OFF THE GRID

Sarah Palin, Inc. Has a Problem

Feb 3, 10 | 8:00 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Before this gets out of hand, I want to try to save the word “retarded,” which seems robust and meaningful and evocative of so much that is silly, inept, and illogical. It really does not necessarily besmirch people who are actually retarded. That word, the specifically besmirching word, with cruel connotations, evoking the fifth grade, is “retard.”

Sarah Palin’s sly effort to hoist Rahm Emanuel for referring to certain liberal groups as “fucking retarded” is either a semantic stretch or, quite likely, a mix-up. She doesn’t know the difference between “retarded” and “retard,” nor care that there might be one.

But this is not really my subject. My subject is the one-off magazine all about Sarah Palin that is hitting newsstands across Sarah Palin country.

The Palin marketing juggernaut, with its books, television, and semantic troublemaking, has been a thing to behold. Never before has a politician, without office, or, many would argue, prospects, become such an omnipresent figure and commercial cash cow.

Political races cost money. This one may be the first in history to make money.

There is, surely, some amount of puzzlement, if not consternation, in the Palin camp about this new magazine. From the point of view of traditional politics, it’s hardly objectionable. It’s hagiographic and it’s free.

But from the point of view of brand control and strategy, it’s no good at all. It prompts the question (one she herself must wrestle with): Is she a candidate, or some other, newer, form of political creature?

This newer creature combines politics, with its dedicated consumer base, with a range of income-producing branded media. In essence, voters are being monetized.

Various performers have been tapping into this model for the past decade. Fox News has built its business on this premise. But Palin is the first actual politician to have pursued such a business plan.

Rush Limbaugh, the Palin people have surely observed, would not let a magazine that freely appropriates his brand go unchallenged. Lawsuits would be flying.

So why should Palin have to treat this commercial incursion with noblesse oblige?

On the other hand, were she to stamp her feet, that might seem like she was taking food right out of the mouths of her base. She really can’t overtly show herself to be, over and above her partisan identity, an individual entrepreneur and eager money-making machine.

It’s a dilemma. Her political career versus her media career. Because each is synergistic with the other (finally synergy pays off in the media business), she really doesn’t want to have to choose.

Still, everybody knows you can’t just let people do as they please with your brand. This involves intellectual property, and strategic market positioning, and a calculated roll-out strategy, with the constant risk of over-saturation. These are issues which, in the end, are much larger than mere politics.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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