We have been admonished to make sure our public diplomacy products appeal to a broad gender audience (i.e. also are relevant to women), for as long as I have been in the public diplomacy business.  Our plans always include a section about reaching out to women, as they should.   But our stuff appeals less to another key demographic – boys and young men. 

If you consider who does what to whom, young men are certainly the key.   But the more “inclusive” we make the material, the less it is likely to appeal to young men.  This is not only a gender issue.  It impacts anything where people are different and that means that it impacts everything we do.

I was thinking about this during a presentation on video games and persuasion.   The most popular games – and this cuts right across cultural divides – involve something blowing up.  The only things that come close are car races and sports, and even in these games something often tends to blow up or at least give that sort of visual impression.   Somebody asked if the games could emphasize peaceful cooperation and inclusiveness.   You could do that, but then the game would appeal to a different demographic.  The general rule seems to be if a mixed gender group of bureaucrats likes it, young men won’t. 

All good marketing features segmentation, since no product appeals to everyone equally.    The more something is loved by one group, the more it will probably be disliked by others.  This statement approaches a tautology.  As you specialize and tailor to a particular set of needs or preferences you by necessity remove or modify the traits that appeal to other needs and preferences.    That is why a product that appeals to very large and diverse groups is usually bland.   It can survive and prosper as long as there are no easily obtained alternatives, but given different choices people will make … different choices.

Public diplomacy does a poor job of segmentation.    In fact, there is a significant disincentive to segmentation.   We are asked to be inclusive.   We often get the question, “Sure, this appeals to people in this particular group/region/circumstance/age/gender/income but how does it address the needs of that particular group/region/circumstance/age/gender/income.”   The proper answer is “It doesn’t.”   The things I mentioned above are ways to segment a market.    You cannot design a product for everybody.  Let me modify that.  You cannot design a SUCCESSFUL product for everybody.

If I could point to one impediment that causes us the most problem in public diplomacy, I would say that it is the lack of ability to differentiate our products to appeal to different market segments. We often got around it in a de-facto way at overseas posts, but it is not a new problem and since it has persisted for at least a quarter century, through a wide variety of different challenges and political masters, I have to conclude that the problem is systemic.   It is just very hard to be against something that is inclusive, fair, and comprehensive with a world-wide appeal.  The trouble is that no such thing exists and the search for this chimera not only distracts but actually impedes development of appeals and products that appeal to discrete segments of the audience. 

You just cannot have a club worth being a if anyone can join.