Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Fallacy Of Channeling George Orwell

"So I said, 'Think of me as a professional moron,'" I told my friend.
"That's how you want to be remembered by them?" she said. "Oh, goodness."
"Well that's what I said."
"What do you mean, 'That's what I said?'  Now moron is your brand."
For a time I thought it somehow daring to insult myself. 
But then I witnessed people far, far more senior than myself doing exactly the same thing.  
  • "Tell it to me like I'm stupid."
  • "Pretend I'm simple."
  • "Imagine that you're talking to your mother."
 By reducing a senior communicator to a less intimidating level, statements like this can help a subject matter expert improve their communication.
Often, however, a dialogue about better words doesn't help anything at all.
Because in some organizations, what seems like "poor performance" - including bad communication - is exactly what's required.
Words that confuse, mislead, obfuscate, and shade the truth - to the point of outright denial of reality - can be used, are often used, as arrows in the quiver.
  • Propaganda.
  • Psyops.
  • Gaslighting.
 The list of Orwellian terms and techniques goes on and on and on.
Obviously, using tricky words is ethically and sometimes legally wrong. For example -- all jokes and criticism aside -- federal government communication is required to be clear and understandable, and propaganda is not allowed.
But even if one were to put morals aside, it's shortsighted to use words that mislead. In doing this, you sow the seeds of mistrust down the road. You confuse people within your own organization. And you destroy any long-term equity that would result from a cohesive, authentic brand.
Maybe it's not cool to suggest being simple. But I think it's the way to go.
______________________
Photo by Srikrishna K via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Has The Modern Workplace Become A Prison?


Today, you have to give up a lot for a career. But have we given up too much?
Workers nowadays are routinely expected to do at least these five things for the sake of a job. 
  1. Be available outside traditional working hours, often late at night, sometimes all night.
  2. Tolerate harassment, abuse, and sometimes even behavior that would clinically be described as insane. 
  3. Accept contract, part-time, on-call, temporary, or other impermanent arrangements so as not to face a loss of income.
  4. Socialize with coworkers, effectively eliminating their right to a life outside workplace scrutiny.
  5. Open their social media activities to scrutiny from their employer.
All of these things impinge on one's right to a life outside the job. They impinge on people's freedom.
Worse than that, people are expected to somehow pledge a kind of personal allegiance to the work that they do. You must "live the brand" - if you work at a Dunkin' Donuts, it's not enough to just serve donuts anymore.
This sad state of affairs does not even speak to those who must work two or three jobs to pay the bills. And who are underpaid for those jobs, or unsafe, at that.
As we head into the weekend, I want to ask out loud if we are fully aware of the situation the modern worker faces, as far as losing a personal life goes.
Our relationships need us. Our partners, our kids.
Democracy needs us. We can't participate if we do not have time to think. 
Our spiritual selves need us. Our higher calling.
Have we allowed things to go too far?
For the next 48 hours it would be nice if we could take some time to reflect about this.
Really, really think about it. 
_____
Photo of Alcatraz Prison via Wikimedia. Dunkin' Donuts photo by me. All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

To My Sister Faigy Mayer, Who Wanted To Write A Book


Faigy,

Last week I had a dream. Is it okay if I share it with you?

In the dream my mother called me on the telephone. "Your sister killed herself," she said, and I said, "What? What? That can't be." I was in shell shock.

In the dream, I felt like screaming, "I can't believe she's gone, and what a wasted life."

Because in the real world my sister does "everything," but somehow "everything" is never enough, at least not in her mind.

It was 2:30 on Shabbos morning. I wanted to call my mother and make sure she was alive. I knew that was probably silly. But something seemed very terribly wrong.

So I stood up and went to the living room, just stood there, feeling a terrible sense of foreboding. It felt like blackness.

Less than ten days later, you did a running sprint off a rooftop bar in Manhattan. I found out about it yesterday morning, on Facebook. 

You did a 20-foot dive. 

And the people kept on drinking.

I did not know you, Faigy, not at all. But that didn't stop me from feeling like I had lost my very own sister. 

When I look at your picture on Twitter, here is what I think: She could have been.


You were a beautiful young woman, sister Faigy. Look at yourself - you were full of life. 

That you were made to depart this world is a tragedy. Maybe there are other things to think about today, the social media story of the moment. 

But the loss of you is real. The world misses you. People who knew you and people who didn't know you, alike.


