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Why Personalization Didn't Work

Word has come down from VRWC High Command that "Social Security Choice" is now non-operative, joining its long-departed cousin "Social Security Privatization" on the ash heap of history. The new plan is "Social Security Personalization." Yes, personalization. Google reveals that until this blessed day "personalization" seems to have been a term of art in the world of Web design. Not a very successful one, either. See, for example, "Why Personalization Hasn't Worked":

Personalization hasn't worked because most people don't have a compelling reason to personalize. It hasn't worked because the cost of doing it well usually significantly outweighs the benefits it delivers. It hasn't worked because managers have seen it as some Holy Grail of content management.
That sounds about right to me.

January 31, 2005 | Permalink


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Josh has the Radical Right's game plan. I am curious to know (a) if they thought they could keep this secret (b) who leaked it.It is a slick piece of work, designed to press all the right Madison Avenue buttons. Will the Democrats be able to come up with an equally well-designed counterattack?Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jan 31, 2005 3:47:32 PM

Look for the GOP to elevate the discussion to the "meta-level" of freedom and liberty, rather than merely personalization.

Among the many sub-plots to watch for in Wednesday's State of the Union address will be President Bush's appropriation of the words "freedom" and "liberty" for his agenda and the GOP.

As we've written before, the Republicans have dominated American policy debates through their manipulation and control of language. Whether through message discipline or superior framing (to use Lakoff's term), the GOP has won a succession of victories spanning tax reform, Medicare, environmental policy, and more.

Bush's 2005 State of the Union will be no exception to this strategy. Across both domestic and foreign policy, President Bush will position the Republicans as the party of "choice", "liberty" and "freedom." The dangerous and unneccessary privatization of Social Security through "personal accounts" will provide Americans greater freedom and control over their retirement security. Irresponsible and inequitable tax cuts will give Americans freedom to spend their money. School vouchers empower parental choice. New proposals for the Bush "Ownership Society" will free individuals to control their financial destiny. And that is just the beginning.

For more, see:

"Hijacking Freedom"

Posted by: Jon | Jan 31, 2005 3:53:20 PM

After "Personalization" fails, I predict they will try these nomenclatures:

-A Return to Retirement Normalcy

-Cross of Gold Retirement Plan

-Wearing a tophat and overcoat, George Bush will wave a piece of paper to a crowd on a windy day proclaiming to have achieved "Social Security Stability for Our Time"

Posted by: Njorl | Jan 31, 2005 4:00:53 PM

I knew this was coming the minute I heard the phrase "personal accounts".

Posted by: Jeremy Osner | Jan 31, 2005 4:05:06 PM

Can I get mine monogrammed? In pink? Pretty please?

Posted by: flip | Jan 31, 2005 4:07:26 PM

I think they need to advertise "SS - now customizable with five unique skins."

Then you can order the one you want with your cell phone.

Posted by: Tripp | Jan 31, 2005 4:10:50 PM

This is like a bad parody of Orwell.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2005 4:30:03 PM

How long until Rove demands that the press stop using the phrase "Social Security" in discussing Social Security.

The GOP could insist that "Social Security" is a Democratic phrase, and insist on it also be referred to as "Doubleplus ungood retirement welfare" in all press stories.

Posted by: Petey | Jan 31, 2005 4:35:59 PM

Let's not get too full of ourselves. FDR (or more likely Hopkins) chose to call it Social Security rather than "The Dole for Old People" for the same reasons the Radical Right is trying to control the language today: framing.


Posted by: Cranky Observer | Jan 31, 2005 4:48:10 PM

This is probably just me, but whenever I hear "personal accounts" the first picture that comes to mind is a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza. To me, that makes it sound pretty silly. I.e., instead of sharing one big pizza, Dubya's plan is that we'll all get our own "personal" pizzas.

Last week, I was about to suggest this as a way to ridicule the term, but then I realized that a more typical reaction might be "Mmm... pizza [drools]"

Posted by: Paul Callahan | Jan 31, 2005 5:00:10 PM

Counterattack: 401Ks for all! Let's get some real personal choice here, and we'll keep old-school Social Security so people who make bad investment choices won't starve. Now, whaddya say, Mr. President? You like personal choice, right?

Posted by: Maureen | Jan 31, 2005 5:12:53 PM

OK, I'm probably hopelessly naive (or anyways not cynical
enough), but am I the only one who thinks the GOP has
outsmarted itself with all these name changes? They
need to convince people to go along with a big change
in a popular program, but you don't do that by confusing
people (as opposed to fooling them).

That is, lying works but confusing people doesn't. This is
why the easiest way to kill state initiatives is to just confuse
people so much that they figure a "no" vote will at least
leave things no worse than before.

Posted by: Matt Newman | Jan 31, 2005 5:20:14 PM

Matt Newman:

No, no, no, no, no--that's exactly what the Republican game plan is, to confuse people so much they'll have no idea what the actual proposal or alternatives are and just finally throw up their hands and say, well that W shares my values and is working hard to protect the country from terrorists, so what he wants to do must be the best thing.

Posted by: flip | Jan 31, 2005 6:05:12 PM

Even rightwing Don Luskin wants to take all those Soc. Sec. government bonds and put them into a funds with no choice and guess what - holding the same government bonds so there'll be no risk. Of course, no choice and no extra expected return either. Just a lot of fees for his buddies on Wall Street.

Posted by: pgl | Jan 31, 2005 6:17:56 PM

Each personalized account will have a checkbook with the following choice of themes:




Southern Comfort

The Islands



The names of the account bearers will be printed in one of 20 fonts. The cover will be made of vinyl, leather and canvass.

Together with the checkbook, account owner will receive one of the following gifts:

set of kitchen knives (with personalized engravings!)

etc. etc.

Posted by: piotr | Jan 31, 2005 6:49:13 PM

I knew "choice" wouldn't fly. Republicans are trying to balance too many interest-groups. "Choice" works fine for the Libertarian guys, but try pitching your Social Security reform as "pro-choice" to the Moral Values crowd...

Posted by: Jackmormon | Jan 31, 2005 8:16:14 PM

America has got to wake up! What is wrong with the people in this country? Cant they see how hatefilled the Right wing is?

If they could see blogs like this making fun of Hillary Clintons collapsing i think the average american would start to wise up.

They claim GOD struck Hill. down! Can you believe that?
Read it for yourself


Posted by: robert_higgins | Jan 31, 2005 10:03:04 PM

I think Flip has it.

Posted by: Michael Farris | Feb 1, 2005 6:26:05 AM

We need to counter attack in the phrases war. Remember the term “partial birth abortion” was half the victory. When referring to a late term abortion, everyone uses that term. We are playing on their field. Let’s not be lax in our own phraseology.

Dismantling the safety net, Las Vegas your future, Social Insecurity, what happens to those that fail, and government hand off are just a few.

Posted by: scout29c | Feb 1, 2005 8:21:36 AM

I think "personalization" is doomed to failure, because it doesn't really mean anything. It's too long, and it isn't a word you use everyday. It certainly doesn't seem the kind of word that would test well with focus groups, which makes me wonder why the GOP chose it.

Posted by: Dave | Feb 1, 2005 9:13:44 AM

Freedom accounts?

Liberty funds?

Individual freedom funds?

None of those are that good, but you know they're gonna fish around until they hit something that people are afraid to argue against. Just let's hope the dems have the sense not to use Republican terminology ...... we're doomed.

Posted by: Michael Farris | Feb 1, 2005 9:22:13 AM

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