Sunday, June 12, 2016
Over the last decades, I've made a lot of clients a lot of money. Some were stagnant brands. Others were funded startups. In both cases, the cure for their ills was a true brand strategy that actually delivered more money on the bottom line (which is what brands and brand strategies are supposed to do, if you didn't know). It was good for them and good for me.
Throughout the course of my cavalcade of clients, I always advised them that a true, productive brand strategy possessed four irreplaceable aspects in order to function. Three out of four would never work. It had to be all four or nothing. Those four were authoritativeness, defensibility, credibility and clarity. Simple, right? I could issue a discourse on all four, but on this outing, I'd like to stick to one in particular: clarity.
The other day, I was up early in the morning, on a Saturday where there's not much to watch other than rehashed news, pathetic infomercials and -- because I'm a big fan of retro television -- reruns of TV shows from the 1950s. On this Saturday, I was treated to an episode of The Roy Rogers Show , a quintessential weekly western and was suitably impressed. The entire show was in black and white. The plot was thin, the soundtrack was thinner. The dialogue could have been phoned in. And the outcome was predictable.
I loved it. But why did I love it so much?
It's not so much that I'm a fan of sub-par production values, nor am I a soppy, weeping sentimentalist. I never watched the show when it first ran, because I wasn't even on the planet its first time out. After thinking about it, however, I hit upon the answer: Clarity.
Watching The Roy Rogers Show -- and just about any TV show from the 1950s and early 1960s -- one realizes that everything and everyone is clearly depicted for who and what they are. The good guys wear white hats; the bad guys wear black hats. When the bad guys steal stuff, everyone knows it's wrong and the good guys go after them. Nobody sits around debating why the bad guys stole the bank deposits, or whether stealing the bank deposits should really be classified as a crime. The good guys see a wrong and right it. In 28 minutes, the crime is committed, the case is solved and justice is done, usually ending with the bad guys going to jail. No psychologists in the old west. No Facebook mobs or social justice warriors confusing the issues.
Retro television is an amazing looking glass, reflecting the clarity of an American society from another day. Attorneys and lawyers, for example, understand that it is not their duty to "get their clients off," but to see that their clients are afforded a fair trial. Prior to 1970, the majority of Americans expected their legal representative to hold prosecutors accountable, but in no instance did a guilty defendant expect to go free. After 1970, it became a whole new ball game, where lawyers weren't hired to assure fairness, but simply to help the defendant avoid accountability. Since then, the only reason why defendants hire lawyers are to get the charges dismissed, hung up via mistrial or derailed through delays and technicalities. The present legal system, it seems, has lost all clarity, taken down by obfuscation and a distorted sense of purpose.
The more you look around, the more lack of clarity you can see. Prior to the year 1980, for example, the United States military was charged with one basic mission, which was to identify a threat, pursue the threat and eliminate the threat -- with deadly force, if necessary. Very simple, very clear. I assure you that the Second World War was won with little hesitation. It was planned, executed and terminated. Not so today, where despite technological wonders, many lethal strikes are delayed until permissions are sent up and down the chain of command, micro-managing decisions that in an earlier day were triggered in micro-seconds. Again, no clarity.
Nor is the lack of clarity limited to foreign battlefields. As a result of Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, police can no longer distinguish which crimes will portray them as heroes or criminals. They see wrong, but hesitate to perform their duties lest they be prosecuted, suspended, fired or jailed. Outside a recent political rally in San Jose, California, where protesters beat and bloodied an innocent, peaceful audience, the cops just stood by, unsure of what they should do.
Of course, there will always be those who seek to escape accountability due to extenuating circumstances. In some case, there might be extenuating circumstances. But those are the exceptions, not the rule. I suspect a lot of people would be a lot happier if they knew what was right, what was wrong and that everyone was playing by the same rules.
In the meantime, stay safe and keep hoping you never need to call a cop.
Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Dinner With Uncle Sam
It was my Uncle Sam's birthday recently, so a few of my cousins and I decided to take him out to dinner. Sam has always been a big, generous guy who's been like a second father to us all, so we wanted to make the occasion special.
"Where would you like to go, Sam?" asked Bernie. "Any place you want to go! Money is no object!" Sam sat and thought about it. Then Hillary piped up. "Sam, you deserve a really special dinner. I know a great place you'll love, I promise. You can trust me." Again, Sam furrowed his brow in thought. A minute later, Donald made another suggestion. "How about Al's Steakhouse?"
Uncle Sam's contentment turned to discomfort at Donald's suggestion. "Gee," he drawled, "I don't know about Al's Steakhouse. I'm not so sure about the food there." All three cousins asked what happened. Then Uncle Sam told us about the last few times he ate at Al's.
