Friday, July 10, 2009

Sarah Palin is the new Billy Mays

The summer of 2009 is likely to be remembered as the Season of Celebrity Death. Even discounting the pervasiveness of new media, I can't recall a time in which so many died so quickly in so short a span of time. I need not list all the celebrities who went on to meet their maker. You already know who they are.

The most notable and over-exposed passing had to have been Michael Jackson, a sad and pathetic caricature whose talent was the only real thing we ever knew. The least announced and mourned was the death of Sarah Palin's career. While Jackson's demise was prolonged to include everything from an American Idol-style tribute show to a fairly tasteless promotion of his father's new record label, far less attention was devoted to the mystery that is Sarah Palin, specifically, why is she quitting -- and where does she go next?

I'm sure all the media talking heads will speculate as to the plans of the not-even-one-full-term governor of Alaska. In her rambling, somewhat incoherent resignation announcement, Palin herself gave no clue as to her plans. The news media "analysts" claim she has a shot at launching her own talk show, in the same manner as Governor Mike Huckabee has done on FOX. Others have put their money on speaking tours, insisting she has the ability to draw huge crowds and substantial speaking fees. Amazingly, there are still a few Republican hold-outs -- true Olympians of denial -- who continue to rearrange the deck chairs on Palin's Titanic and insist she will run for President in 2012.

The answer, at least in my opinion, is the proverbial "E. None of the above."

Palin has squandered what little political capital she ever had in a brilliant two step process. First, she tanked the McCain presidential campaign by violating Benjamin Franklin's sage advice, "Better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt." In that race, Palin demonstrated how Americans can be charmed by charisma but not fooled by lack of intellect. From the very first pre-written lipstick joke, it was clear that Palin's talents were not the stuff of great statemanship.

Second, Americans will forgive just about anything: sex scandals, tax problems, you name it. What they won't forgive is a quitter, especially one who rants about not being a quitter while she's resigning from less than a full term in office. This is America. When the going gets tough, the tough get going -- but not out the back door. As far as Palin is concerned, the only thing she can run for is the midtown bus.

What, then, is left for Sarah to do? Those who hope to see her on the lecture circuit will be profoundly disappointed as she proves to be the political equivalent of Octo-Mom, likely with the same career half-life. People with short attention spans can only stand to hear the same one-note sonata springing from her lipstick hockey mom mouth for a certain amount of time.

And this is why the world needs more brand strategists. See, Palin has talents and attributes. They're just misplaced. She's engaging, fun -- and perfectly shallow. In the right circumstances, she actually could be a mega-star. It's just that politics is the way wrong theater. The right place, however, has been providentially carved out for her and laid at her feet:

Sarah Palin should be the next Billy Mays.

You think I'm kidding? I've been taunted for less, you know. But if you add it all up, it makes perfect sense. Sarah Palin could never sell Americans on health care or tax reform, but I guarantee you she could move boatloads of Pocket Fisherman or Mighty Putty. She's likeable enough to be a guest on a talk show, but doesn't have the chops to last longer as a host of a talk show. Regrettable as it is, the death of Billy Mays leaves a vacuum to be filled: a likeable, fun, get-in-and-out-in-60-seconds pitchman whose primary connection is with the primary telejunk-purchasers that are the heart and soul of QVC and HSN: housewives and working moms.

There's lots of doubt in my mind about Palin's ability to sell foreign policy, but none whatsoever about her ability to sell wrinkle remover and gun polish. In fact, there's nothing in the combined QVC and HSN inventory that Palin couldn't charm out of the wallets of an unsuspecting American public.

Where I come from, you leverage your strengths and mitigate the weaknesses. Sarah, if you're listening, there's a truckload of vegetable slicers with your name on it.


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