Voice Beyond Petulance
Monday, March 23, 2009
Peggy Noonan recently wrote an opinion piece in the WSJ detailing what she interpreted as the depression we are feeling as we sense “something slipping away, a world receding, not only an economic one but a world of old structures, old ways and assumptions.”
I agree with her overarching sentiment – and know a lot of people who are anxious and depressed in the current environment, and for good reason. But holding a glass to the cultural wall and listening closely - pardon me Peggy, but the loudest voice I hear is petulance.
The tone reminds one vaguely of a four-year-old being hauled home from a birthday party, screaming, at the end of a day of too much sugar and not enough sleep. Bleating blame and victimization in equal measure.
From the full page ad in the WSJ by Wells Fargo:
“Everyone agrees that in this economic environment, all employers should re-examine how much they spend on recognition events for their employees. Especially publicly-traded companies owned by their shareholders. Especially institutions that received investments from US taxpayers through the US Treasury’s Capital Purchase Program. The problem is many media stories on this subject have been deliberately misleading. These one-sided stories lead you to believe every employee recognition event is a junket, a boondoggle, a waste, or that it’s for highly-paid executives. Nonsense! Because of the misperceptions these stories have created, Wells Fargo has decided to cancel all its major annual recognition events for its team members for the rest of this year... Since we aren’t thanking our award winners in person this year, we’ll have to do it this way."
Blame: Distorted Press Accounts/public perception
Victim: Our employees
To the New York Times Public Editor who wrote in a piece entitled "Bad News, and More Bad News" responding to readers who were complaining about scare tactic coverage:
“The economy is sick. Don’t blame The Times.”
Blame: The real situation
Victim: Our writers/editors
To the 20-somethings writing across all platforms on the difficulties of finding a job in this environment:
Blame: The boomers/ the “man”
To the front page of the FT Weekend with a page 1 headline detailing “Banker fury over tax ‘witch-hunt’” that featured anonymous pull quotes like:
“Introducing this 90 per cent tax is like taking the finance industry out the back and shooting it”
“What good does it do to be demonizing an industry that you need to revive to fix the economy?”
Blame: Congress/Populist Anger
Victim: Bankers/Wall Street
To Jeff Zucker last week defending CNBC at the Media Summit in New York last week:
Victim: The Peacock
There are thousands more self-involved examples. Everyone feels attacked and victimized this spring - from the common man in the Midwest to the mighty captains of industry to the Fourth Estate. And not one of us is happy about it.
So we unwittingly speak with one voice: America the Petulant- finger pointing and crying out for the good ol’ days of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.”
As any parent knows, the resulting cacophony causes the listener either rage or numbed tune-out. There is no real exchange. None is possible. And with no conversation there is no market. Literally and figuratively.
Isn’t this an opportunity for someone?
What if a big player in the financial industry started to speak with a different voice? A voice beyond petulance, which, instead of fueling more fear, distrust and naked self-interest, started a larger conversation – not with regulators or Congress but with actual consumers?
What if they fielded questions, explained context and provided insight about the current financial crisis?
What if they broke free of the insider code of financial wizardry and the language we’ve been taught not to trust by the people still speaking it? If they moved away from vague and poisonous words, old school PR tactics and style-but-no-substance advertising toward candor, clarity and actual content?
Imagine if someone in the financial sector took a cue from IBM’s brilliant “op-ad” series that features systems thinking and agenda setting subjects and positions IBM – and the country - for the other side?
So here’s to financial marketing without the ‘tude. It’s high time for a voice not of aggrieved petulance but of understanding – of issues, of pain, of neighbors and communities, of products and of selves. We need the banks and the financial institutions and we know it. But we want to feel better about it.
As my grandmother used to say – Get over yourself. Bring us a voice for the future – not an echo of the past.