The Tom Dougherty Blog
Today, we mourn the tragic and senseless loss of TV journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward, an event so shocking that I think we are now through the looking glass when it comes to violence and technology in this country.
The Virginia shooting is heartbreaking for a whole host of reasons and it took our collective breath away even amid a seemingly weekly occurrence of national grieving over shooting deaths.
We are now in a different era in which that kind of violence is no longer hidden. It is visceral and immediate. There is now no distance between us and the events as they happen.
Our conflicted relationship with technology.
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with our technology. We love it for the access it brings us and I do believe it has transformed our lives for the better.
On the other hand, it has lifted the lid of privacy clean off, leaving some of us feeling exposed. Many of us believe we are being unwittingly tracked by governments and corporations, and that our most personal information is available for anyone to see. (Think Ashley Madison.)
As the comedian Louis CK has said a few years ago, everything is amazing but no one is happy.
Now we’ve entered a more terrifying realm. If we thought being able to see beheading videos from ISIS was horrifying, we now enter the possibility that horrible acts will be shared via social media in real time. As much as I loathe to say it, there will be an unfathomable act being broadcast live by the assailant because that assailant has unfettered access to us and the world at large.
I am a technology freak, but the Virginia shootings and the videos that arose from it have given me pause. There is a video out there that I have no interest in seeing but was made available to the public minutes after the murders themselves.
The looking glass now reveals all.
I’m not one to mince my words. Ever. When it comes to the most heated of conversations, I’ll have an opinion, even if others might not want to hear it.
Now, I get it, I am a bit of a curmudgeon by nature, but that is a necessity of being successful in my business. Branding requires brutal honesty in the face of adversity.
This being said, here is a healthy dose of realism:
Just about every superhero film I’ve seen is an embarrassing testament to our modern times.
If you have been following the media outlets about Fantastic Four, you know there is a big blame game happening. The director, Josh Trank, doesn’t want to take ownership of the film (this is an edited version he was not happy with) while the 20th Century Fox is dropping hints that the mistake was in letting him direct it to begin with.
While the director and studio battle might be a problematic issue, the bigger problem is our role in all of this.
We have allowed these films to be made.
For every moderately decent superhero movie that’s been released, there seems to be five train wrecks. None of the Fantastic Four films has ever been good. Honestly, it’s about a rock man and his three weirdo friends. I don’t need any kind of scientific backstory to help me connect with them.
We’ve given bad (and some good) versions of flying men with capes, men who dress as bats and talk like the Randy Savage, dudes in spandex that shoot webs from their wrists, and angry green men in purple pants way too much of our attention.
My hope is that Fantastic Four is an omen for studios, directors and screenwriters. But most of all, I hope Fantastic Four is an omen for audiences because the studios will keep making superhero movies as long as we keep going to them.
They make money. (Well, not FF.)
Every weekend, I try to spend time with my grandchildren. They are the greatest wonder I could have asked for in my growing age. In them, I can see how quickly time speeds by and how I have wasted a lot of it. My own children have grown so fast and I am now as I remembered my parents to be.
When time is as precious as it is, wouldn’t it be best spent endorsing those things that are most worthy of it?
I think so.
So here is my promise: Superhero cinema, you will no longer be getting any of my time.
Will you join me?
FOXBORO, MA (August 21, 2015) – This just in. New England head coach Bill Belichick will start Brady in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, regardless of the outcome of the current court case pending in New York City.
Brady will be under center even if Tom Brady is still required by the court to serve his four-game suspension, punishments be damned.
Belichick signed Brady Quinn today, meaning the one-time Notre Dame star and current NFL Network analyst will be a New England Patriot and flaunt the ruling of Roger Goodell by wearing Brady on the back of his jersey and wear the number 12 in the season opener.
The move comes on the heels of statements by New England owner Robert Kraft who said he was “wrong to put my faith” in the NFL, so Belichick is taking it one step further.
Belichick said he is determined to have a Brady on the field when the NFL starts the 50th season of the Super Bowl era on September 10.
