DEATH OF A BRAND
That brand was a cult of personality.
It had charismatic appeal.
An iconic image.
Greatly anticipated speeches.
A consistent and unchanging public wardrobe.
A sordid family saga.
Yes, there's question is your head is asking right now...
IS THAT FIDEL CASTRO?
Or is it Steve Jobs?
And admittedly, nobody around here had ever considered the parallels.
Then we took a glance at the Fidel brand through the lens of El Caballo's demise last Saturday.
Whoa. Did you know that Fidel had at least 11 kids by various women?
(There could be more.)
Some of them live in the U.S. and are public opponents of Fidel's political legacy.
TALK ABOUT SORDID FAMILY SAGA
And in case you didn't know, the moniker El Caballo was bestowed upon Fidel by Cuban bandleader Benny Moré, a kind of real-life Ricky Ricardo.
Moré's nickname for Fidel (which means "The Horse,") is a reference to the great dictator's infamous philandering during the 1950s and 1960s--a time when Castro was a sex symbol in Cuba.
Yes, that's right: Fidel Castro, sex symbol. Sometimes a cigar is...well, never mind.
Any Freudian symbolism aside, it's safe to say that sordid-family man Steve Jobs never exactly enjoyed that kind of profligate, prodigal status.
Although, there is a video out of MIT called Steve Jobs, Secret Sex Symbol.
There's his long-disavowed daughter, Lisa. And Steve infamously wanted tantric sex in the garden shed with girlfriend Chrisann Brennan.
Anyway, stud nicknames and cigars aside, this is about something else.
NAMELY: BUILDING AN EMPIRE ON PERSONAL BRAND
It's safe to say that the Cuban empire is a threadbare utopia--a shattered dream through which 1950s American cars putter, and any concept of personal wealth was long ago laid waste.
Despite that, 1959 to present day is quite a tenure for a tyrant whose social and economic policies ranged from shaky to vicious.
The Cuban economy has long been a mess.
Intellectuals and artists who disagreed with Fidel were jailed and even tortured.
And despite the obvious socio-economic failures, the whole branded utopian miasma prevailed. Fidel was long regarded as The Dude in Havana.
In his Fidel biography, Political Science Professor Paul C. Sondrol from the University of Colorado uses a delightful and disturbing turn of phrase, calling Fidel "quintessentially totalitarian in his charismatic appeal."
For some, Fidel's speeches were greatly anticipated (much like Steve's). He'd go on for hours--without notes (also without PowerPoint)--and speak on a range of topics from agriculture and the military to filmmaking and chess strategies.
AND THEN, THERE'S THE OUTFIT
The olive drab fatigues.
Fidel's own version of the black mock turtleneck.
But unlike Steve, for whom the turtleneck was something of an accident, there was nothing accidental about Fidel's getup of the grunt.
In public, for 37 years, Fidel only ever wore the green fatigues. The message was clear: "I am and always will be the perpetual revolutionary."
There's a famous billboard in Cuba, featuring a drawing of Fidel in profile, wearing his uniform. The copy on the billboard says, "Luchar contra lo imposible y vencer."
Translation: "To fight against the impossible and win."
Seems a win in Fidel World is a different kind of victory.
CONTROLLING THE FLOW OF INFORMATION WITH AN IRON MUZZLE
Wait. Information control. Are we talking about Fidel now? Or Steve?
Castro's private life is little known, thanks to state-media censorship. (No girl & cigar, blue-dress media moments in Havana, that's for sure.) The Committee To Protect Journalists calls Cuba one of the "10 Most Censored Countries."
According to Human Rights Watch, "Cuba has developed a highly effective machinery of repression."
It's also reported that the Cuban Interior Ministry was trained by the dreaded East German Stasi.
Steve could be secretive and repressive, too. According to Inside Apple author Adam Lashinsky, Steve's company was notorious for "windowless offices, a neutering of egos and an ethos of fear with 'cultish' overtones."
"Staff members who have left the business live in fear of retribution."
There's "A taskforce called the Worldwide Loyalty Team, which some employees have referred to as 'the Apple Gestapo...' a group of moles tasked with spying in Apple headquarters and stores."
