Just Above Sunset
March 20, 2005 - Just What Are We Selling?













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Last week at the end of the item on John Bolton, nominated to be our new UN ambassador, readers were alerted to this – there was a note that there was move afoot to work on bettering our relations with other nations.

 

Bush to Nominate Hughes for State Post

Bush to Nominate Longtime Adviser Karen Hughes for Key State Dept. Post to Help Repair U.S. Image

Anne Gearan - The Associated Press

 

Mar. 12, 2005 - President Bush will nominate one of his closest longtime advisers to a key State Department post in an effort to help repair the United States' image abroad, especially in the Arab world, a senior administration official said Saturday. …

 

And the day after Just Above Sunset went to press (or, more precisely went online) she was nominated.  Last week, our friend Vince, who teaches marketing to MBA students in upstate New York commented –

 

So to Bolton's new role... we now also bring back Karen Hughes (from her mommy sabbatical in Texas - kids must have been weaned already?) - the author of every word that emerged through W's earpiece during the election debates (my supposition, sorry, my bad!) as Under Secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs.  To do what?   Check this out - improve our overseas image and ensure that world opinion embrace the policies of GWB!

 

She's appointed with acknowledgment that her predecessors (most recently a "statesman" from Madison Avenue) somehow failed their duty to W!  Gosh...

 

So what?  She'll now control wireless earpiece technology to the UN as well?   How DO you reconcile this administration?

 

Watch in coming months for a new definition of SPIN, spin beyond spin, as if it never existed before our times...

 

Well, Vince brought up Karen Hughes and her new job – to follow up on the stunning success of Charlotte Beers last year.  Hughes will put together a marketing campaign to “sell America to the world.”  And Vince knows marketing.

 

Last Monday there was this –

 

Re-branding America

Marketing gurus think they can help 'reposition' the United States - and save American foreign policy

Clay Risen - The Boston Globe -  March 13, 2005

 

The idea in this critique?  ''America's problem is not with its brand - which could scarcely be stronger - but with its product.''

 

From the item - Tony Blair recently established a Public Diplomacy Strategy Board, an outgrowth of his earlier ''Cool Britannia'' campaign, to improve perceptions of the country abroad.  And in November, the Persian Gulf state of Oman signed a contract with the marketing firm Landor Associates to develop and sell ''Brand Oman.''  Wow.

 

And this - “Talking about freedom and democracy won't get us very far if those efforts are competing with Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act. In a media-saturated world, image matters, and people won't listen to our sales pitch if our policies send a conflicting signal.”  No kidding.

 

Consider the abrupt change in America's world standing from Clinton to Bush. Brand America under Clinton was all about multilateral humanitarian intervention abroad and Third Way liberalism at home; Brand America under Bush is the opposite.”  Double no kidding.

 

This all is amusing, including this history of such efforts -

 

Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell, concerned about rising anti-Americanism abroad, hired Madison Ave. maven Charlotte Beers to blitz the Middle East with pro-American advertising and PR campaigns. The goal, Powell said, was nothing less than to ''rebrand American foreign policy.'' Beers responded with gusto: During her 17-month tenure, the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs oversaw the launching of everything from a monthly pro-American, Arabic-language newsmagazine called Hi, to be distributed around the Middle East, to a series of TV spots featuring smiling Muslim Americans.

 

But Beers's PR campaign turned out to be a PR disaster. ''The US can't be sold as a brand,' like Cheerios,'' wrote the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board. To Naomi Klein, a columnist at The Nation and the author of ''No Logo,'' Beers's efforts echoed the propaganda efforts of Nazi Germany and other authoritarian regimes. ''It's no coincidence,'' wrote Klein in the Los Angeles Times in 2002, ''that the political leaders most preoccupied with branding themselves and their parties were also allergic to democracy and diversity.'' Beers left before many of her programs even got off the ground.

 

Yeah, it didn’t work.  And the Globe writer suggests we should, or Hughes should, focus on brand management rather than just brand promotion.  That is, work on the product, not the ad campaign.

 

Beers failed, says Simon Anholt, a British marketing expert and one of the world's leading proponents of nation-branding, because she tried to change people's minds without changing the ''product.''  ''What she and her team were doing resulted, and I'm tempted to use the word degenerated, far too quickly into communications,'' says Anholt, whose latest book, ''Brand America: The Mother of All Brands'' (Cyan), coauthored with Jeremy Hildreth, appears in the United States next month.

 

This of course, Risen says, calls for aligning our foreign and domestic policies with a well-researched set of national images, much as a successful marketing campaign requires a company to ''live the brand.''  The United States, for example, might brand itself as a nation of personal freedom, risk-taking, and cultural tolerance, and then coordinate policy around the promotion of that brand (by, say, expanding market-friendly foreign aid programs).

