defend a legal case against a Christian organisation called the Core Issues Trust. This body has been suing TfL for rejecting one of their campaigns, offering religious support to “cure” anyone who has experienced homosexual feelings but feels they may want to reduce, subdue or extinguish them. TfL had judged the campaign offensive (I know!) and successfully defended the case without difficulty, but their very well funded opponents have taken it to the Court of Appeal and that judgement is still “in the oven” at the time of writing.

So TfL were initially rather nervous about accepting a campaign from Stonewall in case anyone deemed it antagonistic. Luckily common sense prevailed.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I think that standing up for the right of people, supposedly equal in law, to be equal in actual life, is actually the responsibility of the many, rather than the few.

Through their pugnacious determination to be accepted for who they are, brave members of the gay community have campaigned and secured their legal right to be treated equally.

It’s now up to us all, gay and straight, to turn legal law into living law.

And to oppose the efforts of other groups wishing to deny gay people legitimacy.

If you agree and you feel you can help, please spread the word and add your voice.

And if you see or hear homophobic bullying, teasing or joshing in your workplace, or in the playground for that matter, try turning that blind eye into a properly civilised glare of disapproval and a few harsh words.

Thank you to Richard Hayter for creating the campaign and to Si Micheli, Rob DeCleyn, Mike Dobrin, Mark Lloyd, Mark Goodwin, Ruth Chapman and Graham Baker for making it all happen.

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Advertising, Marketing Strategy

The mad-men are gone. But Advertising is still the Daddy.

I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion at the Financial Services Forum next week: 5 speakers, each defending a different piece of the “integrated marketing mix”.

The premise is that we’ll all argue about which marketing “discipline” deserves the biggest share of your marketing budget and have a right old ding-dong.

I bet you can hardly wait?

Someone’s doing PR, someone else is doing Digital & Direct, someone’s doing Sponsorship etc.

I’ve got poor old, dusty old Advertising.

Of course, I’ll be arguing that all the disciplines in the marketing mix are important.

Of course, I’ll agree that all disciplines always work better when they work together.

I’ll be conceding that using new techniques to create deeper engagement and interaction can hugely increase effectiveness

(always assuming, of course, you have high quality people with enough bandwidth prepared to hold up your side of the debate)

But I’ll also argue that a strong central idea, compellingly expressed to enough people for an apparent consensus to form is still THE prerequisite of any successful integrated marketing communications intervention.

And for this, Advertising remains the Daddy.

It’s still the best place to set out your stall because the content remains under your control, unlike many of the other elements of the marketing mix.

And rumours of its demise have been greatly exaggerated, with a compound annual growth rate in global spending on advertising of almost 5% predicted between 2011-2016.

mediaadvertisinggrowth

The European picture over the next three years shows all advertising media growing except Newspapers and Magazines (down 7% and 8% respectively). TV advertising remains the largest single medium and is predicted to grow at just under 2%. And, of course, spend on digital advertising, fuelled by mobile, is racing away, with almost 30% growth. It’ll be almost as big as TV by 2015.

EuropeanSpendingForecasts

Tracking advertising revenue vs. the time people spend watching/using, gives a useful way of predicting where the growth/decline in ad spend is likely to be. The figures below are from the US, but the European picture is extremely similar.

adspendingvsmediaconsumptionIt shows a rapid decline in the amount of print media being consumed and a corresponding rise in Internet and Mobile usage.

But, if you look at the data, this merely reflects a switch in the way print media is ‘consumed’ as people begin to read publications through tablets and mobile apps. It’s very far from a death knell on print advertising.

TV viewing and ad revenue remain firm (and huge).

And Tablet and Mobile usage within the home appears to be more additive than substitutive, with 85% of users claiming to use their device whilst watching TV:

simultaneous-mobile-tv-usage

The figures also disguises, in my view, a significant increase in the influence of Advertising, because of the rise in video sharing on the internet and, increasingly, through mobile.

The convergence of technology now allows static ads to move, broadcast techniques to be targeted and two-way communication to become a part of previously one-way channels.  An increase in effectiveness Vs. other disciplines is surely not TOO much to expect?

Internet soothsayers predict that audio will be the next sharing revolution.

So, if you have any sense, now’s a good time to get your creatives to remind themselves how effective radio advertising is constructed.

(I’m particularly delighted about this, since I’ve been predicting the comeback of the “jingle” since the turn of the millennium.)

Before we leave this, there’s one other area of significant advertising growth that usually gets left out of most pieces of analysis.

Gaming completely dominates tablet and smartphone usage once time spent is taken into account as well as reach:

(Ask anyone with a young child in the house, how much they get to use their own device)

gamingmobilechart

Ad spend within the gaming market will have grown by a factor of 10x between 2010-2015 ($87M to $894M).

Looked at within the US numbers, ad-supported gaming revenue is showing a CAGR of almost 40%:

em-rapid-growth-2

And again, this media usage and consumption of advertising appears for the moment to be largely additive, not substitutive.

I hope that this barrage of data from different respected sources has done something to persuade you that advertising has a brighter future than many would have you believe.

