Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Al Gore Runs for President 2008

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you may recall that I often reference the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004 as two examples where branding -- or the lack thereof -- played a huge part in the eventual outcome. In those pieces, I outlined that simple brand strategy dictated the results:

The fact that neither candidate, either time, could be associated with any strong viewpoint meant that, to the American public, each was generically identical to the other. Since neither would commit to an opinion, the only choice left was for voters to "go with what they know" rather than opt for "go with what they don't know." In George W. Bush's case, they went with Jesus. In Al Gore's and John Kerry's cases, they went with George W. Bush.

But all that has changed. In case you can't read the tea leaves, Al Gore is running for President in 2008.

Oh, sure, he hasn't officially declared. But he's done everything else he needs to do. It's all over but the filing. And if you don't believe me, take a brief journey back with me to my old high school days and it will all become eminently clear:

When I was in high school, I gave serious thought to running for student body president. I wasn't popular. Few people even knew who I was. And I was a B+ student at best, with an anemic SAT potential, which meant that anything I could tack on to my college application was bound to help, including the title of Student Body President. Being as unpopular as I was, I had to devise some tactic to get my popularity up and running. The problem was that the regulations for school elections threw a few nasty curves my way.

First, rules prohibited campaigning for office at any time other than during the official two week campaign period. Second, all campaign materials had to be produced by hand; no photocopied or mechanically-produced tags, buttons or posters were allowed. Of course what the rules didn't prohibit was another matter, entirely. Nobody said anything about printing up non-campaign related items by a mechanical process, so a few months prior to the election, I created an alternative publication to the school newspaper. It was a humor magazine, aimed straight at the high school administration. The articles, cartoons and pictures were completely free of the school's journalism censor, which meant every kid off the bus was eager to grab a copy.

Distribution on school grounds was illegal, but that was no big deal: we distributed on the sidewalk in front of the school, where the First Amendment guaranteed that every student had total access to every one of our sophomoric jokes and articles.

Within two months and three issues, I was known throughout the school as "the cool guy who publishes that alternative newspaper." By the fourth month, school campaign season had opened. I shut the paper down to comply with school rules and officially declared my candidacy for office. The election wasn't even close. I rolled over all the other challengers, crushing them so badly that there was no need for a run-off.

That story is 100% true. I still have copies of the papers to prove it. And if this story sounds familiar, it should. It's exactly the strategy that Al Gore is following on his quest for the White House. If you notice, he's kept his political agenda safely distant from anything having to do with Iraq, health care, 9/11 or Katrina. He's taken the safe road that nobody else wants -- the environment -- and gained awareness by releasing a theatrical motion picture,
An Inconvenient Truth. By taking a page out of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ book, Gore has figured out that people will go to see movieslong before they ever watch Tim Russert on Face the Nation.

So in one smooth move, Gore has finally embraced a single, safe issue (the environment) and distanced himself from the critical issues that place the planet in peril. Nice. On top of that, he managed to secure himself another thirty seconds on the global stage during this year's Oscar ceremonies. Double nice. In thirty seconds, billions of people got to see a powerful American crusading for an issue that actually affects their part of the world.

Which means that now, everyone knows Al Gore as the almost American President whose main issue is to save the world, no matter which part of it you happen to be polluting, physically, philosophically or otherwise. And by standing in the shadows, he's allowing fools like Hillary, Obama and the rest to beat the hell out of each othe and run out of gas before the campaign season has officially begun. Wonderfully efficient. Beautifully calculated.

Now, tell me again how Al Gore isn't running for President.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bono's Red Blunder

As I've written here before, one of the best feelings you can have in this life is being right. And the only feeling that beats being right, is being right when everyone insists you're wrong. So it was with a whole lot of laughs and not too little vindication that I read this latest tidbit about U2's lead singer and top egoist, Bono's utter failure to move the masses with his Red campaign.

According to Ad Age magazine, over $100 million has been poured into the campaign and one year later, barely $18 million has been raised as a result. Not exactly a stellar performance, considering that the campaign was launched with as much hubris and arrogance as the star could muster.

Why was I giggling at the article? Not because I enjoy other people's failure. And certainly not because I don't endorse compassionate giving to those less fortunate. No, I was having a good laugh at the stupidity of the campaign, which I was only too happy to predict on the day of the campaign's official launch.

For those of you who insist on seeing the evidence, here's the video link:
"Closing Bell: "Bono's Red Brand...Just More Hype?"

If you're not into video, it wasn't exactly tough to call Bono's Red campaign dead on arrival. First, it was a classic example of the Lemming Factor, where the media and other sycophants latch on to anything and anyone that glimmers with the faintest of fame. The bandwagon could be chartered straight to hell, but they'd jump on it just as fast, in order to rub up against whatever - or whoever - they think is famous this week. It doesn't matter what they're famous for, mind you, it's all for bragging rights.

Usually, those bragging right turn out to be worthless, especially if the celebrity you're rubbing against is the next O.J. Simpson or Britney Spears. Even spotting them average mental health, too often, ill-conceived campaigns springing from egotistical minds like Bono's are the result of spending way too much time believing the hype their press agents spin out, instead of focusing on the issues at hand.

Somewhere along the line, Bono became convinced that because millions of gullible kids could be slick-marketed into buying his records, he can probably get them to believe he can really walk on water, raise the dead -- and launch a brand. And while I can't claim to know anything about walking on water, I can definitely tell you this guy was dead in the water from the word go.

First, Red was created as a marker on products, signifying that part of your purchase would go to a charity of Bono's choosing. Most people think the money would go to AIDS and Africa, but the fine print always stated that the beneficiaries were to be chosen by Bono. The idea was doomed to fail, because while Bono may be able to yell and wail through a song, he's not quite as good at figuring out business strategies. It plainly hadn't occurred to him that tagging products with a logo doesn't increase sales for the participating companies. In fact, it actually cannibalizes sales, since the people who buy Red products were going to buy those products in any case, Red or no Red. Apple took a hit on Red iPods, because kids were buying iPods. Nobody bought an iPod because some of the money would go to AIDS relief. The GAP didn't see any new customers, either. In fact, one could argue that Red was a business killer.

Second, the whole notion of linking charitable giving to conspicuous consumption is patently absurd, and reeks of pure naivete. Totally transparent and lacking in credibility. Bono aimed his unneeded purchases at his unsuspecting public's wallets instead of their hearts and minds. As a result, nobody cares about Red. Nor should they. From the beginning, it was a tragic kind of farce, more demonstrative of the greed and lack of true humanity by which this generation has been consumed.

Nevertheless, where Hollywood treads, reason fears to follow. Bono managed to sucker in tons of corporate dollars, most of whom are now ruing the day they ever signed on to this fiasco. The only Red they'll get to see is on their bottom lines.