Monday, January 10, 2022

Participating in our own destruction.

I'm lucky, I guess. I'm one of those people who can find deep meaning in small things. And I'm one of those people who can pull disparate thoughts together and find a cohesion between them.

Many years ago, I don't remember where, I tripped over a statement about the purpose of brands. 

I mean, why do we have brands? What are they for? Why do they exist? 

The statement was simple but deep. Like a river. Or the eyes of a golden retriever. It said, "Brands exist to bring order to a disordered universe." In other words, when you're in a grocery story and there are 77 different types of bar soap to choose from or 18 frozen pizzas, how do you know which ones to choose. Brands bring order--and assign a set of attributes to a product and a category.

I've bought Dove soap virtually my entire life. That decision takes as much brain-space in my head as looking both ways when I cross the street. I don't rend my garments when the store is out of Dove. I don't crave conversations about Dove. I don't get Dove tattoos or love Dove. Dove is just one less decision I have to consciously make. 

The other day, our local super behemoth was out of Dove. I bought Dial. My world didn't collapse. I suppose MBAs would say I have a soap hierarchy lodged somewhere in that mass of bubbles we call a brain.

Occupy my mind for a moment and watch a bit of Citizen Kane with me. I know it's all hoity-toity, but it's just about the best movie ever made. 

To my mind as an advertising person, there's one scene that sticks out. Charles Foster Kane, Jedediah Leland and Bernstein are in the offices of Kane's first newspaper. Kane lowers the gas in the gas lamps and...

LELAND We'll be on the street soon, Charlie - another ten minutes. BERNSTEIN (looking at his watch) It's three hours and fifty minutes late - but we did it -               Leland rises from the chair, stretching painfully. KANE Tired? LELAND It's been a tough day. KANE A wasted day. BERNSTEIN (looking up) Wasted? LELAND (incredulously) Charlie?! BERNSTEIN You just made the paper over four times today, Mr. Kane. That's all - KANE I've changed the front page a little, Mr. Bernstein. That's not enough - There's something I've got to get into this paper besides pictures and print - I've got to make the "New York Enquirer" as important to New York as the gas in that light. LELAND (quietly) What're you going to do, Charlie? Kane looks at him for a minute with a queer smile of happy concentration. KANE My Declaration of Principles - (he says it with quotes around it) Don't smile, Brad - (getting the idea) Take dictation, Mr. Bernstein - BERNSTEIN Can't take shorthand, Mr. Kane - KANE I'll write it myself. Kane grabs a piece of rough paper and a grease crayon. Sitting down on the bed next to Bernstein, he starts to write. BERNSTEIN (looking over his shoulder) You don't wanta make any promises, Mr. Kane, you don't wanta keep. KANE (as he writes) These'll be kept. (stops for a minute and reads what he has written; reading) I'll provide the people of this city with a daily paper that will tell all the news honestly. (starts to write again; reading as he writes) will also provide them - LELAND That's the second sentence you've started with "I" - KANE (looking up) People are going to know who's responsible. And they're going to get the news - the true news - quickly and simply and entertainingly. (he speaks with real conviction) And no special interests will be allowed to interfere with the truth of that news.

To be blunt, every brand needs a Declaration of Principles. A public statement of what they do for people, how and why they do it. What's a website for if not for this? What's a label for? What's a commercial for? What's a trillion social channels for? 

How do you treat people? Why do you exist?

Coming off of New Year's, a hard year for our entire universe, I got forty-two thousand email messages and I was besieged by
self-serving ads, all imploring me to shop till I drop on a day that should be reserved for family and friends and reflection.

Brands are good at showing how eager they are to remove me from my money. They're not very good at demonstrating a true sense of caring.

I can't be the only person in the world who feels victimized and assaulted by the modern advertising industry. Every commercial is mixed too hot. Every announcer screams hyperbolically about a this-or-that-a-thon. Every dancing person offends my sense of taste. 

What's more--the crush of commercials has doubled over the last twenty years. If we used to get 24 minutes of programming in 30 minutes of time, we probably today get 20. It's all too much.

And too much evidence of brands and an industry treating humans like a coal-seam to be strip-mined.

This can't be good for anyone.

Not to mention brands and organizations like  American Bankers Association, Boeing, Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin and General Motors that continue to cut very big checks to the politicians and organizations that helped instigate and perpetrate the ongoing republican coup attempt.

As Kyle Herring president of Accountable.US, said in a statement: “Major corporations were quick to condemn the insurrection and tout their support for democracy — and almost as quickly, many ditched those purported values by cutting big checks to the very politicians that helped instigate the failed coup attempt. The increasing volume of corporate donations to lawmakers who tried to overthrow the will of the people makes clear that these companies were never committed to standing up for democracy in the first place.”

Yes, I've comically-blasted the Reads and the other Holding Company CEOs for their ageism and such, but where are they? What are they doing? Why are WE ENABLING THE DESTRUCTION OF OUR COUNTRY?

Oh, Chevy did a nice spot about restoring a 1967 Impala. Praise the lord. Then they run it on stations that promote fascism and lies and we grin and go along with it, all the while pretending we care about the world.

That's not good enough.

Where are our brands? Where are our principles? Where are we in this?

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