"The first time, I ordered the seafood and it was delicious. Came with rice on the side and a nice dessert. But before I left the table, my stomach felt awful and I had to run to the bathroom with a horrible case of the runs. A week or two later, I ate there again. This time I had a shrimp salad and a pasta dish. I was just finishing a small pastry dessert when I suddenly became nauseous and threw up right on my shoes! I figured maybe it was some bad shrimp that night. But two weeks after that, I had a wonderful steak with a baked potato. No dessert, but a fabulous clam chowder as an appetizer. Sure enough, before I could finish the potato, I felt dizzy, passed out and had to be taken to the emergency room."
"That's sounds awful!" my cousins echoed in chorus. "Maybe we shouldn't go to Al's," offered Donald. "No, no," insisted Bernie. "We must go to Al's. A few bad meals doesn't mean that all of Al's food makes people sick. After all, Uncle Sam got sick, but not everyone who eats there get ill!" Hillary agreed with Bernie. "I know the owners of Al's Steakhouse and I am very sure that this is all a coincidence. I go way back with the owners. I doubt they'd want to poison you, Sam."
Donald looked at them both with dismay. "Wait a minute," he cautioned. "Sam's gotten violently ill not once,, not twice, but three different times in the very same place. I don't think he should go back there at all, at least not until they figure out what's making him sick."
Bernie and Hillary grew incensed. "You can't do that!" they objected. "You don't know which food made him sick! Just because he fell ill after two or three meals doesn't mean that all of Al's food is bad! You're an extremist! It's not fair to Al's to simply avoid the place altogether!"
Donald squinted his retort. "Let's see, when Sam doesn't eat at Al's, he's fine. But when he does eat at Al's he gets sick. As far as I'm concerned, until we know specifically which food there makes him sick, we need to keep him out of there. Once we find out which foods make him sick, we can take him back there."
Sam nodded in agreement. "I like Al's Steakhouse," he said. "One day, I'll go back there. But not until I know which meals are making me ill."
"Sam, I must object," lectured Bernie. "Al's is a great institution. They deserve our respect." "I have to agree," added Hillary. "You should take another chance at have dinner there in order to avoid offending them."
"I think I'll go with Donald this time," smiled Uncle Sam. "It seems safer for my health."
"You made the right decision, Sam," smiled Donald. "If you stay out of Al's there's no chance that any of their food can make you sick. And to show there's no hard feelings, I'll pick up the tab."
Saturday, April 09, 2016
What Feminism Hath Wrought
"How was your date?" I asked, reaching for my coffee.
"Awful," she replied. "That's over for good." Apparently, they'd been getting along fairly well, but the sex, she volunteered, was horrible. "He was just performing. I asked him, 'What are you doing?' and he said, 'I just want to please you.' It was weird. The guy had obviously watched too much porn. Whatever happened to making love?"
Quite honestly, it was more than I needed to know. I actually just wanted to find out if the restaurant at which they'd dined was any good, but her revelation did manage to hijack the conversation into a much more interesting direction, mainly because I'd been hearing the same type of complaints from people her age and younger. Just about all of the single people I know, from kids in their teens to middle aged peers had voiced similar sexual disappointments to me.
I know. I'm that kind of guy. People tell me stuff. But hear me out on this, because what I suspect we're witnessing is no small thing. And despite the title of this piece, it's not what you think I'm going to say. Yes, I'm going to lay this at the feet of feminism, but not for the reasons you expect.
You should know that I personally harbor no bias regarding gender roles. I happen to love holding people accountable to my one set of impossibly rigorous standards, regardless of their ilk. My scrutiny knows no sexual preference. So in that sense, I've always somewhat supported feminism. And then one day, I watched as feminism's reach began to exceed its grasp, most notably with Gloria Steinem's pronouncement in the 1960s that "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." At the outset, it seemed to make sense, prying women off of their dependence on men. Good idea for anyone who valued freedom and independence. It really did open the eyes of both men and women to a whole new world of choices awaiting them. What it didn't do was let them know that a fish without a bicycle rides both ways and that years later, everyone from kids to middle aged matrons would be paying for it:
Men no longer needed to depend on women, either.
The sexual liberation of both men and women gave rise to sexual freedom, but also undermined the main reason why people used to get married, so there was no longer any real reason for men to ever want to get married. After all, men could dine out any time, without any of the maintenance costs. They could have kids out of wedlock, pay child support and never suffer the inequities of community property. And in the worst cases of sexual need, Steinem's quip about fish and bicycles was soon displaced by men's realization that they don't pay prostitutes for sex, they pay them to leave.
