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I’ve been thinking a lot about “identity politics.” The whole country has. Or should I say the whole country is, because I don’t know that a lot of us are thinking at all. We have become so reactionary it is terrifying. In America, who or what you stand for has taken precedent over measured consideration, empathy, seeing an issue from both sides. There is no more happy medium. You are either one thing or the other. And, honestly, neither thing is good thing.

Be that as it may, I wonder how this impacts brands. Do consumable goods have politics? Should they? Do we attribute identities to cars and toothpaste and everything in between? Yes we do. And no we shouldn’t.

By way of example, let’s start with the obvious. The media. CNN is considered left wing, liberal and Democratic. Fox is right wing, conservative and Republican. Each of these brands wears its identity on their sleeves. Each side brands the other. Both networks are worse for it.

But what of other media? Is Twitter Alt Right because Donald trump loves using it? By extension, is the President/#notmypresident alt right because members of that group seemingly endorse him? Is Facebook liberal because Mark Zuckerberg is? You can see where I’m going with this. Attributing political identities to things is a dangerous game and we are all playing it, now more than ever.

What if all brands of pickup trucks were deemed red state and racist because they are beloved by cowboys and hunters? Those groups like guns and are white so you do the math. Conversely does that make every driver of a Prius and Tesla a liberal Antifa supporter? Sadly, it would appear so. That means if I buy a Ford Pickup I will be identified accordingly… and incorrectly.

This is nothing new. To some extent we have been judging people by their purchases for years. Brands have taken advantage of it. Chasing young people. Courting African Americans. Yet, I think in the last decade, in the age of social media, brands have been increasingly victimized by identity politics. Profiled. The CEO of a fast food franchise has overt religious beliefs, is mocked for them on Facebook or wherever, and suddenly everyone who buys a sandwich there must believe what he believes. Likewise, if a company keeps a low profile and focuses only on doing what they do are they in turn deemed unsympathetic monsters?

It goes on. And we all play a part. What is the end game? Goods and services that cater to one only identity or another? Messaging and Badging their products to appeal to one group but not another. “Welcome Liberals!” Or: “Conservatives Your Money Not Wanted Here!” That’s not a free market. Can we leave the labels for ingredients?

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Above the fray in every way, comes this gorgeous film celebrating America’s ideals and spirit, words eloquently written by Woody Guthrie expressed through the voice of a Latin American.

Yes, it’s a political message, stoically defending our diverse country of immigrants in the face of fear mongers like Donald Trump. (Building a wall against these people –all people- is indefensible.)

And yes, of course, it’s a commercial for Johnnie Walker Scotch Whiskey. And so what if it is? This does not lesson the “message” in any way. Sharing a well-earned drink among good men is a wonderful thing. A grand film sponsored by a proud spirit is not a sin. Here the advertiser is a patron of the arts and we are better for it.

But it’s more than that. This short film is an anthem for our time – for all time. Indeed, many of the images depict an America we know, remember or, failing that, at least mythologize. Strong men and women moving forward. Persevering. Getting the job done. Celebrating together. That most if not all of the people in the film are Latino changes none of that. As intended, these iconic portrayals of farmers and workers and parents are only intensified emotionally by them all being Latino.

Taking the high road and not stumbling into treacle is no easy feat. Like the characters it portrays this “commercial” never falters. The care put into its production (casting, audio, video, editorial, etc.) is impeccable. His politics aside, if you told me Clint Eastwood directed this piece I would have believed you. Such are the production values.

With stewardship from various agencies (in this case Anomaly), Johnnie Walker has been doing a marvelous job delivering powerful stories toward their longtime theme, “Keep walking.” And this small masterpiece is no exception.

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Donald-Trump-Donkey-Hotey

For all his bluster, bombast and buffoonery Donald Trump is currently leading the pack of candidates for the Republican nomination to President of the United States. Whether Trump goes down in history as a freakish sideshow or actually becomes the GOP’s chosen candidate only time will tell.

Rather than get into his competency to rule (I bet he’d like that phrase), let’s discuss something that not only differentiates Trump from the rest of the field but also from every person who’s ever run for President. What I’m talking about is the free advertising his numerous and conspicuous properties afford him, especially in New York and Chicago.

The Trump Tower(s) are brash as the man himself. The ostentatious letters of his name adorn both buildings and are seen by millions. And lets not forget his TV show, The Apprentice, which has gone on for over a decade. It goes without saying that the slavish 24/7 “news” coverage of this guy overpowers whatever ad dollars the competition has.

This means, unlike any candidate I’m aware of, Donald Trump has some incredibly valuable media behind him. He needn’t ever run an ad for himself (though I’m sure he will and I can’t wait!) and he’d still have more exposure than any other candidate.

