What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object has detained philosophers for generations. In the next few days we might be about to find out, thanks to the UK election.
One of the overriding social and business themes since the global financial meltdown has been the rise of consumer power.
New technologies and a new-born cynicism are enabling consumers to get closer to the providers of their goods and services. The “Uber-isation” of services is cutting out the middle man and allowing consumers to exercise more control.
The implications for business and other institutions are that they need to shape up, cut out the nonsense and provide more honest services, in many cases more directly. In this respect, the “age of austerity” has developed hand in hand with the “trust agenda”.
This irresistible rise of consumerism has been characterised by the emergence of “BS-proof” Millennials. These are a new generation of savvy consumers with the right technology at their fingertips to get quickly past the brand bluster to discover the truth behind any service or product claims.
It is debatable whether that is solely a characteristic of the millennials, or whether they are simply the most obvious beneficiaries of changing technology and attitudes, but that’s for another time.
On the other hand, in the UK’s longest running election campaign it is clear that the obfuscation and opaqueness of political posturing is not going away. It seems an immovable object.
By dint of attitude and numbers the irresistible force of “BS-proof Millennials” are increasingly able to hold businesses to account. But we are seeing little evidence that anyone can rein in the excesses of political spin.
Both main parties continue to claim they expect an outright victory that none of the pollsters, pundits or bookies can see. Meanwhile, we are bombarded with political discourse not much more sophisticated than the playground games of “he said, she said”.
While the Tories are still fighting for outright victory, they are also showing signs of finding common cause with their Lib Dem coalition partners (or at least avoiding mutually-exclusive “red lines”) .
Ed Miliband meanwhile has been less equivocal. “There will be no deal” with the Scottish Nationalists he has promised. Time may tell if it was just the right thing to say at the time, or a genuinely held belief that won’t be quickly forgotten.
Either way, with more and more talk of “red lines” around firm policy commitments it is clear that pretty much everything is up for grabs. With so much horse trading to come, what choices do the electorate have in giving a clear mandate to government?
Brands and businesses are learning the hard way that they have to treat their customers with respect. If they don’t, they find out about it very quickly. It is hard to see how the trust agenda has penetrated politics in any meaningful way.
Who are the Mad Men now?