Add the mainstreaming of pornography to mix and it becomes clear as to how romance simply became obsolete. Most kids and people now learn about sex and romance from movies and porn, which leaves them pathetic at both. What was once courtship leading to love and sex is now swiping right, leading to hook up and disappointment. People really think life is a quick cut movie with no transitioning scenes. At this stage, most of them don't know that they're missing because they've never seen it. And most of them are left bewildered and unsatisfied.
The constant overreach of feminism into emasculation certainly hasn't helped. Stupid TV Dads and ever more ridiculous degeneration of male gender roles have continued their relentless attacks on primal masculinity. For every John Wayne of yesteryear there are now two Pierce Brosnans, Ben Afflecks and George Clooneys. You know, women with penises. Not the best role models for those attempting to reconcile their natural maleness with society's distorted views. Somewhere along the line, feminism crossed over from equal opportunity to denigration and opposition of gender roles. That doesn't sit well with most men -- and from what they tell me, it doesn't play all that well with women, either. After all, if someone called you up every day to tell you how wrong you were about who you are and what you do, how long would you welcome their calls?
You want everyone in the game to have an equal shot in the marketplace? I'm right there with you. You want to be politically correct and accommodate far-fetched excesses of feminism? Knock yourself out. But then don't complain about a harsher world without love and understanding of what makes men and women, well, men and women.
You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
And when two lovers woo
They still say, "I love you"
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings
As time goes by
Moonlight and love songs
Never out of date
Hearts full of passion
Jealousy and hate
Woman needs man
And man must have his mate
That no one can deny.
Sunday, March 20, 2016
No matter what generation in which you are born, there are certain lessons you learn at your mother's or father's knee, or more accurately, at the end of their pointed fingers. Everyone has heard the constant refrains about washing their hands before eating dinner. Another old saw has to do with how long after lunch one has to wait before going swimming. You know the drill, right? These are warnings we've all heard a million times, and because we've heard them, we now know not to cross the street until the light turns green.
There does come a time in one's life, however, when we simply have to temper the warnings of childhood with the wisdom of experience. Just as most of the adult world has figured out that "not stopping that" hasn't -- and probably won't -- render them blind, there comes a time when some of our childhood fears have to be re-examined or even reversed.
Among those that we reverse is our fear of electricity. As kids, we're warned to stay away from electrical outlets because we're told that one finger on a bare wire could electrocute us. Electrocution burns the skin and shocks the nervous system. Electricity can kill you. But like fire, electricity has its good points, too. It powers everything in our lives, from can openers to large screen televisions. Without electricity, there is no internet, no communications. In fact, without electric power, our entire civilization breaks down and the system as a whole dies.
So imagine the fear one must endure when his physical health is in jeopardy. The doctor confirms that your heart isn't performing properly. That vascular pump -- itself driven by bio-electrical power -- is the engine of your overall health, distributing oxygenated blood and nutrients throughout the rest of your body, enabling all other organs to function. But now, your doctor says, your heart is slowing down, and not performing its function. In turn, those vital organs aren't functioning well. They're breaking down and malnourished. This, your doctor tells you, means that your whole system is breaking down. Not good.
As you mull the bad news, you fall asleep, waking only to the sound of rush and panic. Your eyes barely open to reveal a team of technicians surrounding you. One has two silver paddles pressed to your chest and yells, "Clear!" At that moment you realize that he's going to electrocute your, jolting you with a shock in order to restart your heart.
Emotionally, you know that the same electricity of which you were warned is approaching, and that the very same danger about which your parents wagged their fingers is about to send its power through you. It's scary. You've never done it. Yet rationally, you know that if the doctor doesn't do it, that's it. The end. Your heart won't restart. Your organs won't be restored to their previous vigor. Your whole system will break down -- for good.
I don't blame people for harboring fear. I do blame people for harboring irrational fear, especially when their entire system is about to break down -- for good. At that point, you have no choice but to go with the effective option, because your survival depends on it. The question is whether you can overcome the irrational fear to get to the effective solution.
Especially when the only man holding the paddles happens to be a Republican.
Friday, March 04, 2016
By now you already know that I write a lot about issues tangential to branding, although most of the time, the topics on which I opine here are borne more from some glancing tangent having to do with brand strategy. Branding is about human behavior and the circumstances around them. Those who believe branding is about products or companies are way off base: Branding is all about people.
At the time of this writing, the United States is undergoing a presidential election unlike any in recent memory. And I don't use the phrase "recent memory" any too lightly here. The issues, candidates and voting blocs are strangely unfamiliar. To be succinct, this is not your traditional presidential election.
