Thursday, January 22, 2009

No more “preaching”, JUST heroes please…

Yes this adicle is NOT going to be original and innovative, since it will deal with the (in)famous CRISIS…. BOO… beware of the big bad wolf (SUBTLE HINT=this is my idea of foreshadowing since I will talk about fairy tales)…

The true matter of the fact is that not one of the “analysts” that we watch daily lamenting about the coming months and year(s?), shooting “prognoses” left and right faster than a parrot with Tourette syndrome, can actually make an accurate prediction of exactly what, when, how, where, etc. will happen.

The one thing they all agree on, at least for the case of Europe, and more specifically Greece, is that the effects of the Crisis will not reach us until the second half of 2009.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel that I have a huge brick on the back of my neck with the word (yes you guessed it) CRISIS etched on it. You can’t go out, talk to anyone, do anything and somehow the cursed topic will come up… I almost (and I emphasise the word ALMOST) long for the days that the topic “d’ jour” was about “Ugly Betty”, the injustice that X-factor plays on our national treasure “Sakis”, and the latest proof of dementia exhibited by Mr. Galatis.

If you think that I am exaggerating, then just briefly (since any longer would be too cruel) picture my experience of listening the terms “globalisation”, “golden boys”, “fluctuating trust fund interests”, etc.. Coming out of my great-aunt (97 years old). Mind you this is the same person that thinks of me as a pamphlet distributor for a while now, since that is her full grasp of understanding of what advertising is…

So if the “BIG C” is not here yet, how come we all live in one? Well the answer is the simple communicational (and consequently advertising) truth, which we all have come to know, accept and “love”: Perception is truth…

But I will not fill your head (presuming that you are still reading thus far) with notions such as “media sensationalism”, “Panic-mongering TV news”, “ignorant specialists”, etc. and their part in creating, promoting and sustaining today’s sad and pessimistic climate.

What I find interesting is the good old Psychology principles that all of us in the advertising game (yes I do believe that we “play” for a living, which doesn’t mean we don’t do it in a serious way) can rely on, as long as we are always open in detecting the prevailing & effective ones.

In any period of crisis, and this is something history and experience has taught us, most will suffer but few will flourish. The ones that come out of these critical periods ahead of the game, are the ones that understood (or were lucky enough)as to how to address the sentiment of the era.

And this is where “stereotypes” come into play. Let us all take a moment and express our sympathy for such a poor and misunderstood a term that “stereotype” has become. What gave them a bad rep in the first place? We all live by them, use them to make sense of the world, activate them each time we classify a person on “Prima Fascia” and use them in order to project our image towards our environment.

Yes, stereotypes can be a good thing, esp. when we decode them down to their essence and remind ourselves what they really are: Communicational “shortcuts”, or putting it in other words - symbols, “charged” with de facto meaning. We say that a picture is worth a thousand words, well guess what, a stereotype can sometimes mean a hundred pictures... now go and do the math.

At some point way back, around 632 words ago, I committed to talk about fairy tales. Well, let us think about them and how they came to be. Yes I am taking about “fables”, bed time stories and the suchlike.

They are and have been an integral part of all human cultures, as long as they have been organized so as to be able to call them that. Tales have been originally passed on through oral tradition, and then, when our evolution permitted it, through written archives. Arguably, the oldest “tale” on record comes to us from ancient Egypt at around 1300 BC and was called the “Tale of the Two Brothers”, holding also the dubious honour of the first sample of “soap-operatic” plot design and styling.

If you think about it, after you have researched it, there hasn’t been an original plot (once you break it down to its core structure and meaning) for centuries, even millennia.

But hey, don’t fret, it’s ok. We don’t need more archetypical stereotypes (I’m still talking about Tales you know…). We just need to be able to come up with their most effective variations according to social needs and tendencies in any given era. In other words, one needs to be contemporary, and occasionally try to aim towards “modern” when he feels lucky or cocky or both (well do ya Punk?).

Guess what, we just described the foundation within all of our communication expressions and paradigms (and yes once again, advertising as well).

So now let us take another moment to hail the underappreciated “stereotype” and replace it to its rightful place of respect and credibility.

It’s time to ask, what kind of a “tale” would be most fruitful within the CRISIS climate we are prematurely experiencing, and is bound to actually catch up with us in a few months?

In periods of high social anxiety and tension, people are always implementing behavioural strategies that will satisfy their main need as it arises more and more demanding: Safety.

Hence, the inclination to fall back to tried and tested over time (since the past is always looking better in hard times) values, axioms and symbols. That is why we witness time and again (since hard periods are as the word testifies – periodical, meaning cyclically recurrent) patterns of social tendencies towards structured belief systems that are simple, easy to understand, clearly and austerely hierarchical. Think about the rise in fanaticism, nationalism, localism, etc.

All of the above –isms, are a direct effect of our need in bad times to rely on stereotypes/tales to give order and meaning to the “chaos” around us.

And this is where the notion of “heroes” comes. They have always been a favourite part of a tale, the part that most of us related to. As an example let us ponder on a famous tale, “little red riding hood”. For the most part of the tale, we don’t get to witness the hero. Actually the hero is the least mentioned and “developed” character in the story, but when you ask all kids which character they would want to be, they would all indicate that one- The “hunter”.

But we don’t have to go all the way back to Germanic folklore to prove the point in case. The rise of the comic-book as a profoundly influential to the US culture medium is a much researched case that shows direct correlations to societal changes, pre-during and post WWII.

And in an effort to be contemporary myself, I’ll just write the word that has been “charged” with de facto meaning very recently: OBAMA. Do you think it is logical that more than half the globe believe the new US president as a saviour of equal stature and reach?

In the coming year or, if we are unlucky, two, people (and yes Greeks as well) are going to love heroes in all shapes, forms and sizes, as long as they abide by today’s societal and cultural lingo and idiosyncrasy. This is going to be the hot stereotype, as long as understand that it will need to lose one of its former dimensions: “wholesomeness”.

“Dirty” heroes are the most liked ones by far, and this trend is on the rise for a while, following the social anxiety levels. The reason that they are the most liked has to do with the fact that because they have lost their lustre of clean-cut perfection and infallibility, they are most realistic and believable. People cannot believe in “perfection” and “morality”, when they are certain that their world has none to spare.

What they do believe in, however, are RESULTS and DELIVERANCE. They will not care for a while (duration of the crisis) in the most part about the symbol-figure that will fulfil them, as long as it will.

We need to take note here, that if a “hero” is an established one with only positive and “moral” equity elements, but also can deliver the above, then all the better. But let’s face it, how many stereotypes/symbols/BRANDS can claim that today? - Only the ones that have made it to a LOVEMARK status.

Hence, let us all start a mantra that goes something like this: No more “preaching”, JUST heroes… No more “preaching”, JUST heroes… No more “preaching”, JUST heroes…

I feel obligated to make a point here about the ephemeral nature that all deep crises have in common. In other words, they don’t last for ever, and usually they are shorter cycles compared to the periods of normality.

When they end, there is a sudden and abrupt turn of the people in all aspects of symbols, stereotypes and behaviours, since they need to shake off all the things reminiscent of their hardship.

So beware to invest in “tales” while very aware that they are in essence “tactical”, and will need to be given up without hesitation, when the times call for it, and trust me they WILL.

Christian M. Lazopoulos / Head of Strategy

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