Yes Faigy, I am going to call you my sister. I am formally adopting you after your death.   Your soul, wherever it is, has a place in my backpack. There sits a laptop, there a set of keys and there a couple of credit cards.

For you, there is plenty of room.

"An ex-Hasidic app developer" makes headlines, sure. 


You meant a lot, to a lot of people. On social media your presence had a lot to do with that young-techie thing, that cool crowd that's into coding for good.


But you were fine without the app.

You were alive, and your aliveness was every wonderful thing.

As a human being and as a Jew. As both. For there is no such thing as an ex-Jew, Faigy. You are always a Jew, and alive or passed, your soul is one with our people.

And despite what they are saying in the paper, I don't believe you chose your death for a second. You were suffering in ways none of us could understand, and it isn't our place to speculate on things that are rightfully private. 

One thing is for sure. No matter what problems you had, we all have problems. And you were far from insane. 

It would be easy to blame your mother and father for not supporting you. But we know the culture, you and I, right? 

You taunted them for the mitzvah tantz. The mitzvah tantz! That's core.


And you walked into treif publicly. Sausage, Faigy. Come on.


You knew that they could not shelter you. That you had crossed the Williamsburg nuclear red line.

It doesn't matter to me, though, Faigy. It really doesn't; I don't give a damn what the so-called "neighbors" think.

When I look at you closely, do you know what I see? And this is why I cry, and cry.

"Girl, Interrupted." 

A bright young candle, but the flame is pinched until it stutters out.

You were thirty years old, Faigy. Just starting your life. 

But you were torn down and tormented by a misguided approach to religion. 

Somebody told you, for reasons I do not understand, that leaving an ultra-Orthodox cult meant leaving Judaism altogether.

Did you really want that? Looking at what you left behind, I don't think that you did.

Somebody, in the name of "liberating" you, sold you a defective ideology instead.


Faigy, your loss is our tragedy. Had you been loved and supported into life you would have saved so many others.

You told us it was the library that saved you. Judy Blume books. 

It's sort of sad and funny...this entry on your Facebook could have been written by me.


My sister Faigy, you deserved to write that book you wanted to write. 

I understand the pain you felt at having others narrate your story for you.

And although they may think they were protecting the world from your apikorsus, or in their minds "mental illness," your parents were wrong to keep your photos from you.

Writing one's memoir is part of free choice. I find it unspeakably cruel that someone would withhold from you any evidence of your childhood memories.


But that is the crux of the problem, isn't it, Faigy?

In the Chasidic world, your life is not your own.

You dared to be a girl who insisted on her freedom. An unspeakably offensive act.

And for your insistence on being your own person, you ultimately lost your own life.

My sister Faigy, I am praying that people remember you. That your struggle gets engraved on their brains for good.

I will always carry your memory with me. 

May you find true peace in the Next World, may HaShem grant you solace from all your suffering.

And may your family, and the community, be consoled and come to terms. 

Whether you know it or not, or believe it or not, they will always miss you and love you.

Love, your sister in struggle,

Dossy

_____

Cover photo by Amanda Tipton via Flickr (Creative Commons). Profile photo via Faigy Mayer's Twitter account. Sausage photo via Instagram. Other photos via Facebook. All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.


