Sunday, June 4, 2017

The effects of propaganda on the planet

     Trump lies and distracts and spews propaganda. I’ve posted about this before, how he’s applied much of the very same techniques that Hitler laid out in Mein Kampf.  (I mean, he did keep a copy of Hitler’s book in his bedroom.) 
     Hitler wrote that propaganda “must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed.” You must appeal to feelings and rile up your target, because, he stated, they are incapable of understanding anything. Their powers are restricted and “their understanding is feeble.” Hitler actually said that. And to a tee, Trump follows this most basic tenet of propaganda.
     Look at the following. It’s from a 1998 People Magazine. It's that rare quote that shows all his cards.

If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.

It’s an insidious statement that reeks of hubris. I keep wondering, what if people knew that he believed they were feeble and stupid? What if they knew that they were played?
     As if that wasn’t enough, the consequences of propaganda are scary, because when Trump makes decisions as president, he’s pandering to people who aren’t informed. And if trouble looms, as it does via the Russian and Comey investigations, what does Trump have to do? He must pump up his pandering and enforce whatever lie it will take to solidify his base.
    Last week, Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. It wasn’t about making the best decision given the evidence –– there was no regard for science, job trends, fellow man, the next generation or even Pittsburgh. It was an empty act of defiance meant to shore up his power. What begins with a lie can only end up missing the issue, accomplishing nothing.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


     The movie Denial may not have been a great movie, but it was an insightful movie. It’s the true story about the libel case brought by holocaust denier, David Irving, played by Timothy Spall, against the author, Deborah Lipstadt, played by Rachel Wiesz. In this age of alternative facts, it’s incredibly timely and instructive. It’s also pretty satisfying. Deborah Lipstadt wins the case and it makes you want to march down to Texas and punch Alex Jones in the mouth.
     Its lesson comes out of the title. Lipstadt’s lawyer tells her, “What feels best isn’t always what works best.” And what felt most natural to Lipstadt was to rail against the injustice, get Holocaust survivors to attest to the atrocities and express their suffering. Her legal team, however, had a different strategy –– make the argument about him, David Irving; set aside your personal feelings; mine all of Irving’s writings and speeches for discrepancies and, ultimately, find proof that his version of the Holocaust evolved and was twisted to suit his purposes. It was an exhausting amount of work that showed how labyrinthine and time-consuming the process of unearthing falsehoods is. For Deborah Lipstadt, it would be an act of self-denial. “How hard it is to hand over your conscience,” she says. 
     For us ad people, it’s a reminder that Persuasion comes by focusing on the target, by setting aside our own feelings, our own tastes and styles and media preferences to communicate that, which would be most effective to the consumer.
     For every thinking person concerned about and offended by an affront to the truth, we need to understand the facts of our target's life, the facts about the issues and the facts that support our solutions. While we may all want to vent on Facebook and blast the president –– Malignant Narcissist!, Con Man!, Angry Cheeto!, Mango Mussolini!, Human Corncob!, Hair Furher!, Putin’s Puppet!, Child-man in chief! or just, well, Douche Bag! –– it won’t accomplish much more than it would to scream into your pillow. Perhaps it will keep Resistors at a full boil for an extra week, but it won’t win an argument or change anyone’s mind.
     It's all about our target –– listening to their opinions and their previous statements, probing their point of view, digging into the history of their opinions and what history itself tells us about their policies. It takes work and discipline. Restraint is a bitch. Just this morning, Trump again called Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas and it really pissed me off. I was tempted to just rant and rage.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


            In the ad world, there’s been an increasing amount of work designed to pull on people’s emotional strings. There’s no benefit to most of the stuff and, ironically, no real understanding about which emotional string should be struck in order to compel people to buy. Its proponents want to build big brands like Nike or Apple, but evidently lack the knowledge of how Nike and Apple got to be Nike and Apple. I keep hearing that consumers want to have a conversation with brands. Seriously? I think they want their car to run, their computer not to freeze and their vegetables to be fresh. To spout such advertising without offering up real reasons, just shows a lack of respect for consumers. I mean, do we really think people are that stupid? Sadly, the problem goes beyond Madison Avenue.
            In the wider world of politics, we now have a propagandist for a president who, as such, has no regard for facts and rouses our worst emotions. Lacking the requisite RTB’s, he, too, shows exactly what he thinks of us, presumably believing that we should give him our respect automatically because he’s president. Wrong. He works for us, remember? That said, what’s he done? He’s insulted, lied, been greedy, abused women and minorities and so on. He hasn’t shown any depth of knowledge in politics, history or command of the issues. He hasn’t revealed a deep moral core. So why should we respect him? Respect has to be earned. He must think we're stupid.
            Last year the big headline from the Cannes Ad Festival declared that there’s a lot of “crap content” out there. Well, now, as I read that Trump is running ads to draw more people to attend his inauguration, I can only conclude that there’s crap content and there’s CRAP content. I can't even bring myself to watch it on TV and contribute to positive ratings.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Emperor's Clothes

