Sunday, June 12, 2016

Good Guys, Bad Guys

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.