Monday, July 20, 2015

The Taming of Amy Schumer


With some help from Judd Apatow, Amy Schumer turned her screenplay for Trainwreck into a movie that earned $30.2 million in its opening weekend.
Apatow "discovered" Schumer, notes Variety and he "godfathered" her movie.
It is not just popular in the box office, but on social media as well. Deadline notes, somewhat breathlessly:
The social media universe for the film stands at 101.M inclusive of 65.7M on Facebook and 33.6M on Twitter per RelishMix. #Trainwreck Twitter hashtags hovered around 1,000 all week and swung up to 5k by last Thursday. 
So people are talking about it, and they are influenced by the messages it sends out. I know this because I saw the movie with a group of people, and the content of the film was the subject of conversation for another 45 minutes after it ended, as well as on social media.
The woman sitting next to me in the theater was older, she looked like she was in her mid-50s. And she was there with a man. I don't know what his reaction was, but she was erupting in laughter fairly frequently - along with me and the rest of the theater.
When it was over, we actually clapped. 
Humor is a subjective thing. But if you ask me, and as a friend noted, the funniest parts are where Amy is clearly just being herself. (The main character is also named "Amy.") They are the scenes where Amy interacts with other people, particularly men and particularly men who are not as intelligent as she is.
The most dramatic scenes, the tear-jerkers, are the ones where she spends time with her dad. Although to the rest of the world he's not much more than a jerk, to Amy he is the smartest person in any room, and he clearly cares about and understands her.
But Apatow's influence is there, too. And although one can never know which parts of a movie can be attributed to one maker versus the other, we do know that he played a part especially in the end of the movie.
Apatow has called the ending "a way for her to evolve," a way to allow the audience to "feel something deeply" and "have an emotion other than laughing." (Variety, July 17, 2015)
Without giving it away, what it looked like to me was "fat, oversexed Amy" made palatable to a mainstream audience. In Freudian terms, "castrating."
Amy's character has a voracious appetite for life, literally - as symbolized by sex and food.
(Note that her physical size is rather ordinary for American women, but she is constantly presented as somehow "buxom," as opposed to the anorexic images we are constantly told are ideal.)
But Amy's appetites are shameful. She "stuffs her face"; she over-drinks - my goodness, wine at lunch?
And we see her shamefulness explicitly. (One has to wonder, is it really necessary to be so explicit? Or are we supposed to be excited by her shame? Of course.)
In the placement of a highly intelligent, ordinarily neurotic, slightly overweight and curious young writer in a variety of humiliating sexual situations, watching Trainwreck feels like an extended episode of another Apatow vehicle, Girls, with Schumer in the place of Lena Dunham.
Another cardboard character representing the adorable bad girl. "Tsk, tsk," we say, even as we can't turn our eyes from the screen, from the most intimate parts of someone else's body, displayed before us to gawk at and dissect.
Portrayals like this - the plastic parts, the lack of nuance - are part of why women still suffer from sexism in the workplace.
For the film contrasts Amy, the obviously "broken" sister, with her counterpart, the better-adjusted one, as measured by her maternal instincts and her capacity to love a man who represents stability and family life.
It is 2015, but Amy's sister, this paragon of womanhood, has no visible career outside the home.
Is it a coincidence that she is prettier than Amy, and thin? That she is satisfied fully by her pregnancy? And that she is coupled with "Tom," an overweight, nondescript man who bears a striking resemblance to Judd Apatow himself?
Amy's sister is not a "city girl," no, she lives in suburbia. She's a retro 1950s fantasy in almost every way.
Meanwhile, Amy's boss, a successful "career woman," is a shrewish, inhuman bitch. When Amy experiences a tragedy, the woman says: "The best way to grieve is to not do it."
The boss has no respect for Amy's private life, she is temperamental to the point of being irrational - shades here of the boss in The Devil Wears Prada - and she uses men as sexual objects.
In short, the boss is evil, representing the worst combination of stereotypical male and female traits.
This is not to put down Judd Apatow. The truth is, I enjoy his projects a lot, and there are some feminist messages to be gleaned from them.
What I worry about are the unconscious sexist messages that people, male and female take away from his movies. I worry that this movie will only serve to reinforce stereotypes about "normal" female behavior.
In a world where sports figures are regularly associated with rape ("jock culture") and domestic violence, the social media amplifying effect in the sports community is a real concern. Again, from Deadline:
Trainwreck got some tubthumping from castmember, WWE wrestler John Cena who counts 37M FB fans and 7M Twitter followers, Cleveland Cavaliers NBA star LeBron James’ 21M FB and 22M Twitter, Schumer’s 1.4M Twitter fans and 851K FB fans, as well as Apatow’s 1.24M Twitter followers. 
Some have said to me, "You read too deeply into popular culture," "You take it too seriously," "Really, it's just entertainment."
But popular culture is America's civic commons, and it is the gathering place for the world. As traditional institutions associated with values development hold less and less sway, a vaccuum has sprung up. Advertising, mass entertainment and social media have expanded their influence accordingly.
The answer to disturbing messages broadcast over the popular airwaves is not the dismissal of the speaker's concerns. Nor is it censorship or limitation on the art itself.
Rather, we ought to talk about these things. We ought to have an intelligent conversation.
And as we have that talk amongst ourselves, as respectful members of a community of peers, I'd really like to bring up the subject of that mannequin you see in the cover photo of this post.
It stares at me, along with three or four others, every time I walk out to get a coffee. 
I don't know why I have to look at that. The two-dimensional woman, the one who only exists as plastic, to serve as decoration for somebody else's personal experience.
I understand that women are better-looking, on the whole, than men. I know that there's a market in selling this. 
But women, as human beings, deserve better than to be ornamented and given back to the world as plastic. 
As fellow parents, as workers, and as people, we have a lot to do. We're half the planet.
We ought to be treated as real, equal human beings while we're doing it. 
___
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Marketer, Analyze Thyself

