What the 2016 Democratic and Republican Parties Stand For: A Post-Convention Look

The two big messages of the Democratic Convention were Hope and Inclusion. Hope, of course, was one of the two themes (along with Change) that propelled Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008.

The danger with memes like Hope and Change is that they leave people greatly disappointed when not much appears to change. Obama actually has a pretty powerful record of accomplishment (and here’s a shorter but more up-to-date list prepared by the Democratic Party). But he’s somewhat diffident about claiming it—and his legacy is much less than it could have been because of the concerted effort of the GOP to deny him any victory no matter how small. Here, for instance, is Mitch McConnell, early in Obama’s presidency, saying the President is not sufficiently bipartisan, despite Obama’s unprecedented and massive outreach to the other side at the expense of that agenda of hope and change—something even Fox News noticed. (Of course, by 2010, McConnell was openly saying his top priority was making sure Obama was a one-term president.)

I have plenty of issues with both Obama and with Hillary Clinton—but government is supposed to be bipartisan, not spoil-spot-losers-blocking everything. The Democrats even allowed George W. Bush to govern, despite his awful, destructive policies form which the country is still recovering. That Obama has been able to get anything done in this climate (and as those two links above prove, he’s done quite a bit) is remarkable. That the Republican Party has thwarted the will of the people over and over again these 8 years is shameful.

Obama also has a tendency to “roll over and play dead” unnecessarily. To name one example, that he gave up so easily on filling the Supreme Court vacancy caused by Scalia’s death is shocking—and very bad precedent. as a former community organizer, Obama should have had a clue about how to break he deadlock—keep the apparatus that twice elected him president active, to deluge Republican legislators with calls and letters supporting particular pieces of Obama’s agenda—to keep people involved and motivated while at the same time disassembling Republican intransigence, making its revelry in being “The Party of No” politically difficult. Obama could have organized a backlash in the 2010 election and accumulated massive majorities in both houses. But he let his eager champions wither on the vine.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Inclusion may not be as powerful as hope, but it’s a very strong meme nonetheless. This year’s Republican candidate openly embraces hostility to inclusion—attacking Mexicans and Muslims along with immigrants in general, mocking disabled people, and even attacking the patriotism of decorated war hero Senator John McCain. So it’s a good move for Hillary Clinton to reclaim the emotional territory she gave up to both Sanders and Trump during primary season—and in this case, I do think it’s genuine. The first night of the convention, especially, was all about outreach to those who’ve felt disenfranchised (including the millions of supporters of Bernie Sanders). Clinton’s good dose of Policy Wonk may also be the antidote to Trump’s sketchy sound-bite promises about how he would govern.

The themes of inclusion, hope, and competence were in tremendous contrast with the Republican Convention, whose dominant message was fear—expressed in xenophobia. The other message of the Republicans was “we don’t have to give a crap about people we can beat up”–a big rallying point for those who agree, but a big push-away for anyone who might be a potential victim–and that’s a LOT of people. This is essentially the message of fascism, and it scares me to see it coming out of the mouth (and Twitter feed) of a nominated major-party candidate for President.

And this is why I will vote for Hillary even though my own politics are closer to Jill Stein’s, and even though I live in a state that will vote Democratic no matter what. I am not thrilled about voting for Hillary, but I will vote for her. I consider Trump the greatest threat to democracy and liberty in my lifetime. His repeated use of Hitlerian memes is very troubling. And I think very deliberate. I want Trump’s margin of defeat to be so “YUGE” that we never see his ugly politics again.

Looking at the election as a whole, I’d bet that Trump, a master marketer for decades, has studied NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming—an extremely powerful approach to getting inside people’s minds through the use of deep psychological triggers) and is far better at getting his (loathsome) message across than Clinton is. The Republicans have been using sound bites that appear to be based in NLP techniques for over 30 years, but Trump has taken it much deeper. Clinton, by contrast, is an old-school politician who hasn’t quite figured out the 21st-century shift in marketing from push to interactive. And Sanders has probably not studied marketing but he’s a natural. His brand is wrapped in an integrity that neither party nominee can offer—and he has a long background in (and deep understanding of) community organizing as well as electoral politics. When he started as a politician, Vermont was not exactly a progressive hotspot. I believe he helped create the climate where his state is now among the bluest in the nation.

