In 1960, Volkswagen shook up the car world with a full-page ad that had just two words
Small. It was a revolutionary idea—a call for the shrinking of perspective,
ambition, and scale in an era when success was all about accumulation and territorial gain,
even when you were just driving down the street.
At the same time that America was becoming the world’s superpower, growing the
dominant economy and setting the pace for global markets, the Beetle took off as a
counterculture phenomenon—representing individuality in reaction to the conformity of
America never quite got used to small when it came to cars. But ask two-thirds of
America, and they will tell you they work for a small business. Americans are willing to
make big changes only when they first see the small, concrete steps that will lead to those
changes. And they yearn for the lifestyles of small-town America. Many of the biggest
movements in America today are small—generally hidden from all but the most careful
is based on the idea that the most powerful forces in our society are the
emerging, counterintuitive trends that are shaping tomorrow right before us. With so
much of a spotlight on teen crime, it is hard to see the young people who are succeeding
as never before. With so much focus on poverty as the cause of terrorism, it is hard to see
that it is richer, educated terrorists who have been behind many of the attacks. With so
much attention to big organized religion, it is hard to see that it is newer, small sects that
are the fastest-growing.
The power of individual choice has never been greater, and the reasons and patterns for
those choices never harder to understand and analyze. The skill of microtargeting—
identifying small, intense subgroups and communicating with them about their individual
needs and wants—has never been more critical in marketing or in political campaigns.
The one-size-fits-all approach to the world is dead.
Thirty years ago sitting in Harvard’s Lamont Library, I read a book that started out, “The
perverse and unorthodox thesis of this little book is that the voters are not fools.” Its
author, V.O. Key, Jr., made an argument that, since that day, has guided how I think not
just about voters but consumers, corporations, governments and the world at large. If you
use the right tools and look at the facts, it turns out that the average Joe is actually pretty
smart, making some very rational choices.
Yet almost every day, I hear experts say that voters and consumers are misguided
scatterbrains, making decisions on the basis of the color of a tie. That’s why politicians
pay consultants to tell them to wear earth-tone suits, or get their facial lines removed.
That’s why many commercials feature pointless stories with no relation to the products.