You see us as you want to see us - in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions." - Brian Johnson (Anthony Michael Hall), "The Breakfast Club"
As a child growing up in the '80s I wanted very badly to be cooler than I was.
Although looking back I can't imagine why. Look at this junior high perm, circa approximately 1983.
On the weekends I used to watch all the movies by John Hughes. I loved "Sixteen Candles" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Pretty in Pink" and "The Breakfast Club."
All of them were movies about who we want to be, and the vast gap between that person and who we actually are.
A lot of girls wanted to be Molly Ringwald.
There she is as "Claire," in "The Breakfast Club," 1985. (I got that haircut, but not the color.)
There she is a "Andie," in "Pretty in Pink." SO COOL.
A lot of the time I wanted to be Judd Nelson, too. Yeah, I'm a rebel!
But in those times, to say such a thing would have branded me a lesbian. Lesbians were branded as bad, weird, dangerous, your suspiciously mannish looking gym teacher.
So I didn't say that, even though so much of the time I really felt like "Bender." "There you go, irrational authority," his expression says. "F.U.!"
Invariably in a John Hughes movie, there is a moment of transformation where the characters realize who they really are. They personal brands they've been carrying are just a ruse and a facade. They've got to be more honest.
Part of the reason people can't get to who they really are is a sense of discomfort, a fear, an unease. They are upset about what they perceive as inner flaws, and project these onto others unconsciously.
Writing in the late 19th century, Sigmund Freud called projection a "defense mechanism."
It's common. It is why people hate on other people for absolutely no reason. 
It is also why some marketers typically have trouble understanding, sympathizing with or catering to their true audience. They obfuscate, are condescending, distort the reality, because they can't face what's really going on. 
Great marketers don't have any unconscious defenses preventing them from seeing their audience as they are. Rather, they choose to observe their audience, love their audience, give their audience what they want, deciding consciously how far they want the brand's environment of indulgence to go.
If you're stuck on unconscious defenses you aren't doing a good job at work, generally. Clouded by bias, you misjudge the people you're dealing with, or perhaps you judge them all fairly pessimistically.
Railing against others shows nothing about them, but it does reveal a lot about you - as in, you probably need some therapy. The Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) says:
"He who [continually] declares [others] unfit is [himself] unfit and never speaks in praise [of people]. And
Samuel said: With his own blemish he stigmatizes [others] as unfit.” - Talmud (Kiddushin 70a).
How do you get past your own problems so as to be effective at work, or anywhere?
You can do the therapeutic work; it's worthwhile. And you can also do something that requires very little analysis. 
A colleague is fond of quoting this Stephen Covey gem, and the advice is even more profound than it may seem on the surface.
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
Here's the logic behind this approach.
When you try to solve your problems by analyzing yourself, typically all this creates is more confusion.
But when you forget about your ego and simply focus on the other, your mind is then at work, solving a problem. You aren't thinking about your defenses; personal worries, doubt and self-hatred don't have a chance to get in the way.
It's pretty strange, isn't it? Pretty paradoxical. To move yourself ahead, to make your way at work or anywhere, you've got to forget about you and simply focus on the other.
But it works, I can tell you that it does work.
Take off those blinders by solving the Rubik's cube of what makes the other person tick. It's the Platinum rule: "Treat others as they want to be treated."
You'll be amazed to see how fast those barriers fall, those seemingly un-scalable iron walls, that have so stubbornly been holding you back.
__
All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Chase Elliott Clark via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Is Ellen Pao Reddit's "Gone Girl"?

In the film "Gone Girl," a psychopathic woman wields female victimhood against her cheating husband like a gun. 