Interestingly, all three are around the same age, spanning from Clinton’s 68 to Sanders’ 74 (Trump just turned 70)—yet the oldest, Sanders, had the strongest appeal to youth. And the younger candidates, from O’Malley to Rubio, were all eliminated months ago.

Posted in Activism, Branding, Democracy, Demographics/Psychographics, Diversity, Ethics: General, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, People Helping People, Politics, propaganda, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My Endorsement for US President

In other years, I would probably vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. I voted for Nader twice. I love what Stein says. And I live in Massachusetts, where my electoral votes will go to Clinton no matter what I do—which is why I was able to vote for Nader.

But not this year. I feel in my heart that every vote for Green is one more invitation for Trump or someone similar to come back and try again. I want the margin of victory to be so large that we never have this breed of politics in a national election in our lifetimes–an utter and total repudiation. I also utterly dread the idea that Trump could appoint perhaps three more Clarence Thomases. And I note that the country just barely survived the wreck of the far more moderate George W. Bush’s eight stolen years in office. This one must be too definitive to steal.
Not that I’m calling George W. Bush a moderate. He and his henchmen (should I say puppeteers?) were extremists as we understood the term, until Palin and Cruz and Huckabee et al. came along and redefined it. But even they did not wallow in blatant racism. Even they did not have the chutzpah to openly cheat people in numerous business ventures. Even they knew better to openly make denigrating comments about women while bringing forward their misogynist laws. Even they refrained from attacking John McCain because he was taken captive in Vietnam.
I was just in Canada. Everyone wanted to talk about Trump and how scared they were of him. Literally, strangers would hear our American accents and come up to talk with us. If this country turns fascist, I want to say that I at least voted to block it. I can’t find motivation to work on Hillary’s campaign, but that much I can do.
I feel that Hillary Clinton, underneath it all, has a good heart. She actually does care about people. Yes, she is a flawed candidate. She will be a militarist, pro-Wall Street president, ’tis true. She has shown poor judgment on several occasions. She lacks the charisma and outsider status of both Bernie and Trump. Her ethics are sketchy. But Trump has no ethics at all. And a President Trump would be a living reminder that Hitler came to power originally in an election.
It is very disturbing to me that a thin-skinned bully who has made it abundantly clear he cares only about himself and his own money and power could secure the nomination, even among a group of looney-birds so extreme that Jeb Bush seemed like the moderate (he’s not). If Trump wins, it really raises a deeper question for me than how will we survive his presidency and what do we do if he refuses to step down when his term is over. It raises this: do I want to live in an America that would elect this monster?
I watched three inspiring hours of the convention last night, including Bernie’s speech as well as those of Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and various members of Congress, Latinos, blacks, people with disabilities, and a gay NBA star, usually right after they played a clip of Trump bashing that constituency. It brought home a point that Trump seems to utterly miss and Hillary really gets: that our diversity is a key part of our strength as a nation. It was very effective in showing the vast contrast between Hillary and Trump and made many of the right noises about a progressive agenda, noting over and over again that this year’s platform embraces much of the Sanders agenda.
It made me feel much better about my decision months ago that I would vote for her if she is the nominee, and sparked my decision today to publicly endorse Hillary Clinton.
Posted in Democracy, Diversity, Ethics in Government, Politics Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

False Promises, Unnecessary Obsolescence

False Promises

Vermont’s first-in-the-nation GMO labeling law went into effect this week. I consider that a very good thing, far superior to the kludged-together industry-giveaway federal version currently under discussion in Congress.

But it got me thinking about the promise the food industry made when GMOs were first surfacing about twenty years ago: genetic engineering would enable agriculture to reduce or eliminate pesticides and herbicides.