     How disappointing is it to open a bag of chips and find two thirds of it is air? What about when you buy a bottle of vitamins and it’s only a half a bottle of product? Or, when dining out, your entrée makes you want to echo Oliver Twist  –– “More, please!” Don’t you hate it when reality doesn’t live up to the advertising?
     Which makes me wonder: Why the hell does Donald Trump wear suits that are too big, with ties that are like oversized eels draped around his neck? The shoulders of his suits are too wide by at least a size, and they slump over to the side. The jackets are a solid inch too long, and billow. The baggy trousers manage to look worn out, though they are not. What’s he trying to say? He’s a big man? He’s a sloppy big man? He’s bigger than Napoleon but he still has a complex?    
     At this point, with nothing from Trump but pandering about outcomes –– without specifics, decorum, civility or even real intelligence –– our conclusion can only be: beware of big packages with small products inside.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Orange Age of Advertising

        I have great news for everyone who thinks the nation will go to the dogs if Donald Trump becomes president. At least advertising could get its next big trend.
      We should call it Rambotising. Why not? Donald Trump became a contender for the presidency by creating advertising based entirely on angry emotion rather than reason, so our business, ever keen to ride a new wave, could pick up on that and make it all the rage, literally.
      It’s really not hard to imagine. Let’s say we got briefed on Head & Shoulders shampoo. We could depict the dandruff as evil, ruthless and sadistic. We’d probably animate it, but let’s make it animated like Mortal Kombat is animated, so we could make the scumballs really look like criminals. Then, with the human scalp looking like a post-apocalyptic landscape from a Mad Max movie and the shampoo acting like a deadly chemical warfare agent, we’d let the dandruff have it – HAHAHAHAHA, MAGGOTS! It’s kind of fun, actually.
      Let’s say we had to work on Ford. In our social communities, we’d pummel home that all drivers of other cars are losers. And on film, we could show a Mustang at a red light, just minding its own business when, from the second lane, putters up a pathetic little Fiat –– an annoyance, a gnat on a hot summer night –– so the driver would send a warning. He’d rev his engine, a slow, surging and menacing snarl. The driver would then roll down his window, turn to camera and like Dirty Harry on a really bad day, he’d growl, “If any pint-sized calzone tries to cut me off, it’ll be the last car they’ll ever drive!”
      It being much more important to say whatever riles up our target, legal claims wouldn’t be much of a concern. We could lie and we could shitpost . After all, this is low, lowbrow. Remember whom we’re targeting.
      Do you remember that great ad from Bob Levenson, “Do this or die”? To quote, “There is indeed a twelve-year–old mentality in this country; every six-year-old has one. We are a nation of smart people.” Forget that. We’d be targeting Man at his basest, which, if you ask any woman, would have him swinging from tree to tree and throwing poop at all his enemies.
      Long-term, when this kind of work becomes popular, our industry would attract new talent. Creative people with issues would find this work cathartic. All those hate-ridden people in the customer service field will be naturals at this. Who knows. A few kids might give advertising a shot over professional wrestling,
      So, is it right? Is it ethical? Is it artful? Will this approach actually work? Probably not, but that’s not the point. The point is about Trumpism seeping into our world. It raises a serious question: What happens when lies and anger and extremism are normalized? I suspect more than a few ads will be affected.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

It's only propaganda.

