In retrospect, a profound political change was spawned by this bit of trend-spotting. Previously, almost all Democrats had targeted downscale, noncollege workers, particularly in the manufacturing sector. But union membership and manufacturing jobs were shrinking, more people were going to college, and almost the entire electorate in the U.S. was calling itself middle-class. If Democrats missed the key trends, they would miss the boat.
Now candidates enthusiastically target Soccer Moms – although someone may want to let them know that trends move fast, and Soccer Moms, too, have moved on. Now, a decade later, their kids are getting ready for college, many of them have been through a divorce, and their own financial security has become as big an issue for them as raising their children was ten years ago.
And with all of the attention being paid to those Moms, Dads – suburban-based, family-focused, office-park-working Dads – are all but neglected in politics, advertising and the media. In the twenty-first century, Dads spend more time with their children than ever in history. Has Madison Avenue adjusted? Are Dads ever the target of back-to-school campaigns?
There could be as big a shift ahead in marketing as 1996 saw in Democratic politics.
The art of trend-spotting, through polls, is to find groups that are pursuing common activities and desires, and that have either started to come together or can be brought together by the right appeal that crystallizes their needs. Soccer Moms had been there for a decade or more – but they became a political class only when they were recognized as a remarkably powerful voting bloc in America.
Today, changing lifestyles, the Internet, the balkanization of communications, and the global economy are all coming together to create a new sense of individualism that is powerfully transforming our society. The world may be getting flatter, in terms of globalization, but it is occupied by 6 billion little bumps who do not have to follow the herd to be heard. No matter how offbeat their choices, they can now find 100,000 people or more who share their taste for deep-fried yak on a stick.
In fact, by the time a trend hits 1 percent, it is ready to spawn a hit movie, best-selling book, or new political movement. The power of individual choice is increasingly influencing politics, religion, entertainment, and even war. In today's mass societies, it takes only 1 percent of people making a dedicated choice -- contrary to the mainstream's choice -- to create a movement that can change the world.
Just look at what has happened in the U.S. to illegal immigrants. A few years ago, they were the forgotten Americans, hiding from daylight and the authorities. Today they are holding political rallies, and given where they and their legal, voting relatives live, they may turn out to be the new Soccer Moms. Militant immigrants fed up with a broken immigration system just may be the most important voters in the next presidential election, distributed in the key Southwest states that are becoming the new battleground areas.
It's the same in business, too, since the Internet has made it so easy to link people together. In the past, it was almost impossible to market to small groups who were spread around the country. Now it's a virtual piece of cake to find 1 million people who want to try your grapefruit diet, or who can't get their kids to sleep at night.