The unfortunate reality: most common GMO crops are specifically engineered to tolerate larger and more pervasive doses of agricultural chemicals. In particular, these crops are created to tolerate massive levels of Monsanto’s Roundup (glyphosphate) weedkiller, which would have killed the pre-GMO versions.

There probably are good uses for very careful deployment of thoroughly tested GMO experiments. Janine Benyus, in her wonderful book Biomimicry, discusses some of the possibilities. But so far, we’ve been sold a false bill of goods.

This is the latest lie in the chemicalization and commoditization of the world by some of the most powerful corporations in the world. And it’s been going on a long time.


Commercial farm. Photo by Jose Conejo Saenz.

Commercial farm. Photo by Jose Conejo Saenz.

I’m too young to remember Edward Bernays’ 1929 mock-feminist “Torches of Freedom” campaign to get tens of thousands of women smoking, or the claim in the 1950s that nuclear power—one of the nastiest technologies ever foisted on us—would generate electricity that was “too cheap to meter.”

But I do remember the promise that paying up front every month for cable TV would allow ad-free broadcasting. Ha!

In perhaps a different category is the claims of the “Green Revolution” advocates of the 1940, 50s and 60s that chemiculture was the only way to solve world hunger. This is different because…they probably believed their own message. It wasn’t a lie; it was the truth as they knew it then. Now we know that long-term chemiculture kills the soil, and thus reduces fertility overall. We also know a lot more about how to grow better quality, higher quantity organic foods.

Unnecessary Obsolescence

There’s a related but different type of false promise: the idea that a certain technology will make your life better, and will be there when you need it. Too often, however, the products are wrapped up in pressure to upgrade, and then upgrade again.

Now, I don’t object to upgrading a product so it only runs on new hardware, as long as the old computer will continue to run the new version. As an example, the 2011 version of Microsoft Office has a much better version of PowerPoint than the 2004 version I run on my nine-year-old desktop Mac. That’s OK; I’m willing to do all my slide creation on my newer laptop.

But I do object—I consider it immoral—that Skype, Dropbox, and GoToMeeting (to name three) have yanked away the ability of perfectly good older machines to even run their product. GoToMeeting, which long ago stopped running on OS 10.5 and older Macs, now requires either the Yosemite or El Capitan operating systems. There are very good reasons not to upgrade an older, slower Mac to these versions; I only did it a few weeks ago after upgrading my hardware with an 1000 gigabyte drive and extra RAM. Luckily, the upgrade was completed before I was leading a webinar over that platform. But I was pretty shocked when I needed to test a microphone with that platform and determine if the problem was in my computer or in the new mic. I tried to run a GoToMeeting test with my wife’s OS 10.8 laptop. No go.

If we don’t have all the features, so what! We didn’t have them when we bought our machines, but we had a working program. If they won’t provide technical support, oh, well. By this time, we should have figured out how to do what we need to do. Why should something that runs perfectly well on older hardware be sabotaged by its manufacturer to force a hardware upgrade?

As an environmentalist and a frugalist, I want any product I buy to last as long as possible. It’s better for the earth and for my budget. When companies stop allowing perfectly functional software to work on older platforms, they kick themselves out of a warm and sunny spot in my heart.

Posted in Business Ethics, Business-general, Energy & Sustainability, Ethics: General, Frugality/Frugal Fun, Technology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seth Godin and “The Benefit of Confidence”

Seth Godin. Photo by Jill Greenberg. Courtesy of Seth Godin.

Seth Godin. Photo by Jill Greenberg. Courtesy of Seth Godin.

Legendary marketer Seth Godin recently wrote about offering the benefit of confidence, rather than the benefit of the doubt.

He said:

Someone faced with doubt rarely brings her best self to the table. Doubt undermines confidence, it casts aspersions, it assumes untruths…

[W]hat happens if you begin with, “the benefit of confidence” instead? What if you begin by believing, by seeking to understand, by rooting for the other person to share their best stories, their vision and their hopes?

