Friday, August 31, 2012

The Republican Brand—2012

When I was growing up you could spot a young Republican a mile a way. He was eager, clean-cut, had perfectly trimmed hair, and wore a red tie and a big grin. He looked—to me and my friends—like a snot-nosed dork.

In those days leftists were cool, Republicans hopelessly out of it. Young Republicans wanted to shake hands and get ahead. Leftists thrilled to the possibilities of change. My friends and I took risks. Republicans were intellectually constipated.

In those days a Republican mother had perfectly saloned hair and was insufferably earnest. Her walk, face and voice exuded dreary platitudes. She hosted dinner parties with neatly placed cloth napkins—while we leftists lived full, fiery lives on campus, in the streets, and at home with our colorful parents.

We on the left stood for freedom of expression. We were cultural outsiders. We shocked the earnest Republican mothers and mystified their eager offspring.

Now I’m grown up. The cultural landscape has changed. Political personalities are reversed. Leftists of all stripes—from Occupiers to Hollywood liberals—are the earnest dorks. Leftists seem narrow-minded and uptight. Staunch liberals are shocked by fiery speeches and colorful characters.

Today, Democrats own the establishment. They wag their fingers, suppress insensitive speech, and scold and lecture like the Republican mothers of my youth. Democrats are the nerdy fact-checkers, pouring over the words to find any error for use in an inquisition.

And behold today’s Republicans! Like you, I watched the major Republican speeches, listened to the pundits, and followed the internet chatter. Here is Brandsinger’s take on the Republican National Convention:

1 Political parties are big, institutional brands. Candidates are their products. The Republican product line-up offers a sparkling young Governor Marco Rubio. An eloquent, bookish Condoleezza Rice. A solid, defiant Governor Susana Martinez. A stunning, steely-eyed Governor Nikki Haley. An amazing creature from outer space called Paul Ryan—poised, passionate, purposeful.

One old model needs to be retired: John McCain. What was his point, a call for World War III? 

2 Brand messages—The big themes were personal freedom, America’s unique role in the world, the celebration of individualism, faith in God, the glory of personal achievement, reverence for the immigrant, denunciation of divisions by race and class, homage to the wide-open possibility of living your dream in America.

3 An odd and discordant trope: Every inspiring personal story-line climaxed with the opening of a business. “And they came here, worked hard, had children, and they… (drum roll, bulging eyes) opened their own business!” (delirious cheering)

Are Americans, in the Republican narrative, a nation of shopkeepers? Not sure the Republicans—so eager to align with job creators—want America to be known as a culture of fruit stands and dry cleaners. Missing were farmers and machinists, clerks and programmers—a big swatch of voters!

4 Clint Eastwood—Weirdly authentic and unscripted. It was riveting to see an old guy using his own words—cliché-less!—reveling in the spotlight. He’s done everything, thrilled millions, and come to the political stage to have his say. Deliciously unpredictable theater.

5 Romney—Looks like Republican men of my youth. Cool but trying to be warm. Little known or loved—and trying to be open and appealing. Romney is a stiff in the tradition of Gore and Kerry. It is said that he wrote his own speech. What a botch.

As counselor to Romney I would have advised a different approach. “Hi, I’m Mitt Romney… and my advisors want me to open up tonight and show you my real, human side. I’ll try to do that. But I warn you: I’m no slick politician and performer. I’m actually somewhat shy—that’s right. But I burn—deep inside—with a passion to lead this nation back to prosperity and global greatness.”

That’s an alternative option. Romney should have confined his tedious family history to a written resume. All you can say of the speech is that Mitt Romney would look great on the face of a dime.

6 And Chris Christie?—The building-sized New Jersey governor had the most encompassing, emblematic line of the convention. “Democrats believe in teachers’ unions. We believe in teachers.”

With that line, Christie summed up the convention’s intended brand differentiation: Democrats are a party of interest groups calculatingly defending their turf by any means. Republicans are a party of quirky individuals, united by faith in work and achievement, and forever guided by the icons of American culture—from the struggling immigrant to Clint Eastwood’s gunslinger, from the god-fearing Christian to the duty-bound soldier, from the small business owner, grousing about taxes and red tape to (and this is new, Democrats take note) the single mother in a gritty neighborhood who demands for her children freedom from the tyranny of the local teachers’ union.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Slowing down time

The whole point of lying around a little seaside town is to slow down time. You walk, not drive. Pause, not rush. You eat breakfast when it's 10 or 3:15. You wake at 6 a.m. and can't sleep any more and are surprised how long the day has been by the time evening rolls around. Still more hours left to... to... well, the rest of the evening hasn't been planned and will just happen when it happens.

The little reminders of normal pressures are benign and ineffectual. Take marketing. Here's a bit of marketing. It's a sign I've always loved—and always stopped to admire every year in the same little seaside town as I amble by. Inside a few old fellows sit and chat while the elderly barber slowly dabs warm lather around a pair of ears.

The sign is small, tattered, understated and dryly funny. "We repair homemade haircuts." It evokes the picture of a little boy dragged into the shop, placed on a board across the arms of a barber chair, and coaxed to undergo the rhythmic snip snipping of a simple tool in the hands of a dignified and attentive provider of an unhurried and useful service that human beings endure and sometimes even enjoy as their minds wander, their bodies relax and their sentences roll on into the soft summer nights.



Sunday, August 5, 2012

RadioShack—Touching Faith in Advertising

Some brands die a slow death, like wonderful old dogs that hang on, choke down their food, and still manage to wag their tails when you say "Good boy." There is nothing more touching than seeing a beloved old pet act just as lovably as it did as a puppy, though in ultra-slow motion. 

Which brings us to the beloved old RadioShack—the store where our apartment super used to go for a new fuse and where kids ran for batteries for their new toys on Christmas Day.

Today—in the age of the Mighty Amazon and the Formidable Home Depot—RadioShack is going through the motions on creaky joints. The chain lost $21 million last quarter, and its stock has fallen this year from nearly $14 to under $3.

It's a brand past its prime. One RadioShack store owner in Michigan (quoted in the July 26 Wall Street Journal) said, "The perception is that we carry nothing up-to-date and it is for people who build their own transistor radios." Transistor radios!

Last year about this time, RadioShack's Chief Marketing Officer gallantly described a new branding initiative celebrating the heritage of giving technical advice. She said, "Being able to advise people about electronics and technology is in our DNA. It’s the source of our authenticity and credibility." (Lee Applbaum quoted by Adamson, Forbes, 8.15.11)

Ah "authenticity." Being absolutely honest about being out-of-date? If only that could help.

Pictured above is RadioShack as a puppy. Today the stores are not as frisky but just as lovable... This company served ordinary people in need, flourished for decades... grew to 4700 stores... and now loses boatloads of money.

Soon, the company will launch new advertising...  apparently placing its dying hopes on a new campaign explaining RadioShack's reason for being. A new ad campaign? What can we say to that... "Awww.... Good boy!"