What the Dickens?
Last week’s post got some comment, especially from among literature majors. My reference to our “tale of two cities” country caused several folks to suggest a reordering of the first lines of the novel: This time around suggesting “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.” The rest of course of the sentence can continue apace: “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
While it is a bit heartening to read what Dickens was describing about the period of the French Revolution, it is shocking to see crumbling in real time that which used to be called “the pillars of society.” Belief in government, media, science, healthcare, organized religion, big business, the military, the intelligence community, American values, celebrity, retail commerce, education, police, technology, public opinion research: All in various stages of disarray. An epoch of incredulity, for sure.
In what then can we believe in an age of foolishness? From whence will our hope spring? In literature (and certainly in marketing) there is the notion of ‘objective correlative,’ a symbol that objectifies an emotion. I suspect the symbol we’ll watch for signals of hope is the stock market. While most of the country does not have a direct stake in its climb, even the impoverished keep an eye on the numbers as a cue to where the economy is headed. Cracking 20,000 emerges as a piece of ‘real reality,’ unambiguous in its binary black and white certainty and going a long way to help otherwise worried citizens avert their gaze. For those who never fully recovered from the Great Recession, the metric that matters is not cause for yet another debate, but rather delivers much sought after clarity. In a sea of turbulent claims and counter claims, consumers seek an unambiguous North for our shared compass.
We’re seeing and hearing it in our work. As in, “Well, I don’t know about XYZ, but my mutual fund has gone up by $12,000 just since the election!” While marches and demonstrations flare and call us to the barricades, as rhetoric and vitriol toggle our outrage back and forth, swinging from sincere belief to the muddled confusion sparked by something called ‘alternative facts,’ a rising stock market raises quite a few boats and hopes. It seems, for the moment at least, inured to rumor, innuendo and misconstrued interpretation. It’s not, of course, and even the French Revolution didn’t last forever. However, quite a few heads had to roll before Liberty, Equality and Fraternity prevailed over the Reign of Terror.
The implication for big American businesses and brands? We’re thinking a surge of corporate “This We Believe” advertising, designed to encourage consumers to buy the company’s stock as well as its brands. Can tweets to direct to shoppers from corporate CEOs be far behind?