I’ve never articulated this, but it’s a key part of my business philosophy. I assume the best intentions, and the ability to rise to greatness. Sometimes there’s a lot of doubt to overcome.

A client of mine who has now worked with me for several years first approached me by mailing a poorly written typewritten manuscript (probably typed in the 1970s) to my postal address, without including either a phone number or an email, with an almost incomprehensible cover note. I overcame my skepticism and modified and printed out a copy of my response to book shepherding queries, and told him in the letter that he had to give me an email address and phone number, and to get the book into a computer so I could send it to an editor. While I didn’t really expect to hear from him again, I think I may have gotten the job because I was polite and responded as I would to any other prospect. I said nothing dismissive or condescending and simply outlined the (many) steps it would take to turn this into a publishable and published book, and some idea of how much that would cost. He has done everything I suggested and the final book was so good that it won an Ippy Award and the screenwriter we hired to do a movie treatment fell in love with it.

While this was an extreme case, quite a few of my book shepherding clients were starting from an extremely rough place (including several whose first language was not English). They spend several tens of thousands with me by the time the project is done—and they are thrilled and amazed by the finished product. Quite a few have won awards.

On the green and social entrepreneurship profitability/product development and marketing consulting side of my business, I see similar patterns. Some companies would like to go green but have no idea. Others are already going down that route but would like to find a way to tie their work to something bigger. They want to do something that turns hunger and poverty into sufficiency, war into peace, and catastrophic climate change into planetary balance. Again, the process can be long and slow, but the results are worth it.

So while I’ve never articulated Godin’s “Benefit of Confidence,” I’ve lived it. Thanks, Seth.

Posted in Business-general, Corporate Social Responsibility, Diversity, General Commentary, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, People Helping People, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Muhammad Ali vs. Donald Trump

Donald Trump and the late Muhammad Ali had at least three things in common: personal wealth, a love of bragging and a willingness to speak their mind even if others were offended. But there’s a big difference: Ali actually had something to brag about. He really was the greatest at what he did, racking up an amazing 55 victories over 61 fights in his career, and going undefeated in his first 30 bouts.

Muhammad Ai probably wore gloves like these. Photo by Wojciech Ner.

Muhammad Ai probably wore boxing gloves like these. Photo by Wojciech Ner.

He was also a man of deep principle, foregoing his career for three years after refusing to fight in Vietnam.

This is what he said about that choice:

Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.

Agree or disagree with him , you knew where he stood.

Ali was also a humanitarian and philanthropist, using his fortune—a fortune amassed not through inherited wealth and speculative business ventures, but by coming up out of poverty and putting himself in the ring to be slugged again and again by some of the strongest people in the world—for social good.

By contrast, Trump brags about screwing people over, is very quick to unleash insults on others, and yet is very thin-skinned when anyone criticizes him. He even revoked the Washington Post’s media credentials to cover the Trump campaign because he didn’t like the things he said about them.

Let’s listen to Trump in his own words:

“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.” –Donald Trump

Of course, it helps that he inherited a fortune from his father, a large-scale NYC landlord whose racist policies were so bad that Woody Guthrie (his tenant, briefly) wrote scathing songs about him. Trump’s own record includes lots of failure—including four bankruptcies. It’s hard to imagine him getting rich if he hadn’t had the springboard of his father’s wealth. And he brags about using bankruptcy as a tool to screw the public to further his personal fortune. This quote is on the same 2011 ABC news report on the bankruptcies:

I’ve used the laws of this country to pare debt. … We’ll have the company. We’ll throw it into a chapter. We’ll negotiate with the banks. We’ll make a fantastic deal. You know, it’s like on ‘The Apprentice.’ It’s not personal. It’s just business.

Two more very telling quotes from The Donald:

“If you can’t get rich dealing with politicians, there’s something wrong with you.