But I’m not expecting my City-based audience to equate commercial success and growth potential with effectiveness – despite them using this very same argument when hawking their own wares.

My reasons for believing that advertising still remains the primus inter pares amongst marketing disciplines is based on something a bit different:

Its proven effectiveness in generating consideration and trust through sheer familiarity.

This is not a speculative hypothesis. It is a fact.

Our brains are hard-wired to prefer familiar things and to suspect unfamiliar things

(See previous posts or just Google ‘Availability Heuristic’)

A brand that is well-known, that is apparently dynamic and that seems to be ‘up to stuff’ is always a comforting choice.

That’s why even bad ads work quite well.

Consider the completely nauseating Patek Philippe campaign running at the moment:

Pic of coiffed, preppy millionaire with equally repellant mini-me son-and-heir, with the line, “You never really own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”.

Even whilst making you want to spew, it has worked its magic on you.

You don’t see the ad and think, “ooh, that’s an excellent reason to buy an obscenely expensive watch. Watches of Switzerland, here I come”.

But you have clocked (sorry!) that PP makes gorgeous, crafted timepieces (they do, in fact!) that appear to be desired by super rich over-achievers, world-wide.

And your brain has probably subconsciously salted away the “I’m not buying it for me” excuse that said over-achiever can use for treating him or herself.

Most importantly, because you’ve probably seen the ads quite a bit – as I have, you have had the idea of PP as a desirable status symbol ‘normalised’ because you recognise that others will have seen the same thing and reacted in more or less the same way. If Patek weren’t successful at selling beautiful watches to rich people they wouldn’t be able to afford their premium position advertising, after all.

Only a fool would invest in advertising that didn’t work, right?

And that’s the way lots of ads work… Car ads, ads for investment funds, and ads for hundreds of other things that are essentially just the same as each other.

(Try and explain to me, if you can, the real qualitative difference between a Patek Philippe, an IWC and an Omega).

Advertising sells branded analgesics like Nurofen, that are (by law) chemically identical in formulation to own brand versions but retail for three times the price. Customers prefer the branded versions and will swear they are more effective. Even though they can’t possibly be.

And all through familiarity.

Of course you can create familiarity and get well known without using advertising. Here’s 3 ways for starters:

1) Be so distinctive, appealing and successful that journalists will write constantly about you

2) Hone your customer proposition and service delivery to the point where your customers will always publicly evangelise about you in the digital ether, and never complain.

3) Develop a CRM programme so sophisticated that you hit the precisely the right people at precisely the right time with precisely the offers they want.

Let me know how you get on.

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Skydiving, Social Decision Making

Thrillax beats chillax every time

“Why on earth would anyone want to jump out of a perfectly serviceable aeroplane?” everyone asks me.

They always use the same, rather quaint, phrase, “perfectly serviceable aeroplane”, as if they’ve just clambered out of their RAF overalls.

At least it tells me they’ve never been anywhere near a jump ‘plane, which are mostly antique, rotting hulks held together with binder-twine, bubble-gum and gaffer tape.

It’s true that most of us do offer up a silent prayer as we exit the ‘plane at 13,000 feet.

But it’s only for the safety of the poor pilot who has to land the damned thing when he gets down.

We’d all rather trust our parachutes.

So this week, I’m on holiday. Jumping in Eloy, Arizona, home of the largest fleet of jump ‘planes in the world.

And, all credit to the wonderful owners and organisers of Skydive Arizona, this huge fleet is in fact way more than just “perfectly serviceable”.

But still the question persists, so I thought I’d try and give my best shot at an answer.

Most of the studies into so-called ‘dangerous sports’ seem to focus on an imagined enhancement to status and self-esteem amongst those who attempt things that seem brave/foolhardy to others.

This is another way of saying people take risks to get noticed and to get girls.

Actually the research is very conclusive on the subject: the status of a person who puts themselves purposefully at risk is only enhanced when they do so in order to benefit others.

That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Fireman rescues damsel from burning building = hunky hero.
Middle-aged bloke jumping from aeroplane for no ‘good’ reason = feckin’ eedjit.

I’ve heard other skydivers explain away their enthusiasm by distancing themselves from the whole dangerous sports crowd entirely.

And it’s perfectly true that skydiving is way safer than you’d imagine.

You think it’s dangerous because a) it’s unfamiliar, and therefore not to be trusted by ‘normal’ people and b) you’ve almost certainly recently read about skydiving accidents.

Journalists far prefer to write about skydiving accidents than car crashes.

It’s the good old “Availability Heuristic” at work – with added “Recency Effect”!

Using US figures (where more skydiving happens than in every other country combined) there’s 0.0007% chance of dying from a skydive, compared to a 0.0167% chance of dying in a car accident (based on driving 10,000 miles).

Put another way you are about 24 times more likely to die in a car accident than in a skydiving one.

It looks even better when you compare it to other things people consider perfectly safe and normal like riding a bicycle in an urban environment (insane) or any form of equestrianism (probably the single most dangerous activity of all).

