That Damn Hippie Pope

NEW SLAUGHTERMy guess is that Pope Francis was well aware of the appalling orgy of fevered consumerism — Black Friday and the onset of our sacred “Holiday Season” — when he dropped his 50,000 word rip job on “trickle down” economics and our “idolatry of money.” The timing was just too ideal to be a coincidence. And that, you have to hand it to him, demonstrates some shrewd marketing chops, along with a bona fide Christian conscience.

I am not expecting it to do much good though, unless he requires his “shepherds” in local parishes to hammer that message … to the dwindling audience that still sees moral authority in a church degraded by medieval sexual politics.

Coincidentally, news of the Pope’s hippie-like attack on the foundation of American exceptionalism — i.e. unbridled acquisitiveness and status through possession — came on the same day I caught a nakedly cynical Christmas-y ad that began with a lament for the sad state of Christmas today.  (Open with: A montage of Norman Rockwell-like imagery; happy nuclear families, cherubic kiddies, fresh snow, tree trimming). The clear inference being that we’ve fallen a long, long ways from “the true meaning of Christmas”.

Where, I wondered, was this leading?

Cut to a scene from today … inside some tricked out big box super store, with … you know t, a fake Santa and excited shoppers stockpiling massive amounts of crap (excuse me, “gifts”). It was an ad for Gander Mountain or Cabela’s or some much enterprise, which, I think you can see the irony here, has nothing whatsoever to do with the “true meaning” of Christmas and everything to do with what’s wrong with this blessed season and what the Pope was getting at.

Popes routinely bemoan crass consumerism and exploitation of the lower classes. But soon they move on … to negotiating Vatican politics, managing the church’s vast real estate holdings, meetings with attorneys fending off sexual abuse claims and battling homosexuality. The priority stuff.

Maybe Francis, who is off to a good start, will be a transformative figure. Maybe he’ll push this them, especially when he makes his first visit to the United States. But the odds are against him.

Especially here in America, where to watch the network and local news there is no greater unalloyed good than storming the mall — or WalMart — in support of the economy. Sure they all reported the fistfights over 40″ Funai TVs and laughed at the video of the guy loosing his drawers in a WalMart brawl and flashing plumber butt — but nowhere did I see anyone come back from any of this and say, “This is nuts.”

Obviously, TV news has an enormous stake in shilling for any excuse to spend money. But, Barry Ritholtz in the not exactly hippie-dippy Bloomberg View tells us again, it’d help if “news” was actually based in some semblance of fact instead of junk numbers made up by random shoppers and repeated endlessly everywhere you looked.

I still think it’d be interesting to get someone like Barack Obama into a candid conversation about values. Not just the usual platitudinal stuff about “democracy” and “a thousand points of light” but the essential message leaders have an obligation to convey to their citizens.

Once away from the White House (and you know he’s got scratch marks on the cell wall counting off the days ) I suspect he’d agree with the Pope. There’s almost nothing about inciting mass psychosis and the constant pornographic exultation of the super rich that meshes with actual Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim) values.

Hope and Branding

NEW SLAUGHTERBefore getting to the important stuff, as a member of “the single-payer left”, but also someone sees Obamacare as a substantial step forward, can I just say that I’m delighted to see a resurgence of skepticism among the “lamestream” press over the hysterical claims coming from Obamacare’s entrenched opponents?

First there was Eric Stern’s instant classic, “Inside the FoxNews Lie Machine”, where Stern fact-checked three sets of guests in a Sean Hannity interview. Then a couple of days ago Jim Tankersley of The Washington Post reported a story out of Rome, Georgia on a guy convinced his small business failing was entirely Obama’s fault.  (By all means read through the comments section on that one.) Then yesterday we had Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times doing the same thing as Mr. Stern in a piece titled, “Another Obamacare horror story debunked”.

Continue reading “Hope and Branding”

You don’t know nothing about Affordable Care — unless you watch the Daily Show

obamacare

Writing for MinnPost, my friend John Reinan declares the Affordable Care Act to have had “the worst new-product rollout in memory.” He writes:

[T]hree years after the passage of Obamacare — which itself took place after two years of heated, publicized debate — Americans understand very little about the program. In fact, a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half of all Americans (44 percent) don’t realize that Obamacare is actually the law of the land. Fewer than one in four Americans has gotten any information recently about the health care law from a doctor, a health care organization, a federal agency or a state agency.

That’s just nuts. With three years to inform the public about the new law, the federal government has failed miserably. If this were a new car, a new soft drink or a new movie, people would be getting fired.

Emphasis mine. Perhaps this is a bit different in Minnesota, where our state’s new health insurance exchange, MNsure, has launched a full-on marketing assault in the lead-up to Obamacare open season in October. According to WallStCheatSheet.com:

Minnesota’s marketing scheme was also designed to address another problem; Kaiser’s August survey also showed that a large proportion of respondents, 19 percent, said they got most of their information about the Affordable Care Act from comedy programs like The Daily Show, while just 14 percent said they got most of their information from state agencies.