It's a scary movie for men and women alike. We watched the show on Saturday night as a free feature pick on Xfinity. Neither of us fell asleep till the tiny hours of the morning.
Judging from a random selection of simultaneous Tweets, we were not the only sleepless ones. 
At the same time, in real life, Ben Affleck - the popular star of the movie, who is rumored to be a philanderer in real life - is getting a divorce from his wife, the also popular star Jennifer Garner.
It is hard not to favor Jennifer, because of her good-girl and good-mom persona. But that is precisely the point of the movie: The brands we see on TV are often grossly manufactured. 
Meanwhile, Ellen Pao's departure from Reddit is a top news story this weekend, as has been her ongoing litigation against San Francisco venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Her prominence in two stories making headline news has made her a lightning rod for those on both side of the sexism debate.
Some see her as a "fighter of sexism," a victim of a kind of "terrorism." Others see her as an "incompetent feminist CEO," a professional victim, much like the female lead in "Gone Girl," out to milk her gender status for money.
Pao ascended to the national spotlight for her lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers as well as due to her controversial reign as Reddit's CEO. She stepped down after a massive protest against her firing of a popular employee.
In the KP lawsuit, the jury considered whether Kleiner Perkins had discriminated or retaliated against Pao based on gender. Here's the dispute in brief:
  • Pao argued her performance was excellent, based on the content of her business decisions and recommendations. Kleiner Perkins says it wasn't good enough, based on the process of her business behavior, e.g. poor relationship skills, evidenced by continuous clashes with peers and failure to provide leadership to clients. 
  • Pao argued she received similar negative feedback as the men in the firm, but they were promoted where she was not.
  • Pao argued that she was treated worse for being female, while Kleiner Perkins said if anything she was treated more positively.  
  • Pao argued that she was standing up for women as a group, e.g. that sexism was a feature of the culture, while Kleiner Perkins argued that Pao was motivated by self-interest. 
Kleiner Perkins partner and billionaire John Doerr was Pao's mentor. He called her claims "unfounded" and defended the integrity of the firm. In fact, a recent study showed that when you control for education, experience, and job title, tech fields in fact show no gender difference in pay.
But at least one industry commenter, Kumar Thangudu, suggests that Pao was at the very least "technically competent" and blames KP for "bad internal processes." (It's been noted more than once, including by Thangudu, that she recognized Twitter's potential early on but was ignored.) Commenting in Quora, he says:
"Ellen is (a) technically competent VC who hasn't been a founder but clearly has a strong heuristic to investing properly and helping founders. She's been the victim of bad internal processes at KPCB."
Similar to the inexplicably-psychotic-wife stereotype deployed in "Gone Girl," KP has attempted to portray Pao as, essentially, an aggressive, calculating b-word. But even Doerr noted that although she failed to prove her particular case, the tech industry was also on trial and lost, rightfully so.
“Now we know there was a second trial going on in the court of public opinion. And on this topic of diversity, it found against the technology industry and we, in the venture industry, we get that,” he said.
At KP, says Pao, two partners tried to engage her in a sexual relationship. One of them, Ajit Nazre, was successful. After she ended it, says Pao, he retaliated against her at work, plus was allowed to review her performance anonymously.
Harvard University has passed a policy prohibiting professors from engaging students in sexual relationships, because the power imbalance has an unethical quality that tilts against the student.
In fact, KP later fired Nazre for sexual harassment of another employee. But after Pao filed her lawsuit against KP, the company put her on a "performance improvement plan" then fired her in what it claimed was a "downsizing."
What happened at Reddit is less clear. What most of us know is that Victoria Taylor, a female employee beloved by users, was fired. But she has spoken out and we still don't know why that happened. 
We also don't know why Reddit, a virtual man-cave, would hire a seeming fighter for women's rights to serve as its CEO. From a branding point of view, this makes little sense to me. Clearly Pao's public statements reflect a cognitive dissonance at the very least about the sensibilities of the brand's users - for example she dismissed their petition about Taylor's firing as insignificant.
In the end, as we all know, the truth behind any situation is extremely gray, extremely nuanced, extremely complicated. What is clear is that branding can serve as a framework and a filter to help us make sense of complicated things.
And that branding, as in the movie "Gone Girl," is a tool wielded universally, regardless of one's particular gender. 
____
Entertainment Weekly cover via E Online. All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Rational vs. Emotional" = Sexism

