Remembering that it's not about you

One of the great ironies of the last several years has been the complaint that the so-called Madison Avenue approach to public diplomacy was a failure. It wasn't a failure because neither Hughes nor Beers really practiced the Madison Avenue approach. Instead, they attempted to brand America as they felt it should be branded. Of course, branding wasn't the problem. (It should be noted that Beers was hired by Secretary Powell to rebrand the State Department, but this was pre-9/11 and it was to make sure the American public knew the full extent of what the Department was doing.)

For the most part, we have since realized the question to be asked was not "why do they hate us?" but "why do they support extremism?" For those who think this song is about you, it's not. Get over yourself. We do need to properly communicate who we are and why we do what we do, and to do this properly we need smart foreign policies that aren't easy fodder for enemy propaganda and that can reinforces what we are and why we do the things we do. More important are the local conditions. As we learned in counterinsurgency and seem to be learning in counter-terrorism (for the record, I prefer the term anti-terrorism as some of America's allies phrase it). In other words, it's about "them" more than it's about "us".

To be sure, the Government isn't alone in forgetting this. I read the recent re-branding and re-re-branding of Tropicana orange juice and thought "Shared Values"! We drink Tropicana in my house and when they changed their packaging, I couldn't find it and I had to spend additional time making sure I was getting the right orange juice, the one my wife instructs me to buy.

I recommend you read the first page of the Newsweek article on Peter Arnell, the "mad man" behind the rebranding.

Rounding a corner, he spots a bagel vendor who's selling Tropicana orange juice. He rushes over, picks up a carton and asks the vendor what he thinks of the new packaging. "I designed this," Arnell says. "How's it selling? Is it doing well?" The vendor raves about the new design. "You see that?" Arnell says as we're walking away. "That guy loves it. Why can't he have a freaking blog, right?"

Actually, the word Arnell uses is not "freaking," and he's using it a lot. Last year his "brand architecture" company, the Arnell Group, won a contract from PepsiCo to redesign the Pepsi logo and create new packaging for Tropicana, a PepsiCo brand. The new Pepsi logo drew mixed reactions. But the Tropicana boxes, which debuted in January, drove people nuts. Customers said the box was so different that they couldn't find Tropicana on the shelf anymore. They missed the familiar orange-with-a-straw picture. The blogosphere lit up with criticism. One blogger called Arnell "the Bernie Madoff of brands." People started comparing the situation to the 1985 New Coke disaster. In February, Tropicana announced it would revert to the old packaging.

Who is it about it? Arnell or the customer?

See also:

  • Nielson Wire: Building Your Brand… Or A Better Snuggie? Listen Up!

    • Comment from the above Nielson Wire post: “It’s amazing what happens when you listen to the conversation. Social media and social networking sites provide a great window into crucial conversations about your business. Look for ways to tap into and connect with people talking about your company.”