The god damned Daily Show. With an un-American (literally) as its pinch-hitting host for the summer. Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what your Daily Show can do for your country.

Ship-for-Brains Kmart

For many of us, our biggest strength often also turns out to be our biggest weakness.  For ad agencies, their biggest strengths often are their creativity and sense-of-humor.  Those wacky guys in the skinny jeans and pointy shoes crack me up!  But when not checked by clients and agency grown-ups, that strength can sometimes manifest itself as a weakness.

Witness K-Mart’s ad agency, Draftfcb.   (You can already tell how hip they are just by the funky corporate name.)  This is the assignment Draftfcb was given:  Promote Kmart as an online shopping outlet, something Kmart is lightly associated with.

But, it’s also critically important that any ad agency also be mindful of the overall brand backdrop for their narrow marketing assignment:   Historically, K-mart has had shitty stores, a shitty customer experience, shitty customer service, and shitty products, and, consequently, a shitty brand image.  Kmart desperately needs to change both the reality and perception of its wall-to-wall shitty-ness.

So, Draftfcb created, and Kmart approved, this gut-buster:

Continue reading “Ship-for-Brains Kmart”

What We Learned From Four Debates.

1. Say what you believe.
2. Short is better than long.
3. Be specific…
4. But don’t get buried in detail.
5. What you do matters more than what you say.
6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit.
7. Don’t whine to the moderator.

So, from a communications coach who never took a debate class, here’s my view, presented at lower decibel levels than when I yelled at the TV screen over the past weeks.

1. Say what you believe. When Mitt Romney said in the last debate that Putin wouldn’t get more flexibility after the election, as President Obama had told him, “He’ll get more spine,” it was a solid hit. Romney believes that, it’s not just a message point, he believes he’s a tough negotiator. He said it with conviction and it rang true. Not true in an ultimate sense, but true in his voice, in his guts. And when Obama said several times in the second and third debates, “Governor, everything you said is just not true,” he had more color and variety and inflection in his voice than in his other points. “You’re the last person who’ll get tough on China,” Obama said, with a solid ring. Even though that was no doubt a practiced line, the president believes it, and you could tell it in the passion in his voice. The stuff he said before that was just blah-blah and he delivered it to the moderator — then he turned to Romney and said it to his face, “Governor, you’re the last…”

In my coaching, i have people start a talk or an interview with what they most believe. No warm-ups, no preliminaries, get what you care about out right away. It brings out the real person, not the practiced person or the image one has decided to project. Imagine — say what you believe. It comes out more concise, in more conversational language, and with more of the speaker’s personality and passion engaged and evident.

2. Shorter is better. Obama often went on too long. He’d make a strong point, but had to layer on more context, which obscured the original point. Romney’s “He’ll get more spine” was powerful because it was short. So was Biden’s “But I always say what I believe” when Paul Ryan said Biden knows about how words don’t always come out the way one wants them to. Romney looked the worst when he was challenged and would go into a filibuster, flooding the room with verbiage in a faster higher voice that made him sound like a kid trying to explain about the cookie jar.

Say what you have to say and shut up.

3. Be specific… Assertions with no examples or specifics to back them up are just marketing blather. I’ll cut the budget. HOW? WHAT? Obama said Romney’s foreign policy is the same as Bush’s. How much stronger to back up that assertion with “Seventeen of your twenty-four advisers on foreign policy served in the Bush administration that got us involved in a disastrous war on false pretenses. Why should we believe you’ll do any better with this crowd?”

4. But don’t get buried in detail. When Obama explained for the second and then the third time, in the first debate, how his health care board was constructed and what it would do, you knew he was toast. Too much ‘splainin’. The point is — “Would you rather have insurance companies deciding what gets covered and for how much, or representatives of patients and medical staff?”

5. What you do matters more than what you say. Obama lost the first debate before he had two sentences out of his mouth. As so many have observed, he looked down, he looked pissed, he looked like this whole thing was just too stupid for words. Watch Bill Clinton in his recent talks for Obama — the guy’s alive, having fun, smiling — you want to hear him. In the second debate, Romney walking up to the president and saying, over and over like a petulant kid, “Have you looked at your pension, have you looked at your pension…” looked like a jerk and gave the president an opening for a smartass cutting retort. Which brings us to…

6. Talking points and zingers are bullshit. Obama said “My pension isn’t as big as yours, Governor, it doesn’t take me that long to look at it.” Clever, made his supporters feel good, and probably doesn’t sway anyone. Same with “Horses and bayonets” and “The unraveling of the Obama foreign policy” and all the canned talking points and practiced zingers. They sound canned and practiced. Real people respond to people who sound like real people. Even better if they actually are real people who speak like people in my Point 1.

7. Don’t whine to the moderator. When Romney kept saying to the moderator that the president had the first answer so he should get the next one and that he should be able to finish — he looked like the dweeb running for student council vice president. And when Obama did the same, he sure as hell didn’t look like a man who could run a country or stand up to Putin or Boehner or anyone.