Said Belichick: “We always stick to our plans, which is that Brady is our starter. All we ask him to do is to do his job.”
Asked one reporter, “Hasn’t all this gotten out of hand?”
Belichick responded: “We’re on to Pittsburgh. Next question.”
Further Brady plans.
It seems that starting Brady is only part of the plan. The Patriots are changing the name of its stadium, currently called Gillette Stadium, to Brady Companies Stadium, named after the local heating and air conditioning company in Lowell, Massachusetts.
In addition, the national anthem at the season opener will be sung by Irish folk singer Paul Brady, with the remaining cast of The Brady Bunch being made honorary captains for the opening coin flip.
It was also rumored at press time that former New Orleans defensive end Brady Smith would come out of retirement and sign with the Patriots. Stealing Share has not been able to confirm this report.
The NFL has refused comment.
There are two brands in the news today and I can only imagine one of them coming out relatively unscathed. Former Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle pled guilty to child pornography charges, while the website Ashley Madison was hacked, leading to a public outing of users who signed with up with the adultery website.
I use the word “relatively” above because I believe both brands are hurt by what happened, just by different degrees. The more direct and potentially crushing blow was suffered by Ashely Madison because its brand is all about secrecy. That was the only reason why it existed. Affairs happen all the time, but Ashley Madison promised anonymity and an iron wall that would keep your secret safe.
Not anymore. The hackers released the emails of more than 33 million users, including many in the military and government. (A radio station in Australia told a woman on air that her husband had signed up.) That’s embarrassing and a backbreaker for the Ashley Madison brand.
What Jared Fogle means to Subway.
The Subway Jared Fogle situation actually interests me more. I do not think that Subway is in any danger of becoming extinct and, in fact, will still survive successfully. But Subway, which has the most fast food locations in the nation, even more than McDonald’s, is not exactly raking in the bucks like it used to collect.
Sales are falling and there are several reasons for it. Subway has owned the fast casual sector that’s less about getting something fast through the drive-thru and more about coming into the store and eating quickly. But competition is increasing as newcomers like Chipotle take market share.
For a brand to succeed, it must be an emotional reflection of those when they use the brand. That’s how brands become preferred. For Subway, those emotional reflections have rested on the reputations of its celebrity spokespeople – and that can become a problem. When you are associated with a real person, any scandal reflects on you.
The Fogle scandal doesn’t directly impact Subway because the chain reacted quickly to it, releasing him from his contract as soon as he was charged. But it spoke to a larger problem for Subway in that it is very reliant on those celebrities. It often trots out athletes, such as NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, but athletes are generally short-term faces of a brand unless that athlete is transcendent. (Griffin is not.)
Even if the athlete or celebrity is transcendent, it’s a dangerous game to play. You are depending on a personality to sell your brand, not the brand itself.
As competition continues to invade Subway’s space, the more it needs to make the brand, not the celebrity, the important reason to choose. Otherwise, another scandal may eventually doom it to irrelevancy.
Just don’t make your brand about something in which you will fail, like Ashley Madison. Make it about your customer.
It’s that time of year again.
The time when everywhere you look, the artificially concocted blend of pumpkin spice has been added to everything you eat and drink.
The pile of goods sold with the fake melange of pumpkin spice is absurd. That’s why when I read Starbucks was going all in with a natural pumpkin spice, I took notice.
Natural ingredients are emerging in the QSR industry.
A latte with real pumpkin in it. What on Earth they think up next?
All snark aside, the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte is, in actuality, a part of a radical trend occurring in the Quick Service Restaurant industry; a topic we’ve spent much time deliberating on at Stealing Share.
This simple switch by Starbucks is an acknowledgment of the public’s desire to eat healthier food. It’s why Panera has recently trashed 150 artificial ingredients from it’s menu.
It’s also why chains like McDonald’s and Taco Bell are trying their best to come up with alternatives to the antibiotic laden foods that have riddled each menu. But that’s not working to so well either.
And so Starbucks too has joined the fresh food club.
Starbucks should fix all artificial ingredients, not just one at a time.