One of the characteristics I've observed about this election is that the opinions expressed by its most ardent participants seem to be derived from two primary sources:
1. Facebook memes
2. Comedy Central comedians
I know, it sounds odd to me, too. Because we live under the illusory existence of the "informed voter," which I assure you is about as real as the "informed consumer," neither of which has a good chance of being discovered any time before someone hauls in Bigfoot. We're somehow laboring under the outdated notion that people are still motivated to investigate, compare, challenge and discuss before they render their carefully-thought decisions. That process left the building ages ago.
In today's search-engine society, more people are inclined to push a button and expect an answer in a millisecond. Good for Google. Maybe not so good for you. Here's why:
It occurs to me that the internet (the popular usage of it) is now roughly 20 years old. That means anyone under the age of, say, 30, has pretty much spent his conscious life pointing and clicking. He's never known anything other than instant answers presented to him, rather than his own motivations to access alternate viewpoints on any given topic.
But it gets worse.
Those same Millennials also have spent their conscious years (any time after the age of 10, if I'm generous) never knowing any other political or economic environment than the last four years of George W. Bush and the last eight years of Barack Obama. Put it all together and the math produces the answer to why so many younger people embrace the likes of Bernie Sanders and eschew the man called Trump:
They simply haven't experienced what life was like before times got tough.
In what could be called Millennial Amnesia, those under 30 would have no memory of stable jobs, a thriving middle class, a strong defense, traditional notions of character or affordable lifestyles. They may have been breathing, but all that stuff vanished before they blew out the candles on their tenth birthday cakes, in an age when pimples are more important than politics. When you backdate them from their thirtieth birthdays, that means anyone born after 1990 or so -- people who are now eligible to vote -- make their decisions based on what they've grown up with and what they see on Facebook and Comedy Central. They never bother to investigate further, because they've never been taught to do so.
They dismiss the experiences of those senior to them because they never lived those experiences firsthand.
This would mean that an entire generation has grown up believing that a weak economy, unstable jobs, unaffordable lifestyles and the loss of traditional notions and character are normal, because to them, it really is. Even scarier is that they accept the current situations as normal and have no notion of why or how they'd remedy them.
I call it Millennial Amnesia. But maybe there's a better term. After all, you can't really forget what you never really knew.
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Apple, Privacy & Fools
I've written a lot of blog posts, and believe me, not all of them were tremendously popular. As soon as I've expressed my usual, iconoclastic views, those whose tolerance runs at lower levels either unsubscribe or write hate letters. I'm okay with both. It's the ones who have no opinion I lament the most.
This is one of those posts. I'll probably tick some people off, but if you can stand the rationality, I'd advise your sticking with it, at least to the end of this piece. Then, if you really think I'm out of line, well, I'll see you around.
In the meantime, what I have to tell you may come as a shock, especially if you're the type who gets his news and information from social media like Faceboook and Twitter. It only gets worse if you only watch lopsided "news" shows on FOX or MSNBC without balancing them off each other. If you're an American, this may bother you; if you're a young American, this will blow your mind.
As you probably know by now, in 2015, a couple of radical muslim terrorists decided to kill off 14 or 15 of their co-workers in the offices they shared together for five years in San Bernardino, California. There's no question that the married couple were guilty. Plenty of eyewitnesses and victims can attest to that. The couple can't weigh in, because they were killed by a volley of police bullets when they refused to be taken peaceably.
Along with an infant child, the couple left all kinds of compelling evidence, including their now famous iPhone, whose contents at the time of this writing remain encrypted by Apple's wundertechnology. The FBI wants Apple's help in decrypting the contents of the phone. Apple is steadfastly refusing, citing the dangerous precedent of "unlocking one person's phone means unlocking everyone's phone." Within moments of Tim Cook's announcements, thousands of Apple fanboys rallied to Apple's defense, citing their own right to privacy. For a minute, that seemed to make a lot of sense, until one realizes a very compelling, sobering fact:
In America, there is no such thing as a right to privacy.
Forget about whether you think Apple is aiding and abetting known terrorists. Put aside the fact that an iPhone is no different than a file cabinet or a safe deposit box. For the moment, think about the Constitution of the United States and how nowhere in that document is there anything even remotely close to a citizen's right to privacy. Nothing.
What you will find in the Constitution is the prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure. But if you read that carefully, that doesn't mean the government can't search you or seize your possessions. It means that it can't be unreasonable about the searches and the seizures. That's it. So you have to ask yourself this question: How unreasonable is it to search the contents of a proven, guilty, dead terrorist/criminal?