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Edifice as billboard…

Wishful thinkers might argue his garishly named buildings will only hurt the man, demonstrating his pretentiousness and vulgarity. Yet consider Trump’s biggest argument on behalf of himself: that he’s a billionaire and won’t be swayed by other people’s money. Like it or not, this resonates with a lot of people. The buildings reinforce Trump’s self-made image, making the signs highly persuasive.

Ironically, Chicago and New York City are huge Democratic strongholds. How infuriating it must be for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to see Trump’s name towering over his city. As it is, the Mayor has already publicly denounced Trump’s ‘ugly’ sign, calling for its removal.

Yet, it remains. As does the candidate.

Author’s note: I first wrote a version of this post last summer, when I’d hoped Trump’s campaign would implode by his own hubris. Alas, that has not happened.

 

“Hey, Biff. Have you seen any poor people?”

Living in San Francisco, I’ve had to watch my politics more than in Chicago. Nothing major, mind you, but I am a bit more careful dishing out vulgar asides, gritty observations and being a smartass in general. This is after all the epicenter of political correctness. When every other person is a Prius driving vegetarian one has to watch where one blows his cigar smoke. Funny this, given SF was once a bawdy, corrupt hellhole. Can you say Barbary Coast?

Being an election year adds to the sensitivities. Chicago was Democratic. Here the Blue Donkey is a religion. For what it’s worth I’ve never identified with a political party. They both frustrate me, especially now. Frankly, I could do twenty minutes on both.

However, that is not the point of this post. What I’d like to talk about is the continuing animus levied at the rich, the so-called 1%. Even though the Occupy Movement petered out some time ago, a deep-seated resentment toward the well off lingers, in particular when it comes to the trappings of success, i.e. fancy shit. These days, even the filthy rich are self conscious about it. More than ever, status symbols symbolize greed. A middle-class guy at my office told me he could never drive a BMW in San Francisco because of the derision it would evoke. Really? I see plenty. But his point is well taken.

Among other things, I wonder how all this zeitgeist bending is changing (or not) the business of advertising. How does one sell luxury cars to people who are afraid to be seen in them? Some brands try to redefine the “new luxury” as being about the pragmatism of buying well made but necessarily expensive things.

Walking in the other gal’s shoes…

A large group that doesn’t give a shit (and never has) about coming off as elitist is the vainglorious world of fashion. Ralph Lauren is rich, white and proud of it. Same with most of the other “houses of couture.” It’s like they get a pass on being socially aware. Even poor people expect Gucci to be Gucci. And love them for it. I find that interesting, if not downright odd. Don’t you?

Fair to point out a few popular fashion brands at least riff on social issues. Such as Kenneth Cole and United Colors of Beneton. Yet, I wonder if even these brands are merely playing fast and loose with edgy politics to look cool and concerned.

The hippest family evuh!


Either way you lose…

Most people (myself included) would like to think they’re open-minded and subsequently put off by those who are not: the arrogant, the dogmatic and the righteous. Those people are the reason our world is so challenged. Those are the ones bringing us down. And, of course, “those people” feel the same way about us.

Them and us are polar opposites. Two distinct sides: liberal & conservative, democrat & republican, right & left. The euphemisms are many. In good times these dichotomies serve like checks and balances, mitigating extremism, keeping society on the beam.

Alas, these are not good times. Righteous anger is overtaking civil discourse. The Occupiers demonize the rich. The 1% shuns the poor. Our President hates America! The GOP candidates are a bunch of idiots! Build a wall around the country! Let everyone in!

Ugh.

I need pause from it all. As a person who fancies himself open minded, I resent being pushed to one extreme or the other. I don’t want to take a side and live or die by it. Why must I choose between Capitalism and Socialism? (If I must, I choose the former. Who, in this country wouldn’t, especially those of us in advertising?) Yet, both ideas are as flawed by extremism as they are brilliant in their idealism.

And speaking of “isms” aren’t they all dangerous?

Take alcoholism. Recovery from this cunning and baffling disease suggests alcoholics practice accepting other people’s defects so that they might diminish their own. “Easy does it” and “One day at a time” are the well-known catch phrases of Alcoholics Anonymous. Resentments of any kind are considered detrimental to recovery.


Wisdom from a church basement…

And so I worry about America’s growing extremism. A program of recovery suggests we “let go of old ideas” even as our politicians become evermore paralyzed by theirs. The holidays are upon us. That means discourse. And next year begins the real Presidential campaign. That means debate. Before taking up sides, I urge each of US to be more accepting of THEM, and vise versa.