Ladies, I hate to be the one to break it to you, if you hadn't heard.
But a lot of men think we are "naturally insane."
They may not tell you this. But they're thinking it. 
Have you seen this popular video, "Wife Zone Chart," online? Even if you haven't there's a good chance someone you know has heard of it. 
It's got 1,873,088 views as of this morning.
The guy in the video purports to give advice to other men as to how they can reliably choose a life partner.
His beginning premise? Some women are attractive and some women are not. But one thing you can be sure of is that all women are "crazy."
"This is the universal hot-crazy matrix, it's everything a young man needs to know about women. I've developed this on my own after 46 years of living on the earth. This is how it works. You have your crazy axis and your hot axis. Hot is as usual measured from 0 to 10, we're all familiar with that. Crazy is measured from 4 to 10 because of course there's no such thing as a woman who's not at least a 4 crazy."
I share this information, although I'm sure it isn't new to most of you, for a couple of reasons.
The first is to acknowledge, in a public forum, that the stereotype does exist. That it is not only common but pervasive. Even overwhelming. And that although it may be tempting to doubt yourself -- because we are so very good at doubting ourselves -- please do not do it. 
Because insane people do not know they are insane. In fact, being out of touch with reality is the very definition of insanity. ("Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result," as the popular saying goes.)
The second is to share a word of caution. Insanity is not only a legal defense. It is also a weapon, regularly used to discredit people. It is a tool of sexism. Lots of literature available on that.
Third, there is a connection between sexism, and other forms of class warfare (for example racism and classism) and actual disconnection from reality. Again, you don't have to look very far - voluminous evidence. 
We are so used to popular movies, and television shows, with their images of emotional-meaning-irrational women. Contrasted with images of men, who are composed and logical thinkers. 
We've gotten used to the seeming dichotomy, the polar opposites, represented loosely as "feelings" versus "thought."
But the truth is, as an increasing amount of studies show, that it is the synthesis of emotional literacy and ordered thinking (linear or not linear) that represents a higher level of human intelligence. 
I would add humility as the third element to that mix. You just don't know what you don't know, do you?
So here is intelligence:
  • The ability to feel, to take in those feelings, to process them. Without the feelings overwhelming you.
  • The ability to think, to explain how you got from Point A to Point B, without getting frustrated when other people disagree or misunderstand.
  • The ability to admit that you do not know all things and that your capacity for knowing is limited.
If you have all those things, I think, you're a very smart person indeed.
And if you're smart, you don't put down women -- or men -- or anyone.
__________________________
Photo by Petras Gagilas via Flickr (Creative Commons). Meme via Quickmeme. All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"Skinny Oreos," Broken Brand

Brand Essence: Noun. A feeling. The instinctive, unconscious emotional reaction people have whenever they encounter you.

Today I learned that Oreos are going on a diet.
Despite the fact that 50% of Oreo consumers split the cookie apart before eating it, the Associated Press reports, there will soon be a new version called "Oreo Thins" (on the radio they're calling it "Skinny Oreos") that - due to its slimmer cookie profile - make such activity impossible.
"And since they're for adults, Oreo says they weren't designed to be twisted open or dunked. That's even though about half of customers pull apart regular Oreos before eating them, according to the company."
It didn't take me long to figure out that the decision must be about expanding market share. Of course.
But in my view, trying to build financial equity by destroying basic brand equity is misguided. For the essence of the Oreo brand is really "simple childlike American indulgence" - a luster that can be applied to myriad products (look at M&Ms!).  
By offering "sophisticated adult not-particularly-American semi-indulgence" the company which owns the brand is guaranteed to lose a lot more money in the long term.

Brand Cannibalism: Noun. The practice of chewing off your arm when you are hungry, rather than choosing a nutritious food source external to your body.

