Uncle Sam Wants You, CMO

Would a Cabinet-Level Marketer Boost America's Brand?

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Ask not what your country can do for (or to) you, but what you can do for it.

A government has a critical responsibility to protect its citizenry from threats outside our borders and from within. All too often corporations gone unchecked have hurt people in a quest for more profit, and our government could have done more. Think Pinto explosions, credit-default swap implosions and tobacco deaths -- all examples where our government could have intervened to prevent people from being hurt.

On the flip side is the "nanny-state" aspect of government, in which boundaries are crossed "in the public interest." Think Michael Bloomberg's soda ban, which is not only paternalistic, but just plain silly. You realize people can just buy two of the smaller size, right? Protection does not equal coddling.

The delicate balance of oversight vs. overstepping not withstanding, regulation is inherently a negative thing. It is the stick approach, but "we the people" prefer our carrots. "We the marketers" know there's a better way -- we inspire people to change behaviors. Maybe the U.S. government needs to think more like we do. Maybe what is really lacking in the Cabinet is a badass CMO.

Your boss (aka the commander in chief) came up through sales and he doesn't get marketing. The two divisions of engineering and manufacturing don't understand the consumer, fight among themselves like children and haven't produced a decent product in years. Plus, you have a very uptight nine-person compliance department that thinks it's 1787 or something. All in all, it's like most companies where you've worked.

The biggest asset you have available is a phenomenal brand: the American Dream. Yes, the brand has lost its way and become more confused in a market that is changing at lightning speed, but the American Dream was the ultimate lifestyle brand for so long, envied around the world. It's time for a comeback, and you're the person to do it.

To start, you go back to the brand's heritage and find its purpose, particularly easy if you were paying attention in sixth-grade history. The pillars of the American Dream are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Suck on that, Levi's.

You develop brand attributes: spirited, hopeful, resourceful, resolved, open and true.

You write an impassioned rant that confronts the realities of how technology and globalism are radically changing the world. The light at the end of the tunnel is that the possibilities of an asset-light existence could mean greater happiness for all if we, the consumer, start to remember that money doesn't buy happiness. Time with family, friends and yourself does. Add in hard work and giving back, and there is a better day ahead. You think it's a little over-the-top, but it has the benefit of being true, so you press send.

"Go. Do." Or maybe, "Go. Be." You'll let the focus groups decide. Or maybe you'll just go straight to the boss's wife -- you know that he is going to ask her (they always do).

Next, you create an anthemic two-minute spot for the Super Bowl that is so powerful it will make "Halftime in America" look, well, kind of cutesy.

You create initiatives that demonstrate the brand platform: for "life" -- free medical insurance for anyone who exercises three times a week; for "liberty" -- free college or tech education for anyone signing up for five years of civil service; and for "pursuit of happiness" -- mandatory old-school street parties on every federal holiday. Now we're talking.

Finally, you create a real-time marketing effort that reminds every American to stay present and engaged. You use targeted social-media outreach, not just for sharing cat videos, but for connecting people to jobs, ideas, help and resources. You'll take user-generated insights and ideas to "engineering and manufacturing" in the hopes they finally start legislating a better product. You'll host hackathons and business-plan competitions to identify promising entrepreneurs and you'll provide marketing services for an equity position in their new venture. Can you say IPO? I bet you can.

You will market hope and accountability. Hard work and hard truths. And you will remind us to smile, and maybe even dance, in the hard times. Because all you have is the here and now, so why not make the best of it? If you're successful, we will need less regulation because you will have inspired Americans to do the right thing, not the selfish thing -- or worse, nothing at all. And your pricing strategy for the repositioned American Dream brand? Free.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Coleman is founder and CEO of the Via Agency.
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