         Stop sifting through the bluster for the truth. View the rhetoric as manipulation. Judge every pivot as a device to turn an audience. Donald Trump’s words are not chosen to convey sincerity. He’s a propagandist.
         Propaganda is the intentionally biased or misleading approach to promote a particular political cause. It's bad, bad advertising. 
Our first clue of this was that he kept a book beside his bed by the master of propaganda, Adolf Hitler. The book was My New Order, the follow-up to Mein Kampf. Just look at the way Trump speaks, argues, rages and retaliates. You attack one’s opponent, as opposed to the issues. You appeal to fear. You appeal to prejudices. And these are only some of the ingredients of propaganda. He and Adolf have a lot in common.
         Joseph Goebbels, the Chief of Nazi Propaganda, wrote, “Propaganda has no principles of its own. It has only one goal, and in politics that goal is always to conquer the masses. Any means to that end that does not serve that end is bad.” Ever wonder how Donald Trump could say one thing to one audience and totally change his tune and tone to another, like in Mexico and then three hours later in Arizona? It's a good sign he's spewing propaganda.
         There’s also his target. Trump speaks to the under educated blue-collar worker. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, “All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Consequently, the greater the mass it is intended to reach, the lower its purely intellectual level will have to be.” Throughout My New Order, Hitler calls his beloved simpletons “folk.” Isn’t that nice? If only Trump’s followers knew that they were chosen because they’re considered perfectly dim.
         Keep it simple, if not intuitive –– that’s another ingredient of propaganda. Make that audience feel good to understand what the politicians don’t. So if you’re sick of immigrants taking our jobs and threatening our personal safety, build a wall. If you don’t like Isis, bomb the sh*t out of them. If America has a problem, “I alone can fix it.” “The more modest its intellectual ballast…” Hitler wrote, “the more effective it will be.” It doesn’t matter how complex the subject matter is, whether modern economics or national defense. It doesn’t even matter if you reduce the issue, as Trump has done with Immigration, to such simplicity that the problem gets distorted and the solutions are impractical. Reduce everything to black and white. It’s all part of doing what it takes to win the moment.
         Then, rile up the troops –– demonize the opposition, call them names, fire up their fury. Trump paints a hellish picture of America as a third world country, a place of economic devastation and mortal fear in which he is leading the charge to reclaim the country. Isn’t that exactly what Hitler did? Trump accused the Obama administration of allowing Islamist terrorism to spread under the advisement of Secretary of State Clinton, who he summarized as "death, destruction, terrorism and weakness" –– the same sort of invectives Hitler used against capitalists and internationalists.
         Now, content-wise, it’s essential to propaganda that thou shalt tell a lie. But not just any lie, a big lie. “A big lie” was coined in Mein Kampf to describe a lie so "colossal" that no one would believe someone could have the balls to make up such a thing. It demands impudence, a talent Trump shamelessly displayed when he went after Hillary’s health, when he called her a bigot, accused her of founding Isis and claimed that “thousands and thousands” of Muslim Americans in New Jersey were cheering as the Towers tumbled down.

“…in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.                                                                    

         This is offensive and sleazy stuff. When you apply the tools of judgment, you can only conclude that Trump is not trustworthy. And, out of self-respect, how could anyone support someone who thinks so little of others?

Monday, August 15, 2016

About a boor.

          I’d love to see a whole article just on Donald Trump’s hair – the flip, the wispiness, the firm, long-lasting hold he gets from a half a bottle of hairspray. The more attention to detail, the better. As one of the executives in a season of The Apprentice, I spent an uncomfortable hour with the man in a limousine, waiting for the director to wave us onto the set, trying to keep my eyes averted from that orange super structure, and I can tell you, it’s fascinating. But, no, this is about his recent rhetoric, namely, his usage of “sarcasm.”
         Trump claims he was being sarcastic when he called Obama the founder of Isis. He’s mistaken. He was not even being “that sarcastic,” which was how he back-stepped from his original claim. He was not being sarcastic at all.
         If he were being sarcastic, he would have said the opposite of what he meant to make a point. He’d say something like, “Obama is not responsible for Isis, yeah right.” So when he claimed that we, the rest of the world, don’t “get sarcasm,” it is he that doesn’t get sarcasm. Neh neh neh neh neh.
         Trump was being hyperbolic, exaggerating Obama’s supposed contribution to Isis. Now, if I were being sarcastic, I’d say that Trump has a wonderful command of the language; I’d say he has a firm handle on reasoned debate. If I were being metaphoric, I’d say he was a boob. If Donald Trump knew his history, that it was mostly Musab Al-Zarqawi that formed Isis before Obama even took office, I'd have to consider the possibility that he stated a lie. 
         Sarcasm is lazy and so is hyperbole. It’s a way of attacking or dismissing the opposition without actually showing any respect with whom you disagree. Sadly, Trump seems to be incapable of taking the time to explain his position in clear, respectful terms, which is, in politics, the essence of diplomacy.
         Question: If Reagan was The Great Communicator, what does that make Trump? Let me think: what’s the opposite of “communicator?”