Friday, October 22, 2010

Juan Williams: Fired for the sake of brand purity

To survive, big media networks like Fox and NPR need viewers/listeners and sponsors/donors. Just like Samsung or Playskool, they need loyal followers who always get the brand experience they want.

Because Fox and NPR are in crowded media markets, they strive for brand distinctiveness. They don't want to wind up like the major legacy networks – ABC, CBS, NBC – as declining behemoths lumped together in an undifferentiated blob. They need to be recognizably different.

Fox, for sure, has built a distinctive brand experience – populist, hard-hitting, opinionated. It is enormously successful because of it. The people at Fox understand branding and strive for that certain Fox experience every time people tune in. You would not expect late Beethoven quartets on Fox – heck, not even Ravel's Bolero.

NPR has a brand too – liberal-minded, cultured, thoughtful – "not yelling," as they remind us at contribution time. You would not expect Hank Williams Jr. belting out the theme to Monday Night Football on NPR – except to prompt listeners to smile at those childish masses who must have their fun. Now back to the special report on soil erosion in Malaysia – in-depth.

For NPR and Fox, on-air personalities are products, and products must reflect and reinforce the parent brand. NPR's recent firing of Juan Williams [His reply here:] is a perfect example of NPR getting its brand in order – defining it more precisely. For the NPR brand, Juan Williams is too open-minded (vs. liberal-minded), too independent (vs. politically correct), too candid (vs. expectedly in line) too anomalous (an African-American intellectual who chats amicably with right-wingers).

Juan Williams – a lively, passionate, open-minded, creative, entertaining, unpretentious journalist – does not fit the NPR brand. For the sake of brand consistency, NPR did the right thing.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

The New Yorker covers of our age

The artistic happenings on Google's home page (here marking the anniversary of the great Dizzie Gillespie) have become the digital equivalent of the old New Yorker magazine covers – topical, surprising, marveled at.

How can something so utilitarian (a search engine) be so pleasing to the eye? Pre-historic people carved decorations on their weapons and painted scenes of daily life on earthen pots. Whatever is valued for productive use is a fair canvas for human expression.

Best of all – as noted here before – Google boogies with its logo, not entombs it in rules.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The French brand

Many years ago I was picked up and tossed into a French prison for the night along with thousands of native students. It was a time of riots and running street battles with the "CRS" – which is a kind of national militia used to bloody youngsters whenever the need arises.

And today? Riots, running street battles with the CRS... Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. Yes the French love revolution but hate change. Yesterday the issue was... um... something about the French curriculum? Boring lectures? I was there... I heard the harangues... I chanted the chants ("SS CRS, SS CRS" – that was to shame the riot police. "On veut faire pee-pee" – that was for when you were behind bars)... but I've forgotten the issue.
Today, the issue is retirement age. Not 60 any more but 62, or so the government proposes and the rioters oppose. Is that really the issue? Teenagers don't take to the streets over retirement issues. Sorry, they don't. But they do run riot to piss off authority, vent their rage at repressive society... and to show that thy crave ch... uh... or rather that they oppose change.

Perhaps French kids believe like everyone else that the French are snotty and repressed. What is the French brand? Rioting against retiring at 62. In other words, French-ness is being defined by angry kids who scream and cry because decades from now they might have to work an extra two years before they receive their free croissants and fraisse.

Tell this to the world of working people – to the families of, for example, Chilean miners. Grandfathers risking their lives in the mines. Viva Chile! There's a brand in ascendancy.

And the French? Well-off children running in the streets while the hired sons of working people crack their skulls. Plus ca change...


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sticking it to the Anglo-Saxons

"Non a la vie low cost" – must be le nouveau credo national – replacing Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité.

Ces mecs pensent que they're sticking it to the Anglo Saxon work ethnic.

En fait, they're nous supplying avec a poetic rationalization for treating ourselves to un verre de good Australian Shiraz.

Non a la vie low cost? How about this: Non a la belle langue polluted by Slanglais.