EXCEPT THAT, UNDER STEVE, APPLE DIDN'T JAIL ITS DISSIDENTS
Apple might have made their lives difficult.
A dissident Apple employee, instead of being thrown into a dank cell to rot for years, is more likely to go home and bitch to his wife about being fired without two weeks' notice.
Still, Steve was about total control. As was Fidel.
Says the Fidel biographer Peter Bourne, writing in Fidel: A Biography of Fidel Castro, "Fidel's domination of every aspect of the government and the society remains total. His personal need for absolute control seems to have changed little over the years."
Says the Steve biographer, Mr. Lashinsky, "A culture of fear and intimidation found roots throughout the organization," and quoting the Telegraph quoting Mr. Lashinsky, "a dictatorial CEO rules with an iron fist."
Apple's legal team was known for threatening reporters. Censorship is abundant in the App Store.
OH, COME ON: STEVE AND FIDEL ARE NOT THE SAME THING
No, they're not.
But in both cases, we're talking about a huge brand controlled by an enormous ego.
And lest you find a flaw in this thinking, consider what the Wall Street Journal says:
Marketing gurus tell us that
a successful brand functions
as a store of values. It encapsulates
a pool of attractive ideas that
satisfy customers' desire for
meaning. To encourage loyalty
to a brand, they say, the marketer
must cultivate a sense of belonging
and personal identification with
Well, THAT certainly sounds like someone here in this screed is trying to say the "death of a brand" assertion applies equally to a despot in green fatigues as one in a black turtleneck.
UNTIL YOU READ THE NEXT PARAGRAPH OF THE WSJ ARTICLE
Ready? (Remember, this is a quote not from your relentless screed, but Dow Jones & Company's great gray flimsy.)
For many within a core constituency
of left-leaning, relatively well-educated
people both inside and outside Cuba,
Castro's "revolution" achieved precisely
this. To this niche market, Cuba
evokes a set of magical buzz words
long-favored by the radical left:
"resistance," "social justice,"
"struggle." It represents an idealized,
selfless counterpoint to ruthless,
greedy capitalism. It is the alternative
to brand U.S.A.
The title of the WSJ article is "Brand Cuba." It was published on March 11, 2008. It's an indictment of the brand and the ongoing efforts to prop it up and make Fidel's core customer feel one way about the "business," as it were.
Yes, Steve Jobs might have been a petty tyrant with a personal "gestapo."
That's also insider hyperbole.
And nobody was ever forced to live and die beneath the Apple logo. They could come and go as they pleased. (Within reason, of course, depending upon their terms of employment and any non-compete clauses. Nobody was pilfering their stapler and the Scotch Tape dispenser on their way out of Cuba.)
LIVING AND DYING BENEATH THE BANNER OF FIDEL WAS A MANDATE
It still is, but we'll see how long that lasts. So-called "normalization" of relations with Cuba has been underway for a while.
But the point is this: anyone who wishes to, with any business of any size, has the power to build a brand.
That brand can make the core customer feel one way about the business.
That brand can "satisfy customers' desire for meaning."
That brand can even be enormously flawed, run by a spiteful, malicious, vindictive, nasty egomaniac with a charming public face.
That brand can be led a bespectacled man in a black turtleneck.
Or by a bearded man in green battle dress.
Yes, the U.S. brand is flawed these days. But its liberty and light still far outweigh the tropical darkness that reigns over Havana.
AS FOR YOUR BRAND, YOU ARE UNLIKELY DESPOT MATERIAL
Despots don't read the screed.
You are able to "satisfy customers' desire for meaning."
You can dress the part of your brand. (Many brand representatives do.)
You can even promote "social justice," "struggle," and "represent an idealized, selfless counterpoint" to whatever market evil you desire.
I would love to always wear a seersucker suit and a Panama hat as I launch a market offensive against vocal fry and slack-jawed up-speak.
Not sure I see a lot of potential profit in that, but I would be applauded by throngs of people of a certain age.
And I certainly wouldn't be forcing anyone to live with me on that island.
Yes, your brand is an island.
It should a preserve, not a prison.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.