If you've made a financial decision to make a destructive brand move, at least have enough respect for your customer to honor them with an explanation that takes the brand essence into account. For example:
"We know that Oreos represent childlike indulgence to many Americans. But we wanted to make another version available to those who might want to try a different version of the cookie, perhaps as an ingredient in a sophisticated dessert."
That would have been fine! But instead, here is what we actually heard about the loss of dunking:
"If people want to do that, it's clearly up to them."
Up to them! Up to them! WHAATTT????
The fact that I never eat Oreo cookies, but this response provokes such a visceral antagonistic emotion in me, tells you how attached I am to this brand. As "Don Draper" ("Mad Men") might put it, "Oreos are part of our collective memory bank."
You don't torch my baby pictures lightly. You don't tell me we have to leave that album and run, unless there is a very good reason to do it.
In a way, this situation brings to mind a child confronted with parents who announce they are getting a divorce. One of the parents says they are getting remarried. 
"No, this can't be true," the child thinks. "I want Mommy and Daddy to stay together. I don't want you to go with (her or him)."
The emotional health of this child depends very much on how the parents handle it. I can only imagine the trauma this conversation would inflict:
Child (tearfully): "But what about bedtime? You guys used to always tuck me in together! And sing me a song!"
Parent: "If families want to do that, it's clearly up to them."
Perhaps I am being too emotional about this. Perhaps I am misguided. After all, look at Coca-Cola, and its spinoff, Diet Coke. The "lite" product was released more than thirty years ago, and they're doing just fine, right?
I would tell you, I would tell the head of Coca-Cola, that no matter how much money it makes, "Diet Coke" poses a similar brand challenge to the corporate brand. That no matter how much money it's made for the company, THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A CLASSIC CAN OF SUGARY SODA MADE WITH THE SECRET FORMULA.
This is the same thing I would tell Howard Schultz, if I were ever to run into him at Starbucks, regarding the decision to offer instant "Via." And I have said this in a blog post, awhile ago. THE BRAND WAS BUILT ON A PERFECT CUP OF HAND-BREWED COFFEE, AND YOU ARE DESTROYING IT BY OFFERING A PROCESSED INSTANT VERSION.
Every time you cannibalize your brand for the sake of market share, you are cutting off your hand to spite your face. It is only a matter of time before your brand dies fully, chokes to death, in a matter seemingly sudden and unprompted.
A worse kind of brand cannibalism than this occurs even before the brand gets off the ground. And that is, the company decides to be all things to all people. So that there is no ability to build a brand essence in the first place.
This, too, is a wrongheaded move built on a kind of greed, and I've seen it in action. One day you're all about A, then next day it's B and then C and then D, and by the end of the year you're like someone who's hooked up with the entire senior class. 
You have to know what your brand is. You have to choose a personality and stick with it. And this personality will be completely intangible - visible only in its symbols, its sounds, its colors and its effects - impossible to measure, standardize and automate.
Do you know how I choose a song to preview, if I choose to preview a song? I look at what the band is about, what the lead singer does, and if I like that singer's brand I will break out of my habit of listening to the same preferred tunes over and over again and give it a chance. Maroon 5 is one. Billy Joel is another. James Taylor is a third. Lately, Taylor Swift. Lady Gaga.
By the way, would you rather hear a news report or a song? Of course, you want the song. Because you don't want to think every minute. It's a huge cognitive load. The music gets you to a good place, quickly. And that's exactly the same function provided by a brand.
If it's hard for a starting-out brand or an established one to focus, that's understandable since there's a lot to lose. But you've got to think of risk in the bigger picture. If you're a good brand you're going to piss somebody off. You're definitely going to lose market share. But the more you stay very close to the ground, the more you plant your feet firmly in your little patch of soil, the more profitable your brand will be. 
You want to know who I think does this kind of branding well? Hollywood comes to mind, because L.A. is so good at packaging people and serving them back to us in very specific categories that fill very specific entertainment needs. Not everyone would want to watch the Roast of James Franco on Comedy Central, but a certain audience absolutely will, and they will like it so very much they'll likely watch it again and again. Melissa McCarthy is so funny. Simon Cowell is so acerbic: As soon as he left American Idol the show was dead. 
The Four Seasons also comes to mind. I think I've stayed there once in my entire life. But the white-glove service they provided, the way every single representative of the hotel literally stopped to pick up my tissue when I sneezed, has never been duplicated anywhere. (They could save money with "Five Seasons Cheap" but you can imagine my reaction.)
Bounty Paper Towels cannibalized their product with a cheaper version of the brand called "Basic." Do you know what? Basic sucks! It doesn't work as well! And do you know why? BECAUSE IT ISN'T "BOUNTY!"
If you're an ordinary person and not involved in making decisions about the brand, terms like "brand essence" and "brand cannibalism" are very easy concepts to understand. But if it's your head on the stake and you're scared to make a misstep, this can lead you to be confused, to cogitate, endlessly and over again. And perhaps even to screw things up a bit.
Believe me when I tell you I'm not standing on a brand soapbox. I live in the world, not an ivory tower. And these decisions are extraordinarily hard, both in bringing people together theoretically and in the practice of actually doing the work. 
I know that great brands are normally polarizing. It was only yesterday that somebody said to me, "Google! Don't get me started about them!"
Facebook can provoke a similar reaction.
But building a brand is not an exercise for the faint-hearted. 
You've got to plant that seed in the ground.
And then defend it against all thieves, murderers and plundering invaders.
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All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo credit: Caden Crawford via Flickr Creative Commons.

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