I’ve said many times I’d like to see debates with no moderator. The two candidates in a room, start the camera, see what happens, no rules. And in another debate have a town hall audience, they ask questions, but no moderator, see how these two people handle themselves as human beings.

I believe the more a person is himself or herself — not some practiced line-spewer — the more people respond.

But that’s just my opinion, and I could be wrong (thanks, Dennis Miller).

— Bruce Benidt

(Photo from npr.org)

Oprah A Lauder of Rowdy Crowder Souder

News Flash:  Rowdy Crowder William Souder’s book about environmental pioneer Rachel Carson, On a Further Shore:  The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, will be available at a book store near you on September 4, 2012.

And here’s the really big news.  Her Oprahness has recommended William’s book to her adoring book-buying throngs, via O Magazine’s list of books you should buy in September.  Congratulations, William!

William didn’t ask us to plug this, but it needed to be noted.  Buy the book, gang, or Oprah will not be pleased.

– The Management

Five Good and Bad Sideshows At Target Field

Since the Twins aren’t much to watch on the field these days, the sideshows start to take on more significance.  Target Field itself remains a draw.  Witness the fact that we still feel compelled to post Facebook photos of ourselves making the scene at games.    But beyond the overall venue are the sideshows, both the good and the bad:

The Bad

Mascot Race.  For some reason, almost all pro sports teams feel compelled to feature some sort of cartoon figure race.  Whatever charm they once initially had is long gone.  While Target Field’s mascot race is slightly better than Metrodome’s cartoon tire races, it is still very, very lame.  And does anyone else think it’s just a little crooked that Target’s corporate mascot has won more races at Target Field than Babe the Oxe, Squita,  and the others?  The corporate fix is obviously in.  Are you seriously telling me a mosquito can’t move faster than a bull terrier?

Every Day is Veteran’s Day.  Before I get hammered for this, please know that I’m extremely thankful for people who serve in the military, especially when they serve in places and ways the politicians should never have authorized.  Overall, we don’t thank them enough.  Still, the cynic in me wonders if the fact that pro sports corporations honor veterans every single game has something to do with “patriotic by association” brand building.  I hope I’m wrong, but that suspicion eats at me. I’ve worked in PR and marketing long enough to know that such crassness is a distinct possibility.  Yes, honor veterans on Memorial Day, July 4th and other special days.  But when the honoring is done every single game, several times per game, it starts to feel forced, cheapened and self-serving.  I’m sure I’m the minority on this issue.  But there, I said it.

Interlude Music.  I’m very, very old, but even I find myself longing to hear music at the game from the current decade.  Not only am I sick to death of 70s and 80s classic rock staleness, but the songs themselves just don’t fit the Minnesota venue.  “Just a city boy, growing up in South Detroit…”  Hello, can you say “hated division rival?”

The Wave. From a very young age, my kids learned that if they participate in The Wave, it will make them ineligible for 7th inning ice cream, and they will be suspended from attendance to the next game.  Sometimes parenting requires tough love.  The Wave is never acceptable at a baseball game, but the worst is when it is done when the home team is getting hammered.   Serious fans do not participate in expressions of “Yay, we’re so euphoric about being 10 runs down that we’re going absolutely bananas here at Target Field!”

Applause Signs.  The electronic scoreboard prompts to “ make some noise” also brings out my grumpy.  Call me old school, but I feel like fans themselves should decide when they feel like cheering.  And if fans aren’t feeling it – perhaps because the home team is hitting .150 with runners in scoring position – electronic begging comes across as just plain pathetic.

The Good

Kiss Cam. Though I’m strongly opposed to public displays of affection, I confess I’m a complete sap for the Kiss Cam.  From the “awww”-inducing octageneraian pecks to the twenty something’s scandalous tonsil ticklers, that old Kiss Cam always makes me smile, in spite of myself.

Hecklers.  Thousandaires lighting into gazillionaires with a string of creative insults — “I’ve seen snakes with better arms!”  — also brings a smile to my sourpuss face.  I don’t heckle, because my momma brought me up right.  Plus, I genuinely feel like the guys are usually doing their best.  But the fact that the powerless can feel free to let loose on the powerful, without fear that they will be punished for it…  Aint that America?

Kid Preference.  When ball players flip a ball into the stands, it’s almost always to a young kid.  When an adult fan kills himself to haul in a foul ball, they often give it away it to a kid, often a kid they never met before.  This is us at our best.  Would that our  collective fiscal decisions were borne of such magnanimity.

Candid Sales Pitches.  I always bought from the beer vendor who called out “Beer here, fifty-one dollars per six pack,” until he mysteriously disappeared.  I also love “Free Root Beer!  $4.75 delivery.”  Thankfully, that guy is still on the job.  I appreciate candor in the face of thievery.  If only the banksters were that transparent and self-effacing.

Take Me Out To the Ball Game.  I never tire of it.  I always sing it, badly.  That quote “a bad day at the ballpark is better than a good day at the office” must have been conceived during the sentimental singing of baseball’s national anthem.  “I don’t care if I never get back” indeed.  Bring us home, Buck:

– Loveland