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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Kirby Effect


The inimitable Kirby Vacuum Cleaner was designed either for or by a man.  It's steel,  heavy and you can do everything with it from vacuuming to spray painting your house. It has a power drive switch that applies graduated force to the wheels as you vacuum.  It's an ingenious feature that makes vacuuming faster and improves maneuverability over the old non-powered version.

I am not allowed to use the power drive switch!

The women in the house forbid it.  They claim the vacuum doesn't work as well when the switch is engaged.  They tell me it's not really a power drive, but some sort of parking brake to keep the vacuum from rolling if you park it on a hill when the motor is turned off.

I call this the Kirby Effect.  A useful feature of something is rejected because it doesn't "feel" right.  In the mind of the womenfolk in my house, if the vacuum doesn't feel like it's hugging the floor, it must not be working. They can push it too fast and make it skitter on the carpet, which reinforces the opinion that it doesn't work as well.  If you have the power drive on, you still have to push at the regular speed or it doesn't pick up as well - hence the skittering.

But it doesn't "feel" right, so the users reject the feature.

Researchers in the 60's came up with a "no suds" laundry detergent that was virtually pollution free. Users rejected it even though objective tests showed it worked as well as or better than the sudsy kind.  But users, particularly women felt like it didn't because it didn't make suds.  They rejected the feature in favor of less effective sudsy formulas because they felt like you have to have suds to clean clothes.  Simply adding inert fillers to the formula created suds and made the product acceptable and sold the users on the product.


To avoid the Kirby Effect as I conceive it, in order to sell anything expensive, whether it be a product or idea, it must meet the following criteria:

 1.  It must appear to be of value or to own it must confer prestige.
 2.  It must appear to work somewhat as the user (not necessarily the buyer) expects it to.
 3.  It must not require any extra work on the part of the buyer to use the object or idea that is for sale. 
 4.  Paying for the idea or object must not cause visible discomfort.

Progressives have learned how to pay attention to the Kirby Effect as it relates to political issues.  What they've learned is that, so long as it feels right, a sizable segment of the population will let you do almost anything you want and no amount of reasoning will substantially effect their perception about the issue once established, especially if a program you propose doesn't require any real effort on their part to move forward.

Kirby, like the progressives has a sales strategy.  Men tend to buy the Kirby for it's ruggedness and multiple use features and are more willing to shell out for expensive products if they can get it on payments. Women look at the price tag to determine quality, but care little about features beyond straightforward vacuuming and using the upholstery hose and attachment.  So Kirby first sells the husband. That's why their sales guys want to talk to the couple together. The fancy feature demo is for the guys. The women aren't much interested in painting the car with their vacuum.  Men like to know they could if they wanted to. For the ladies, the price tag sells the value and so long as the guys are willing to pay the bill, the ladies don't need a bargain.  The payment plan seems a cheap way for the guy to score "I care about you points" with the wife, so the sale is made.  After all, the car's got a couple of chips on the paint.

Simplistic and I'm going to catch a lot of flack for this, but stay with me.

Around here, I usually am in charge of switching from the beater bar to hose attachment. My neat freak wife doesn't like the extra steps it takes with the Kirby to hook up the upholstery hose even though it's more effective than the other hose attachment on her other vacuums.  She just wants to clean the upholstery.  Kirby does that well enough, so long as I change the attachment for her and she doesn't have to learn how.

Let's face it.  Nobody paints their car with a Kirby or ever uses half of the things a Kirby can do, but it's reliable so no one is really unhappy and the payments aren't too high as to be painful. Ergo, Kirby makes money.

To sell a political strategy, the most effective way is to utilize the Kirby strategy to make the sale, but to avoid the Kirby effect whereby features are rejected because they don't pass the "feels right" test.

First, you create a perceived need that invokes guilt. Then you come up with an expensive solution that makes everyone feel good that the problem will be solved by the expensive solution.  Promise that it will do lots and lots of things. Do enough of the things you promise to make people feel comfortable that you're handling it. Make the price tag feel easy to bear (soak the rich is one way).  Voila, everybody supports you and gives you the power in order to feel good that they are solving the perceived need.

Because the progressive agenda is being presented as a package, it is vulnerable.  Obama may actually be overplaying his hand with the public service demands he is making.  It violates the 3rd principle. The tax burden if it crashes the economy, it may violate rule 4.  If program elements like "cash for clunkers" don't work as promised, they may have a rule 2 violation.  If something major gets blown up by terrorists, rule 1 gets violated because they promised the world would love us and therefore we'd be more secure.  If that happens, the whole thing comes down like a house of cards.


I worked in human services.  It's amazing how many things people believe the government is "supposed" to handle. When someone tells a story of someone's trial or tribulation, "Isn't the government supposed to take care of that?" was one of the most common questions that followed. The other response I used to get was "What can we do?"

The two responses represent two disparate groups.  One believes that for every social need there should be a government program to take care of it. After all, they pay their taxes.

It is almost as widely believed by the second group that we are personally responsible to help fix things like this.  They respond to the story as if it were a call to action.  These guys work with  local nonprofits and donate to their church and other charities. They work soup kitchens and work bees, go on mission trips and volunteer at nursing homes.   

The first group will tolerate a little bump in their taxes if you just promise to solve global warming, eleminate poverty, hunger and crime.  They don't want to look too closely at whether or not the program is actually working, so long as they feel good that something is being done, they can go on with their lives without any guilt.  At least that holds true so long as they don't have to spend any of their own personal time doing anything inconvenient about solving the problem themselves.  If it becomes obvious that the program isn't working they look for someone to blame.

The other group gets mad because the government is obviously NOT doing the job, so they do it themselves.  They are goal directed.  The problem needs to be solved, so they solve it.  Casting blame doesn't get the job done with this group.  There are hungry people to be fed, illness to be treated, children to be rescued.

Not everybody is like the first group, but enough are to swing the vote toward progressive socialism. Conservative solutions have the disadvantage of not making you feel better, asking you to do things that may be hard, expecting you to solve problems for yourself and letting you pay for things out of your own pocket.  The only personal benefit the conservative agenda gives us is that we retain our liberty, but at the cost of some little discomforts.

So, the question becomes, "How much of your liberty are you willing to surrender for the promise that you'll feel good about losing it?"

I think Pelosi, Reid and Obama would make a great vacuum cleaner salesmen.

I'm just sayin'

Tom King.

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