Idol Musings

I’ve been obsessing about math and branding this past week because I’m confused. You might have thought it wasn’t possible after 2016, but marketing and election campaigning may be getting weirder.

Yes, I am talking about “American Idol,” but I’m also talking about government elections, labor relations, and banking. Or, quite possibly, I’m talking about not being able to focus on one topic and watching too much television.

Be that as it may, I’m now going to list the assorted experiences and issues I’ve run into this past week. Let’s begin with a trip to my local bank branch.

I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone walk into a bank these days? Didn’t this guy already have an account and an ATM card?

Yeah, I did. I had my reasons. Get over it.

Sure enough, the place was practically deserted. There were half a dozen desks scattered on one side of the room. Only one of them had a person behind it. The desk had a sign that said “Relationship Manager.”

Why? The guy behind the desk didn’t seem to know either. He admitted that people kept asking him for counseling. I had the feeling the joke was getting a little tiresome.

But it is an interesting concept. Instead of talking to a dreaded banker who wants to squeeze every penny out of your meager funds, you get to sit down with a soothing relationship manager.

Lawyers could learn from this. Instead of bringing problems to an attorney at law, a client could have a calming conversation with, say, a nirvana agent or social monastic or a friendship ambassador. It immediately brings down the tension level, attracts otherwise nervous clients, and provides the opportunity for bad jokes.

Branding is critical. Which brings me to the final “American Idol” vote last week. Branding did in the country singers. For some reason, the “Idol” producers decided to have a three-person finale instead of a two-person finale. So when two country singers ended up in the finale against one pop singer, the result was pretty obvious — country split the votes.

The same could apply to California’s open primary elections. If you get too many candidates of one kind, the less popular ones could end up winning.

The oddness of this became more obvious when I got a strange and unexpected email from a normally hard-line progressive friend last week urging me (and everyone else on his bcc list) to vote for a candidate for governor he didn’t like. This was from someone who insists on voting for people he agrees with even if they have no chance of winning.

The reasoning was that if the bad Democratic candidate got enough votes in the primary election, then the Republican candidates would be shut out of the general election in the fall, and that, in turn, would depress Republican turnout in all the California elections.

My immediate reaction to this was that I wasn’t sure that made any sense, and that if a Republican had suggested something similar, my friend would be outraged.

Election math, it turns out, is a subjective thing. Two days later, the same friend sent out another email saying he was wrong the first time and that he’d been persuaded that Republicans would turn out to vote en masse for the Democrat he didn’t like — maybe just to spite him personally.

The other issue from last week that I feel needs addressing (or at least head-shaking) is arbitration. As you may recall, the U.S. Supreme Court last week ruled that companies can make their employees sign agreements barring class actions and requiring arbitration for disputes. I haven’t had a chance to look closely at the ruling, but my impression is that the gist of it was that prior laws overrule later laws. It’s a sort of backward time vortex thing that makes America great again or something like that.

Business interests, we were told, were happy about this. Labor reps not so much. But why? The math makes no sense.

Say you’re a giant company with thousands of employees. If you get hit with a class action, you deal with the problem once, settle for pennies on the dollar, and feel certain that not everyone is going to collect.

But if class actions are verboten, you could, in theory, get hit with hundreds of arbitrations and you’ve got to defend every one individually — with the possibility of appeals if the arbitrators get out of line. How is that a good result for business?

I’m expecting a massive boom in the arbitration business. Invest if you can.

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