Opinions about branding by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Marketing government to an ambivalent public

Ambivalence

Every Saturday night my dad would take orders for T.'s Pizza. 

No sooner would he make havdala (the Jewish ceremony ending Sabbath) when I would hear his voice wafting up the stairs: "Who wants pizza?"

Being a good dieting teenager I would always say, "No thank you."

"Are you sure?" I would hear.

"Yes, absolutely, I don't want to eat so late at night, especially after dinner."

What is it with him, I would think. I don't want the damn pizza, why does he always ask?

About an hour and a half later after attending the informal Jewish community meet-n-greet that was T.'s on a Saturday night, my dad would pop back in the back door with a humongous pizza in hand. Hu-mongous.

Usually he also had falafels too. 

The spicy hummus platter he would eat at T.'s, where he thought it was hilarious to continuously challenge the pizza shop owner to make it too hot to actually consume. "Ha-ha-ha," my dad would say, tears rolling down his face, "You can't make it too spicy for me!" 

The Israeli owner, who thought spicy hummus was a mild challenge at best compared to living under the constant threat of a terrorist attack, would look at him briefly, shake his head, smirk, and go back to flipping dough. (There were times when I witnessed this live.)

Anyway. The point is that my dad would walk in and I would be watching TV in the living room, waiting for Saturday Night Live to come on.

The smell of that pizza would knock me to the floor. And I would go to the kitchen just to be around it.

I would tiptoe to the fridge and pretend to get a Diet Coke. But really, I was leering at that pizza.

I would lift the lid.

It was soooooo cheesy.

Off I would go. "Just the crust," I would mutter as I savagely tore off a piece. "Well, maybe a bit of the cheese from on top."

Before you knew it I'd be gobbling away. And two slices and a half a falafel later, would go back to the living room absolutely unable to focus on the TV because I was in pizza heaven.

I recall this weekly routine after watching the movie "The Next Three Days." Generally, it's about Russell Crowe's attempt to break his wife out of jail (no spoilers there) after she is convicted for a crime she didn't commit.

Despite the gripping nature of the show I found myself ambivalent about its content. 

* On the one hand I sympathized with Crowe's character, his motives and beliefs. He tried to do what the law told him to do, but the system failed him. Did he have a choice?

* On the other I felt grateful that we have a law enforcement system where its members actually give a damn - let me be more precise, they are passionately committed - about public safety, order and the law. On top of that, how many movies and TV shows have I seen where law enforcement is portrayed as uncaring or incompetent at protecting the public?

This last part is what got me to thinking about law enforcement from a marketing perspective.

For it seems that the public is as ambivalent about government exerting social control as I was about getting pizza on a Saturday night.

* On the one hand, we expect to be protected. And we get mad when the government doesn't seem to do so.

* On the other, we expect to live our lives free of interference. And we get mad when anyone tries to tell us what to do.

(Note that I think about this especially because I work in public affairs for a federal law enforcement agency. However, all opinions are my own.)

I'm not writing this post to generate a list of 5 or 10 superficial answers to the problem because I don't think the problem is so simple.

It's important enough right now just to note that marketing depends on satisfying human need.

And in order for the customer to feel satisfied and even delighted, there has to be:

1) clarity about what the need is; 

2) a standard for how to satisfy it; and then 

3) evidence of that standard being met and hopefully surpassed.

To carry this train of logic to its conclusion, if law enforcement is to market itself to the public successfully - thereby establishing the positive relationships that boost both compliance by the public and accountability from the government - there can't be any ambivalence about what is expected. About how success is defined and achieved.

The question is how do we get there. 

Now I need a cup of coffee.

Have a good day everyone, and if you have any suggestions I'd love to hear them.

Good luck!

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Photo source here.