Tuesday, September 11... What the Marketer Saw
by Alf Nucifora
They say that the best marketing is often nothing more than the effective communication of imagery and impression. What follows is this marketer's perception of the New York holocaust now that the tears have subsided.
The Cunning and the Brilliance
You've got to hand it to Osama Bin Laden. He knows how to squeeze every ounce of value out of a staged event. PR gurus couldn't have done it better; A busy weekday instead of a placid Saturday or Sunday; An event synchronized for a time when offices are at their working peak. A morning event also allows time for the media impact to play out to its fullest in a city that is the media capital of the world; West Coast flights with brimming fuel tanks guaranteed to wreak the maximum in explosive effect and structural damage; The planned locations, all bulwarks of American capitalism and Western democracy, precisely selected for their "rub your nose in it" effect; Aviation, so integral and vital to our daily lives and the machinery of commerce, serving double duty as a weapon and a rebound means of paralyzing the nation; The paper and documents floating through the air, each representing some company's now lost history. And the graphic nature of the video footage. Like the narcotic it was, we could never get enough of it despite the number of times we saw it. Even Hollywood's best would be hard pressed to outdo the reality of what we witnessed.
He Was No Churchill
Poor George W. In truth, probably a nice, decent guy. But not to leadership born; not a Churchillian bone in his body. When we needed him to step forward and lead, he genuinely tried, but couldn't deliver. What we got was stilted language, uncomfortable posture, a trying-too-hard earnestness and forced gravitas and contrived photo ops and scripted rhetoric doled out by the flacks in the back room. When will his handlers ever learn to set the poor man free, give him room to breath and be himself? Instead of providing the reassurance and inspiration we craved, he wasted a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to unite.
And Then There Was Rudy
He's been called the Ayatollah, the scourge of the squeegee squad and other choice epithets. On this occasion I believe we saw the real Rudy, calm, refreshingly candid and humanely frail, even emotional. More importantly we witnessed a natural leader who rose to the occasion, who understood our needs and responded accordingly. Joyce Purnick said it best in her New York Times column, "He seems to realize that New Yorkers need a symbol of stability, need to know someone is in control when everything is out of control". I suspect she speaks for the rest of the nation as well.
We Need An Outlet
The American people need a way to unite and to express their burning desire to belong and be acknowledged as Americans. It's why we're donating blood by the gallon, buying flags by the millions, passing along e-mail messages of hope and inspiration by the billions. As Doris Kearns Goodwin notes, "people are yearning to be involved". In World War II, the nation gave vent to that yearning by buying war bonds and collecting scrap rubber and aluminum. Why hasn't something similar been organized on a national level by our political leaders. Instead, what we get is the jingoist, bellicose ranting of a political opportunists with next year's elections acutely in mind.
Why I Dislike Government Officials
The annoying self-importance of government officials was all too evident. One could never get a straight answer, let alone any information of real value. It got so tiring to hear the continually repeated phrase, "I can't get into the details of that." Officials will do anything for a moment in the media light except provide elucidation or real insight.
The Same Old Media
What was surprising was the remarkable network restraint in light of enormous revenue loss. Even as the immediate impact was winding down, the major networks resisted the urge to run commercials. Which begs the question, was it a network decision not to accept advertising or the advertiser's decision not to advertise in the first place?
With the exception of that one instance of good behavior, the media, in general, reverted to its normal base instincts. Shallowness of analysis ("how do you feel?"); TV screens cluttered with screaming graphics; recycled pundits with little to offer but past glories and fading memories; and hordes of officials fighting for airtime (that bald-headed New York Police Commissioner will forever go down as a Zelig of his time).
Thank God, therefore, for ABC's Peter Jennings who provided calming reassurance, a lack of pretence, an absence of forced emotion and a disdain for the cloying commentary of his peers, the Barbara Walters types. Could it have something to do with the fact that he is a Canadian by birth?
It's Still The Economy, Stupid!
Why did the mainstream media not cotton on more quickly to the issue of the economy and how the bombing will affect it? The tourism industry is disappearing from view; Airline losses will be catastrophic; The long awaited Christmas retail season will probably be stillborn; 40 billion dollars has been allocated to rebuild New York and enact anti-terrorism controls; And only God knows when Wall Street will have the strength to climb out of the crater. The already existing recession, exacerbated by this tragedy, will be cruel, damaging and around for a long time. Yet it got nary a mention in the mainstream prime time coverage.
After All, We're Only Human
I never fail to be amazed by my own shallowness. The surprise was in how anger and prejudice reside just below the surface, easily aroused in spite of normally sound reason and sanity. Any Arab sounding name now automatically conjures up feelings of hate on my part. It's as if I can't help myself. And will bombing them into oblivion really provide the long-term antidote to this deeply rooted contagion beyond satisfying a need for immediate gratification and revenge.
More importantly, I now realize, after 50+ hours glued to the TV screen, how easy it is to love this Country in spite of its frailties. The United States is more than the sappy, artificiality of Lee Greenwood's American pride. It's a genuine love and appreciation of our innate goodness, innocence, specialness, and survivability that transcends the melting pot of our differences.
Osama Bin Laden will never stand a chance.