There's a reason the Founding Fathers wrote it the way they did: The Constitution was adopted when the nation was still young and very vulnerable. The government needed a balance between personal liberty and attacks on those liberties from within -- very much the same situation we now face with "moles" planted by radical muslim terorists. However, even the pursuit of those terrorists is accorded the concept of reasonableness. That's why prior to the cops raiding your residence, they have to find a judge who will sign a search warrant. The Feds and police can't just barge in and take what they please. The judge has to sign a warrant attesting to the fact that the search is reasonable and not arbitrary or illegal.
There's nothing in that warrant, by the way, that mentions anything about privacy, because privacy is not a right.
There's a lot of editorial out there bemoaning the entitlement of the younger generation. One needs only acknowledge the candidacy of Bernie Sanders to see proof of that. Another aspect of the Sanders campaign is its reliance on a lack of education, especially the way it fuses its advocates' wants and needs into a standard of rights. But they're not rights. They're wishes of people who have no education or knowledge about the Constitution.
And while they may wish privacy were a right, it isn't. It never has been.
I'm sadly bemused by the temerity of an armchair billionaire like Tim Cook, who prances about, merrily posing as the protector of free speech and privacy, when in fact he's doing nothing more than spinning a danger to the Republic for his own marketing purposes. There was a time when this country valued its collective responsibility to safeguard its citizens. We looked after each other because we wanted to, not because we were told to. Those days, apparently, are over.
Today, it seems perfectly fine to send a soldier to his death to protect your freedom. What you can't do is crack open a terrorist's iPhone, because, you know, that would infringe on a right that nobody in America ever had to begin with.
Friday, February 19, 2016
Why the IRS Will Never Die
Every four years, we here in America are treated to a national edition of American Idol, in which politicians of all stripes vie for the top spot in the American government. We call it "the national presidential election," but in so many ways, it more accurately resembles a talent show. Like the television show, it even has a national vote to help decided who the winner should be.
Just as predictable as the show, the national election dredges up the same acts and performances we've come to expect: Instead of the country music singer, we get the religious zealot. Instead of the opera soprano, we listen to the noble idealist. You can see where this is going. Every four years, it's a reprise of last season's show, with a few new twists.
One aspect that never changes, however, are the candidates' pie in the sky promises, the loudest of which is usually the pledge to "eliminate waste in government." Of those, the charge generating the loudest applause is in response to the politicians' mighty oaths to slay the dragon that is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
For those of you not in America, the IRS is the Federal government's organization responsible for monitoring taxation, collecting taxes and enforcing tax rules. It is not, to put it lightly, the favorite institution of American citizens, who view the department as the largest, laziest bunch of clock-punchers whose only mission is to make life as miserable. as possible for their fellow Americans IRS regulations are not only often inconsistent, they're so complicated that even its own experts can't figure out how to consistently apply the same regulations in identical circumstances. This makes compliance with IRS rules difficult at best and burdensome at most, costing American citizens and businesses a lot of time and money -- and that's not including the time lost when the IRS decides to audit them.
So it's no wonder that Americans love to hear politicians demonize the IRS and threaten its existence. More than one candidate has sworn to simplify the tax code, reducing a hundreds-page long tax form to a simple post card. Others have gone even further, vowing to wipe the department from the face of the earth.
Newsflash: It's never going to happen.
While promising and never delivering is nothing new in politics, there are simple reasons why nobody in power would ever want to abolish the IRS. In the first place, the IRS has employed, on average, roughly 110,000 people, all of whom are civil servants. That's a lot of jobs that can seriously increase the unemployment rate, especially when you figure that without an IRS, there aren't many places for those people to go.
But that's just a drop in the bucket:
The truth is that all that tax code confusion employs even more people in private industry. In fact, according to franchisehelp.com, "Tax preparation is BIG business – there were 300k people employed at 109k firms in 2012 - generating $9 billion in revenue in 2012. The industry grew over 2% from 2010-2015, and is expected to speed up the pace of growth. Revenues of $11 billion are forecast for 2018. " You show me one candidate that would boot another 300,000 people out of their jobs -- for a total of over 500,000 unemployed -- and I'll show you a loser.
Yet one more reason why nobody would shut down the IRS is that those 500,000 employees and the 109,000 tax preparation firms generate billions in tax revenue for the Federal government. How quickly do you suppose any of them would propose losing that income?
Yes, it sounds really nice to live in a world without the Internal Revenue Service. And yes, we really do have software that could probably handle the workload more efficiently than the hundreds of thousands of people currently sitting in cubicles. But don't hold your breath waiting for it to happen.
Remember, it's a national election. Politics. Nothing is going to happen unless Simon Cowell decides to run for President.