Friday, October 10, 2008

An object lesson in the danger of brand simplicity

Watching the latest political season I asked some friends how the heck could the conservative movement start with a guy like Buckley and lead to Palin.

Consider for yourself:

Did you watch both? How the heck did this happen.

David Brooks has a great editorial in today's NYT opinion page explaining the obvious decline, its origins, and its ramifications.

And to me it has direct implications on how all public communications professionals need to think and re-think our choices.

First, simple messages that ask our audience to think very little may have short term benefits but long-term negative consequences. Primarily because when we put things in stark terms that depend upon negative factors (hate, fear, derision, resentment) we exit the arena of ideas for the arena of emotion. Now, many brand theorists today say it is emotion that drives choice and I agree but when the emotion is devoid of an idea than it is simply adrenaline and eventually it will wear out. The idea behind the emotion matters. When Buckley threatened to punch Chomsky in the nose it was because he had an ideological gripe with him. It wasn't because Chomsky simply represented a handle (e.g. "The Media Elite").

Second, simply stated, complexity counts. When we ask our audience to stop thinking then they will and that is dangerous. Even more dangerous we ask only those that don't want to think to be part of our conversation. This leads to the loop of noise I wrote about earlier and in an age of consumer co-creation how dangerous is it to risk relationship for the sake of delusional addiction?

Today's economic news indicates what is bred when emotions are developed devoid of ideas. The market psychology is panic. In the short term it was fun for people to use their homes as ATMs on their lawn but the long-term consequential melt-down stops the party.

Communications needs to consider the arena of ideas and long-term consequence if it is to breed the kind of passionate loyalty the fledgling conservative movement once had.

If not, then we risk brands with Palinesque depth and I don't think many consumers will want to dive headfirst into a pool that shallow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Life Before TV, The Internet, and Blogs

This past Friday I had the privilege to participate in an old-fashioned hootenanny as part of a wedding rehearsal celebration.  Wooden card table chairs were set up auditorium style in the front room of this old Queen Anne style home.  It felt like what life must have been like before TV, the Internet and Blogs. You had an upright piano in the corner, a rickety old music stand, and the only evidence of modernity were the digital cameras, cell phones and a PA system.  I loved it.  One of my favorite singer-song-writers Mark Erelli suggests that everyone should learn an instrument so evenings like this past Friday can happen more often.  His opinion has motivated my clumsy guitar-playing and song-writing.  I was able to play a tune that I wrote for my wife and watch all kinds of cool stuff.  One of my favorites was when a grandmother did a beat poetry version of "The Love Song of J. Edgar Prufrock" accompanied by her grandson on saxophone.  "To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet," was a quote a friend of mine in college always held up as a sad reference to the false intimacy generated by modern life but, hearing it within the context of an evening where folks risked public embarrassment as a means of humble honor to a couple they loved caused me to pause and consider it  again.  There is so much talk of co-creation and brand hijacking and consumer-generated content in the business of marketing and advertising.  It seems every brand plan I participate in has some 360 degree tactic that allows the target to use Youtube in an inventive way to create brand content.  But I've kind of doubted most of the times we have suggested these tactics.  The problem is, unlike the hootenanny or TS Eliot's poem, the vast digital world wide web lacks the tactical sensibility to enjoy the face that is co-creating or hi-jacking or consumer-generating.  When grandma stepped back and watched her grandson blow some sweet blues we all were witness to the moment in the moment with her.  It was awesome.  The Internet is anonymous and remote. I may be branded hypocrite for using it to sing the praises of live unprofessional entertainment over digital consumer content but I feel compelled to do it anyway.  My feeling is that until we think of communication tactics that can motivate face to face risk taking like a live front room hootenanny then the latest lauded digital gimmick will seem a little impotent to me.