 

Is that going to happen, really?  Things aren’t tending that way.  In fact, there is a problem -

 

Talking about freedom and democracy won't get us very far if those efforts are competing with Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act.  In a media-saturated world, image matters, and people won't listen to our sales pitch if our policies send a conflicting signal.  In other words, we've got to ''live the brand.''

 

Oh, that!

 

Vince again writes from New York –

 

Ah, you remember your Marketing 101 well!

 

You'll recall that forever marketing has been based on a principle of 4 P's, and the VERY first P is Product.  It's not separate from marketing – it’s the very core.  (Do you remember the other 3?)  (Hint: "they" didn't include "People" as a 4 P - which has both confounded and amused me - go figure... even the textbooks authored in 2004! But Hope's students learn 6 P's...) 

 

This all supports the old B. Kliban cartoon I have on my wall entitled "The Birth of Advertising" which shows a horse with it's tail held high - little ad men in three-piece suits avec briefcase - plopping out to the ground...  but I digress...

 

The other thought that comes directly to mind - echoed in the Globe review - is one of hundreds of wise mini-truths told in witty one page lessons of modern business life by Harry Beckwith in a short book entitled "Selling The Invisible" - deserves to be on everyone's shelf (you can get it used on Amazon for $4 or $5)

 

Harry tells one story of working with a buddy for days in a closed cubical in their ad agency as a youngsters - struggling to come up with the right phrasing or jingle or whatever for their client - until their cubical stunk more of them than of bad ideas... and their boss rang their bell with the resonating truth: If you struggle to craft a decent message, it's not the ad, stupid - it's the product!   Fix the product first, and the ad will write itself.

 

Now Harry's wisdom only works for those with inherent interest in doing the right thing - right by their client, right by their "victims" - right in the old Shakespearian sense... to thine own self be true!  (Try teaching modern marketing to grown execs with those restrictions!)
 

PS - the other original marketing P's are Place (channel or distribution of "value"), Price and Promotion (ads come last, NOT first).  Hope adds - People (internal AND external), and Profit (not such a bad virtue according to Darwin).

 

Did I mention Vince teaches marketing to would-be MBA folks at a prestigious business school.  He does.  Send Karen Hughes!

 

  ___

 

Bonus

 

See this from the writer Will Durst - 30 tag lines to help Karen Hughes repair the image of the United States

 

… I got to say, creating the position of Spinmeister General does makes sense; at least we're playing to our strengths. As a country we have always excelled at selling the sizzle over the steak. Just last fall, this nation's veterans chose a borderline deserter over a decorated war hero. And the responsibility for that feat can be laid directly at the altar of advertising. There you go: enlist the Swift Boat Veterans to launch an international campaign finally revealing the truth about Osama's chronic bed wetting.

 

If Karen Hughes plans to craft a cuddlier image for us, she's going to need a little help. Okay, she's going to need a lot of help. An aircraft carrier group of help. And I'm thinking some snappy slogans could come in handy. Quick. Simple. Buzzworthy. So, in the interest of patriotism, I'm offering up a few. Gratis. Don't thank me, I'm here to help.

 

30 U.S. FOREIGN POLICY EXTREME MAKEOVER SLOGANS

 

When Democracy Reigns, It Pours.

America: Just a Big Red White and Blue Teddy Bear With a Whole Lot of Guns.

Snap. Crackle. Pow. Thud.

Be All We Think You Should Be.

Tastes Great. Less Torture.

They Don't Call Us The GREAT Satan For Nothing.

America 2.0. Now With Improved Press Suppression.

What's So Bad About Bread And Circuses Anyway?

John Wayne: Not Just an Actor. A Way Of Life.

Don't Like Us? Get In Line.

I'd Walk A Mile For A Camel.

The US: The Ultimate Lying Machine.

Wouldn't You Really Rather Have A Republic?

Badges, We Don't Need No Stinking Badges.

Friendly Fire 'R Us.

Democracy: Just Do It.

You're In Good Hands With Our State.

You Keep the Sand, We'll Take the Oil.

Sometimes You Feel Like a Crazed Tyrannical Despot, Sometimes You Don't.

Freedom: Breakfast of Champions.

We're Everywhere You Want To Be. Deal With It.

The New Improved Low-Carb, Atkins-Friendly America.

Got Grenades?

Don't Leave Home Without It. No, Really. Stay in Your Homes.

I Can't Believe I Invaded The Whole Peninsula.

Autonomy: It's the Real Thing.

The Best Part Of Waking Up Is No Dead Bodies On Your Doorstep.

Aren't You Glad You Use a Free Market Economy? Don't You Wish Everybody Did?

Better Living Through Sovereignty.

Nobody Doesn't Like Britney Spears.

 

Any other suggestions?

 

 































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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