Media and PredictionsSubmitted by Sims Investment Management, LLC on May 21st, 2020
There is an old adage in fundraising – urgency above everything. Consider the following pitch:
Indigenous tribes in Papua New Guinea are going through a rough time. Freshwater supplies are being compromised by tribal land wars. While many will survive, a portion will be without water come December. Can you help?
The problem is apparent, but the urgency is lacking. Assuming we’re months away from December, the donor has time, and 9 times out of 10, he or she will wait.
If we switched it up however and said:
Indigenous tribes are dying day by day in Papua New Guinea. Freshwater has been severely compromised, and the only hope is to increase supply and water delivery today. We need your help immediately.
This is not necessarily a lie. Death is occurring (a nasty secret, death takes place everywhere, every day). Perhaps it’s not at the rate that’s insinuated, but happening nonetheless.
This puts the potential donor in a rough spot. You might not have heard of Papua New Guinea, but clearly, without freshwater (and your help), people’s lives are on the line.
Another industry that adopts this same tactic is the media. “Urgency above everything” likely emanated from successful news outlets as opposed to fundraising gurus. People are curious, social, and tribal. News that brings to light a threat to the “tribe” will be absorbed at much higher rates than news that is agnostic or non-threatening.
We are currently living through an excellent example of this. The media is on a tear. Comparisons to the Great Wars, 9/11, the frail rotting away while the rest of us ride out the quarantine with Netflix and a glass (or three) of a fine Argentinean Malbec. I don’t know about you, but this notion that we all suddenly have endless hours of free time on our hands seems to have passed my house by. Perhaps Fred and Marjorie three doors down can wake up at 10, enjoy a leisurely lunch, and binge watch Ozark while their children autonomously connect to their online classes and remain quiet as church mice. My sense is this isn’t occurring anywhere, but the media could give a crap. That doesn’t coincide with the narrative.
Again, “urgency above everything” depends on a clear and present danger. We must urgently hunker down and do nothing or else …
Barry Glassner wrote an enlightening book a decade ago – “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Fear the Wrong Things.” From a sociological standpoint, there might not be a more important book you could read right now. In fact, right now is the perfect time. You’ve got the time, right?
The main takeaway – the media fuels itself on scares. Everything from road rage to teenage suicide, workplace violence, and the most insidious of them all – “granny dumping.” Have you callously dumped your grandparents? If not, rest assured your neighbor has (perhaps it was Fred and Marjorie). In fact, these are all widespread issues in America and why we are a decadent society doomed for failure and ruin!
We’re all guilty of tuning in, be it traditional, primetime television, cable news, or Youtube. It’s the classic car crash scenario, you see it coming and swear you won’t be like the rest of the sheep and slow down to stare, but what do you do – slow down and stare.
Jim Cramer is another fascinating one. He makes a living yelling at you to buy, hold, or sell a stock. With a bunch of computers surrounding him, a spacious work area, and a disheveled tie (meant to indicate he’s been hard at work crunching numbers and working on behalf of your portfolio), Cramer is supposed to come off as passionate. This all equates to the perfect person to place the future of your 401K with. Yet, has anyone ever followed up on Mr. Cramer’s advice? What’s his positive hit rate?
Cramer is akin to Nostradamus. The guy never predicted the economy would level off and sustain average growth rates of 1.9% for four years. That’s boring and who cares if it comes true. But he obviously predicted 9/11 when he wrote:
“The sky will burn at forty-five degrees, fire approaches the great New City. Immediately a huge scattered flame leaps up.”
And lest we forget the great fire of London:
“The blood of the just will be demanded of London burnt by fire in three times twenty plus six.”
I wish Nostradamus had opined on my Vegas trip in 1991 when I lost a king’s ransom at the craps table. Had I known ahead of time, I might have kept driving and hit Santa Monica for a long weekend.
We’re living in an era where news could not be more prevalent. The problem is, our notion of the word “news” (wrongly) assumes an underlying premise that there is a fact (truth) attached to said news. Perhaps this was the case 80 years ago, but no longer. A tweet is not news, despite it being framed as such.
The survivors to emerge from all this won’t come from a specific sector. Instead, it will be those who can absorb the news (noise), digest it, segment it, and rationally reason which pieces are the likeliest to be closest to the truth. This skill is vital for financial, social, and emotional security. The people that entertain or presume to inform us do not have our best interests at heart. Rather, advertisers pay them handsomely and we consume it like a Kardashian episode.
Think strategically, act rationally, and keep Fred and Marjorie in your prayers.