“I rented him a piece of land. He paid me more for one night than the land was worth for two years, and then I didn’t let him use the land. That’s what we should be doing. I don’t want to use the word ‘screwed’, but I screwed him.”–Donald Trump

Has he reformed? No. Just look at the recent flurry of news stories quoting everyone from the conservative National Review to the New York State Attorney General calling his Trump University “a scam.”

Results for search for "trump university scam" from Washington Post, CNN, Wikipedia, and National Review

Results for search for “trump university scam” from Washington Post, CNN, Wikipedia, and National Review

This is the continuation of a long history of unethical business dealings, as this story in US News and World Report notes.

As it happens, I’ve heard both Muhammad Ali and Donald Trump speak in person—Ali at an Aretha Franklin concert in Harlem, in 1971, and Trump delivering the keynote for a conference where I was also speaking, in 2004. Ali’s speech left me feeling empowered. Trump’s left me feeling I’d been slimed by an exhibitionist in a public place.

This bullying, thin-skinned, name-calling racist and sexist who brags about how he gets rich on the backs of others has no grasp of the issues, and apparently no ethics. He  doesn’t belong in the White House.

Posted in Abundance and Prosperity, Branding, Business Ethics, Democracy, Entrepreneurship, Ethics in Government, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Marketing Trends/News, People Helping People, Politics, poverty, propaganda, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Why I WILL Vote for Hillary Clinton

Found an article this morning excoriating Senator Elizabeth Warren for her endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

Caricature of Donald Trump by DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons License: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/5471912349/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Caricature of Donald Trump by DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons License: https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/5471912349/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Although I’m a strong Bernie supporter, I disagree with the article’s sanctimonious tone. Sometimes, you do have to suck it up and vote the lesser evil. I personally think this is one of those times. After California, Bernie has to accept that he made a really good run, but it’s over. He got farther than pretty much anyone thought he would, and I’m glad.

I’ve voted third-party before, and might do so again. But not this time. Yes, even though we’re faced with two secretive people, each with a history of serious ethics breaches, I will vote for the Democrat this time.

Clinton will be reasonably good on domestic policy (and will recognize that the Left brought her to power) if elected. As a consistent war hawk who can’t see any fault in Israel’s ultra-right-wing government, she’ll be horrible on foreign policy, which ought to be her strong suit–and especially bad on the Middle East. I predict another war during her term. She’ll be middling-poor on energy policy. These are issues that mean a great deal to me.

But she will appoint decent people, including to the Supreme Court. She’ll be socially liberal on a number of issues, and will likely do some good for poor people as long as it doesn’t bother her bankster friends. Ordinary people’s lives are likely to get better under her administration, as they did under Obama.

And most of all, voting for Hillary is the best thing we can do to prevent President Trump.

Trump and his very scary supporters smell like fascism to me. A Trump presidency will very quickly displace GWB (who I used to refer to as His Imperial Delusional Majesty) as the worst president in history. Trump will be far worse on energy, on poverty, on international relations (where he really doesn’t have a clue), on immigration, on minority rights, women’s rights,  and almost every other issue you could name. He might be slightly less willing to go to war than Hillary, but when he does, it will be much uglier. And his response to international incidents will be belligerent enough that other people will start wars with us and he won’t have a choice.

And his thugs will roam the streets, enforcing their brand of nativism, attacking people who don’t look or think like them.

Hitler took power in an election. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

If the US had proportional representation, instant runoff voting, or any of the other reforms we’ve been working for over the decades, we’d have a choice. But in a faceoff between a no-ethics/me-first bullying fascist and an ethically challenged secrecy-loving corporate neolib, to not recognize the very real difference is slitting our own throats.

I want Trump’s margin of defeat to be so crushing that his movement goes away for 20 or 30 years. For that, I’m willing to hold my nose and vote for Hillary. This time.

Posted in Activism, Democracy, Ethics in Government, Peace and War, Politics, poverty, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , ,

Enough Massacres Already!