My hope is that Starbucks quickly sees the benefit in having natural pumpkin spice in its lattes, and opts to fix the entire menu quickly.
In my eyes, an establishment like Starbucks should recognize that it is already seen as a place that offers you the freshest and best ingredients. It does not have permission to be a McDonalds, Burger King or Taco Bell.
By doing so, rather than snipping the dog’s tail an inch of the time, the public won’t feel like they’ve been duped with artificial ingredients and flavors.
As a business owner (and someone who has worked in the corporate world for more than 30 years), I found The New York Times story on the Amazon corporate culture to be appalling.
Supported by interviews with more than 100 current and former employees, NYT found a culture that encourages employees to backbite their peers, toil long hours, rarely take vacations and avoid any personal complications. The story outlined examples of employees who were docked performance ratings because they missed time to treat cancer and a company-wide rating list of employees was instituted to fire the bottom ones on the list.
To me, that doesn’t sound like a company that fosters innovation, growth and team building. (That’s especially true when you compare that culture to what takes place at other tech companies, such as Google and Facebook.)
The true effect of the Amazon NYT story.
But, as a brand guy, I can’t see this having much impact on Amazon’s effectiveness in its market. Truth be told, consumers don’t care.
I say that even though the NYT piece is currently trending on social media and mainstream media outlets are reporting on it, with the Amazon story being one of the lead stories on The Today Show this morning. (Following an interview with Donald Trump, of course.)
But we’ve seen something like this before. While it wasn’t about the demands of its corporate culture, Walmart has been known for barely paying employees a livable wage, and the fast food industry has that same reputation. Many of the employees at Walmart and in the fast food industry are paid so little they are living below the poverty level.
While the fast food industry’s sales are slipping, that’s because of a shift in the eating habits of consumers. It’s not because of a form of protest.
And Walmart continues to be the giant amid the Lilliputians of the rest of the retail industry. It accounts for more than 2% of the gross national product in the US and far outsells the competition.
No, the blowback on Amazon will only come in the form of recruiting and retaining employees, which will have its own long-term ramifications to be sure. It will not affect its bottom line right now because it has a brand to protect itself.
We’ve seen this issue before. And, if you have a brand that is coveted by the marketplace, then the marketplace will sadly shrug and keep on buying.
The Debate Format
Stealing Share sponsored a quick survey of people who watched the Republican debate on August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The results are not terribly surprising but interesting none the less. The format of the debates raised a lot of hackles because of the sheer number of debaters. The viewers who took the study were evenly divided when asked if there were too many debaters.
But they were less divided when asked if too many debaters were left out. Only 26% believed the field should have included the debaters that took part in the pre-debate debate.
Donald Trump was the favorite candidate entering the debate by a large margin as 51.8% of the respondents held Trump as their favorite. None of the other candidates broke into double digits.
Did the debate change anyone’s mind?
We wanted to know so we asked. As it turns out, 26% of the respondents did have a change of allegiance after watching the debate but 74% stayed loyal to their pre-debate choice. The respondents hailed from both major parties with only Libertarians underrepresented. 40% said they were registered Republicans and 7.9% identified themselves as members of the Tea Party. Assuming that Tea Party supporters tend to vote Republican, roughly 50% of the respondents could be classified as being Republican. Democrats made up 28% of the study and 22.5% called themselves Registered Independents.
Three quarters of the respondents said they watched the entire debate and two thirds said they watched the post debate commentary. There were only small differences in viewing when we broke it down by political party affiliation. Independents tended to watch less of the debate with approximately 50% saying they did not watch the entire debate.
Who did they prefer after the debate?
The winners here were Donald Trump, John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Ben Carson with Trump still leading by double figures. Jeb Bush and Chris Christie seemed to have lost the most ground. But the negatives seems most severe with Governor Christie and Rand Paul. When asked who they would not be willing to support in the general election, many of the top candidates had very high negatives with Donald Trump being the most polarizing. He was the favorite and in the top five of those whom voters would not support.
Ben Carson had the fewest objections to voters in the general election and Marco Rubio seems acceptable to most voters.