Skydiving is all about safety, not about danger.

All about mitigating risks with training and technology.

And the average number of skydiving fatalities per year is almost half of what it used to be in the 1970s.

But these statistic apologists are missing the point too.

We do do it for fun, no question about it.

So what is that fun precisely?

My perspective is that almost all participants in almost every sport benefit from a physiological thrill provided by endorphins.

People who do risky things get the additional benefit from a blast of adrenaline – the body’s drug of last resort.

It’s adrenaline that has helped mothers lift cars that are crushing their children.

It’s adrenaline that explains how indifferent runners can outrun athletes, when they’re in danger.

It helps you focus your mental and physical resources in times of need. And it’s strong stuff.

I skydive to relax.

When I lie on a beach, I worry about all things I ought to be doing at home and at work.

When I read a book, even when I’m really enjoying it, I feel a bit guilty I’m not ‘getting on with something”

When I’m jumping out of a ‘plane I’m thinking about how to get back on the ground in one piece.

And if I do that five or six times a day, I end up physically exhausted with a mind that feels like it’s been down the boot-sale and unloaded a whole attic full of neural junk.

And I’m properly relaxed.

I know I get some of the same benefits from skiing and scuba-diving.

The special appeal of skydiving, to me, is the combination of max-adrenaline (that comes from the high-stakes involved) and high levels of control (equipment, training, focus) that give me the confidence to enjoy it.

As I think of the poor Prime Minister “chillaxing” with his Angry Birds, I wonder whether he wouldn’t be better off thrillaxing with us?

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Behaviour Change, Moral Decision Making, Persuasion, Politics, Social Decision Making

Think you can force through a change as big as Obamacare? Think again.

I want to talk about the controversial healthcare reforms that are causing such a kerfuffle on the other side of the pond.

“That’s rich”, I hear you snigger, “A Brit, with an opinion about US healthcare. Let’s see now…”

Well, it’s true that I barely understand it. So I’m certainly not going to try to explain it to you.

If you want a quick, bluffers’ guide to the “Affordable Care Act”, this is the best one I’ve found:

“It’s complicated”, as they say, even explained by the You Toons.

One joker has even tried to put into infographic form:

ObamacareInfoGraphic

And although people talk about the “closing wonk gap” (i.e. members of the general public figuring out facts about Obamacare that policy wonks on both sides of the debate have known for years), I guess you’d be prepared to agree with me that probably only a fraction of the people who need to understand the ins and outs of the proposed changes, actually properly do.

To give you some extra quick context, the video clip above has been viewed just 1.1 million times, which equates to it been seen by about 0.3% of the US population (Miley’s “Wrecking Ball” is on 327,294,077 views at the time of writing).

This hasn’t stopped anyone taking a position of course. And a strong one at that. There really aren’t very many ambivalent people in the US it seems, when it comes to this particular debate.

And it’s led to the fiercest, most destructive political brinksmanship and grandstanding in most of our living memories.

Why?

The concept is straightforward: Universal access to affordable healthcare ought to be the hallmark of a civilised well-developed society. Even at either extreme of the political spectrum, one ought to be able to get a nod on that, surely?

However even here in little Blighty, our precious NHS, providing care free at the point of use to all, is creaking and cracking as the apparently opposing forces of quality and affordability clash their irreconcilable heads. Even here it’s a nettle with a politically lethal sting.

The implications of realising a goal of this kind in a country (or more accurately countries) as huge and diverse as the United States go straight to the central ideological differences between the Elephant and the Donkey. And this is where the practicality of implementation simply falls apart.

Because democratic politics is really only successful when elected politicians of different persuasions propose, debate, negotiate, vote and repeat until a deal is brokered.

“Obamacare” is the first instance for 100 years where one party has simply steamrollered a bill with huge national implications without garnering any kind of even partial agreement from the opposing party.

To see this more clearly, look at the J. P. Morgan chart below, which shows that almost all the important and controversial bills in living memory were passed with at least some level of participation and consent from both parties in both chambers.

Now look at the bottom and contrast with Obamacare.

Obamacare JPM 1

The Democrats inability to empathise with their opponents implacable opposition to their solution has led to adopt a kind of “fuck you” politics, which can only provoke a “fuck you back, with knobs on” response. The Republicans, for their part, are now in the ludicrous position of proposing spoiling measures which may end up increasing the need for state intervention in the commercial supply of health insurance policies – one of the things they fundamentally oppose. The fight will go on, and the animosity between the two sides of legislators continues to grow.

And, just to remind you, 82% of Americans were perfectly happy with their health care system, before this all started (according to Gallup).

Now just 36% of voters support the bill.

And President Obama is now enjoying the worst popularity rating of any president except R. Nixon Esq.

A sharp reminder that big change needs broad consensus not just bright answers.

And establishing that broad consensus takes time, effort and excellent persuasion and communication skills – something noticeably lacking on both sides of the political divide in this instance.

It’s also a salutary reminder of another more important principle:

A democratic mandate gives you the right to try and govern. It doesn’t give you the right to get your own way.

That’s called something different.

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