Orlando was merely the latest chapter in a bloody saga of a country that allows pretty much anyone to get not just a gun but a military assault weapon capable of killing large numbers of people in moments.

One of the great failures of the Obama administration is the failure to push through any meaningful gun legislation in the wake of Newtown and all the other horrible massacres. What is wrong with our country that we can watch first graders mowed down by a madman with an assault rifle–a weapon whose only purpose is to destroy the maximum number of human lives in the shortest possible time–and we still have not reinstated the assault weapon ban. We still have not closed the loopholes around background checks, so any idiot with a history of mental health problems can get his or her fingers around the trigger.

Protest against violence (photo by Jason Cross)

Protest against violence (photo by Jason Cross)

According to CBS news, most mass shootings involve assault weapons. The ban on assault weapons expired in 2004. Within three years, the Washington Post reports, the number of mass shootings skyrocketed. The average number of mass shootings per year nearly tripled, from 6.4 to 16.4.

These are not hunting rifles. These are not self-protection handguns. They exist only to inflict misery. In this country, you need to prove you’re qualified to cut hair or to drive a car. Why is it so easy to get a death machine like an assault rifle? And more fundamentally, why do we expect parents to automatically know how to parent? I wonder how much violence could be avoided if we provided free training in parenting skills to pregnant and newly parenting couples.

Let’s stop the madness! Let’s get sensible gun legislation into place.

Posted in Activism, Democracy, Ethics: General, General Commentary, People Helping People, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Are Your Brand Ambassadors Helping or Hurting?

In one day, I had two interactions with people reaching out on behalf of their employer that made me scratch my head.

I got telemarketed by a woman who claimed to have sent me some stuff I never received. She didn’t understand the simplest questions like “was it by postal or email?” (answer, repeated 3x: “Mail”) “What domain was it coming from?”

To top it off, the follow-up email, or what I believe was the follow-up email, came from a different domain and was signed by a different person, but it mentioned a conversation with their office.

And then there was the person who private-messaged me on Facebook about her social media marketing services. When I clicked the link, I was appalled at the sloppy grammar–NOT a way to get me to do business. When I told her that careful writing matters to me and that I wouldn’t be doing business, she started asking whether I would scout for her as an affiliate.

Who vets these people? If you have people representing your company, they should leave a GOOD impression with prospects. Yet over and over, I see businesses being harmed by the clueless, aggressive, unhelpful people they hire.

Gotta wonder.

Posted in Branding, Business-general, Customer Service as Marketing, General Commentary, Marketing Trends/News, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , ,

Candy-Coated Popcorn, Peanuts—and WHAT?!?

I’d hazard a guess that most US natives between the ages of 40-80 can still sing the jingle: “Candy-coated popcorn, peanuts and a prize. That’s what you get with Cracker Jack.” It was a big part of our childhoods, back in the days when three TV networks controlled the entire universe of video and national advertisers bought saturation advertising programs that aired the same commercial many times a day. Cracker Jack was immortalized in the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in 1908, started bundling the prize way back in 1912, and began its national TV advertising in 1955.

The Cracker Jack box as it appeared during my 1960s childhood (courtesy of Wikipedia)

The Cracker Jack box as it appeared during my 1960s childhood (courtesy of Wikipedia)

It didn’t matter that the prize was something worth about 2 cents, something not even worthy of being called a tchochke. It was the thrill of the hunt, searching through all that icky sticky stuff to locate the prize—and the thrill of mystery, never knowing what, umm, “treasure” you’d find. Sometimes it would be something really cool, like a spy decoder ring. But like any other grab-bag item, sometimes it was truly worthless. I knew kids who bought CrackerJack just to get that prize.

At that time, the company was owned by Borden, whose Elsie the Cow was another advertising icon of the period. It’s now owned by Pepsico’s Frito-Lay division

Well, here’s some shocking news: Despite its wildly successful run of more than 100 years, the Cracker Jack toy is now an endangered species. As Bob Dylan sang during the Cracker Jack saturation TV period, “The times, they are a changing.” Cracker Jack is replacing the “tchochkette” (if I can coin a word that merges Yiddish and French) with a slip of paper bearing a QR code!