When we queried respondents about the issues that were most important to them in this election, only reasonable gun control and changing the US to a Christian country were considered unimportant. There were some interesting differences between these issues when we looked at the motivations of the Trump supporters.
Generally speaking, the Trump supporters had higher intensities in the issues that mattered to them. And they mimicked closely the campaign talking points of the Trump campaign itself. Only reasonable gun control was viewed as unimportant with the Trump supporters and they were in favor of making the US a Christian country— unlike the rest of the respondents who did not favor this constitutional change.
Being politically correct is a loser’s game.
Bear with me on this because I will ramble about a bit. It just feels to me that the United States is suffering from a disease (from the root, dis-ease). We are overcome in a fatal desire to remove emotion and meaning in our communications and demote all of our messaging to Pablum. We risk losing our ability to communicate effectively by offending no one and intellectualizing our communications to remove any hint of human emotion. (Read an article I wrote a while back on Political Correctness and Branding)
Here is a case in point. For years, around the same time as the North Carolina State Fair, a rival venue pitches its tents in Winston-Salem. It is an old fashioned fair that has never pretended to be anything more than what it is. It does not pretend to be instructive or educational. It is just about carnival frivolity. Sure, there are 4H competitions but for the most part this fair is about carnival rides, greased pig catching, fried butter and everything else that can be dipped into batter and hot oil and carnival side-shows with an embarrassing bent towards a carnival freak show. Don’t worry, no one is complaining about the political incorrectness of paid freaks and oddities. Nope. The hubbub has been all about this fair’s name. It is and has always been called the Dixie Classic. Go figure. Luckily, for the sake of nothing more than tradition, the movement to get this politically incorrect festival of obesity, birth defects and care-less animal shows has decided to keep its name.
What is wrong with us? We will be gutting everything of emotion and living in a world of a single flavor ice cream store that foolishly serves only vanilla.
We tell all of our brand clients that the price of clarity is the risk of offence. If you are building a brand that is meant to appeal to literally everyone and offends no one— you have no brand. You have a category description.
I agree with recent fervor over the Confederate battle flag (which indeed has become racially charged since the 50s and 60s) that it should not be flown over state capitals. But the destruction of Civil War memorials is a different beer. We all watched in horror when the Taliban destroyed the two Buddha sculptures because it offended Islam.
But we don’t seem to be upset over the defacing and proposed destruction of statues erected a century ago to honor men who fought and died in the Civil War. Why? Because we do not know our own history. If you believe we should tear down those memorials because these men fought on the wrong side of slavery you are historically blind. Based upon that sort of historical ignorance we should tear down the Washington Monument. The founders of this country like Washington, Jefferson, Madison and others were slave holders. They fought a war with England (which had outlawed slavery) to protect and continue their own way of life. In effect, Southerners during the revolution were also fighting to maintain their warped pro-slavery lifestyle.
No, I am not suggesting that we pillory Washington. What I am suggesting is that we recognize our history and accept it as it is. Warts and all.
What’s next on this politically correct terrorism? Should we tear down all the confederate memorials at Gettysburg and Sharpsburg (Sharpsburg is what the Confederacy called the battle of Antietam).
Stop this. History is history and we cannot rewrite it. We should revel in its twisted wonder and not pretend we fully understand all the motivations that fed its fires.
If you are worried about dumbing down your brand to reach a politically correct agenda, think again. Never apologize for the emotional cues that drive preference or adoption.
A Politically Incorrect Hero.
Here is my final jab at a historical politically correct speech.
President Eisenhower received a letter from a constituent while he served as our President challenging his habit of hanging a few portraits of some of the greatest Americans that he admired. Among those few portraits was one of Robert Edward Lee, better known to us as General Robert E. Lee.
President Eisenhower took the time to write his challenger back and I leave his response here for your consideration. Remember, Ike was a Northerner. He was the top military figure in the world before his Presidency and a student of history. Here is Ike’s response:
August 9, 1960
Dear Dr. Scott:
Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War between the States the issue of secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.
General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.
From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s caliber would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.
Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
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