Target markets


Mark J Penn with E Kinney Zalesne<em> Allen Lane, 448pp, £20</em>

Microtrends follows in the footsteps of Steven Levitt’s Freakonomics (2005), the book that temporarily made economics hip. Mark Penn is a pollster who has worked with Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Bill Gates, and he brings a different kind of insight to his collection of unexpected trends.

After the end of the grand narratives of economic development, Penn claims, America is an atomised society best understood on the level of the microtrend. Using polling data, the book explores 75 growth groups – from “Protestant Hispanics” to “Bourgeois and Bankrupt” – which represent the myriad directions in which American society is moving.

Underlying the celebration of the “niching of America” lie some uncomfortable truths. Advising Bill Clinton in the 1996 election campaign, Penn suggested that he discard the traditional Democrat focus on workers in the manufacturing industries and the trade unions, and turn his attention to a small but influential category dubbed “soccer moms”.

What the author trumpets as a liberating shift towards the recognition of minority interests is rather undercut, in the end, by the depressing thought that elections are won by the same means by which fizzy drinks are sold.

Matthew Taunton is a Leverhulme Fellow in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA, and is currently working on a book about the cultural resonances of the Russian Revolution in Britain.

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Who’s afraid of Michael Moore?