I’m sorry, but that is just not the same. From a branding point of view, I think it’s a huge error. Cracker Jack’s whole brand is built around nostalgia, Americana, baseball, and that unforgettable jingle. Sure, digital natives will redeem their QR codes and not think twice about it. But they won’t know what they’re missing. And those who can’t afford or choose not to use smartphones are left out entirely. Plus, their kids will never hear their parents scream at a bad driver, “Did you get your license in a Cracker Jack box?” A piece of American culture is disappearing.

In Cracker Jack’s earliest days, during a baseball corruption scandal known as the Chicago Black Sox scandal, a fan reportedly went up to the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson and begged, “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” Maybe now, we need to say, “Get back on the track, Jack!”


Posted in Advertising, Branding, Demographics/Psychographics, Diversity, General Commentary, Marketing Trends/News, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Finding Magic in Strange Places

I’m speaking at a conference in beautiful Brattleboro, Vermont—but staying in a motel in the ugliest part of town, sandwiched between a McDonald’s and a Wendy’s. Still, when I got back to my room last night, I was low on exercise for the day so I decided to take a walk. Fortunately, the motel is very close to the Seabees Bridge across the Connecticut River, so I decided to walk to New Hampshire, about ten minutes of strolling in each direction.

It was a very good decision. The Seabees Bridge turns out to be a double span: a new, wide bridge carrying cars, and an older one just south of it, narrower, unlit, and blocked off from vehicles. The newer one closely resembles but doesn’t exactly duplicate the original bridge.

The pedestrian bridge has a number of amenities such as benches and picnic tables. And in the dark, both the double span itself and the river and shorelines below were powerfully evocative. I tried to photographic it, but my phone wasn’t up to the task. CAUTION: I found out the hard way that those amenities are hard to see on an unlit bridge at night, just as I stepped back off the bridge onto the Vermont side. OUCH!

It reminded me of other moments finding magic in strange places. In chronological order:

  1. A moment bicycling through the Bronx as a child of maybe 13, where I suddenly experienced a sense of freedom and joy.
  2. Another Bronx childhood moment, exploring an abandoned railroad track in Van Cortland Park and feeling like I was way out of the country in the time of Tom Sawyer.
  3. A Quaker meeting in the parking lot of a nuclear power plant construction site, in 1977 before 1414 of us took over the site in a protest against this horribly unsafe technology, and were arrested—almost 40 years later, still the most powerful spiritual moment in my memory.
  4. Staying at a cheap hotel at Disney World so I could attend a conference at an expensive Disney hotel about a mile away, and feeling the magic of the numerous small natural habitat spots left undeveloped here and there among the acres of manicured and probably pesticided lawns—perhaps especially powerful because of contrast with their sterilized surroundings.
  5. Just last month, another evocative dark bridge over a river—in Beijing, one of the largest cities in the world.

In that Disney trip, I used my powers of observation to notice far more than the habitat. Go back up to #4 and click the link, if you want to see what else I learned, and what business lessons I applied.

If you look at the world with observant eyes, hear with aware ears, touch with sensitized fingers, it’s amazing what you can discover. I remember one more incident that wasn’t magical, but tingled my senses. My wife and I (both writers) were walking through the woods many years ago, discussing ideas. I said that ideas were easy to find, and challenged myself to name (out loud) ten ideas in the next 100 feet of our walk. I stopped around 20. That incident led to a new folder in my crowded file drawer with ideas for books I may write someday: “How to Find Your Next 10,000 Ideas.”

If magic can be found in a parking lot, where else can you find it?

Dar Williams, author of "The Christians and the Pagans"

Dar Williams, author of “The Christians and the Pagans”

I love this line from Dar Williams’ song, “The Christians and the Pagans”: “You find magic in your God but we find magic everywhere.”



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