Nothing stupider than a telco. The secret handshake of the nascent phreaker/hacker movement in the San Francisco area and peninsula in the early 1970s. Captain Crunch using a cereal whistle to get free calls from Ma Bell. Jobs and Wozniak were making and selling phreaking equipment before they glommed onto the whole personal computer thing. But everyone agreed, ‘Nothing stupider than a telco’.
Remarkably it’s one of those truisms that remains valid 35 years later. (Disclosure – we’ve represented and worked closely with RBOCs and IXCs (long distance carriers) at the VP and in one case CEO level. So we can tell you it ain’t no lie). We must add, of course, cable companies. Now, it’s true that when Wired magazine was WiReD and truly hip say circa 1994/95, they did put John Malone of the cover as a Mad Max Road Warrior digital hero. They also sucked up to Ray Smith of Bell Atlantic at the time. Stupidity is contagious.
Consider Black Water. Murder? Fraud? Corruption? Indictments? Well, become Xe. There ya go, a new logo. Fresh start, right? Comcast is doing the same thing. Buy a failing network. Why get a new name and logo. Xfinity! Same cable service! Same cable culture! Now with an oddly pharmaceutical sounding name. (Warning, Xfinity may cause vomiting, nausea, kidney failure, dizziness and nose, throat and ear bleeding).
AT&T (the re-assembling of several regional bell operating companies in the theory that clueless + clueless + dullard = super genius) quite rightly is being hammered for an inferior wireless network among other things. In many cases, AT&T’s woes aren’t just low cell tower population for scant coverage area. That’s commodity technology. More like CAPEX lacking. Worse, the ‘back haul’ connection to the network backbone from a cell tower is often miniscule: a piece of yarn, silly string or in better situations, a straw. So all that 3G speed when you get it? Pushed along from the cells like an old 300 baud Hayes modem. To the end user it doesn’t matter. Calls are dropped, mobile Internet a joke, and sexting problematic.
How embarrassing to sext someone on AT&T in say San Francisco or New York. An intrepid customer unleashes their glorious image into the ether and . . . it actually arrives 10 years later. A once svelte, good looking person’s picture matched up with the now aged sender sporting that unmistakable botox rictus grin. Cruel, cruel telco.
So what does AT&T do? They take a page from Comcast. Just create a new marketing campaign. Same weak network. But with new commercials and jingles.
Obama could learn something. Comcast and AT&T likely will do OK. Sheople today are enthusiastic about being fodder for someone else’s business model. They boast of their allegiance by clicking on ‘like’ and ‘fan’ on various lowest common denominator social websites thronging with ephemeral chit chat. Or if they are hard core, line up for hours to buy a gizmo of dubious distinction wearing their Uggs and faux Lance Armstrong ‘cycling’ outfits with stretch spandex.
As a total non-sequitor, the Stiftung merely goes bike riding. Not the rest of D.C. They ‘cycle,’ dropping $1,000 on custom wind-friendly ‘cycling outfits’ and another $1,000 on a *bike* merely to strike a pose for 2 miles along the flat pedestrian Crescent trail here in D.C. Ending the farce by hurrying back to the sofa for a Big Mac and ‘Hardball’.
But we digress. What are Obama’s branding problems? What can he learn from Xfinity and AT&T? He’d probably like to address the ‘oh God, another rhetoric filled speech followed by Bush-lite action’ problem. Going to Wall Street? Posing at its shallowest. Everyone there knows the legislation is weak beyond the telling of it. Yet isn’t that what he did on health care? And Iraq? And Afghanistan? And torture investigations? And surveillance? [Fill in the rest, here].
Advertising and branding campaigns want to turn a weakness into a strength. Or deflect attention. Xfinity — for all its if it lasts longer than four hours call your doctor vibe — is a far cry from a company selling pipes to the home. So what can Obama do to be like Nixon in ’68, calling himself the ‘New Obama’. Any ideas? Names? Slogans? Logos? What are your ideas for an Obama makeover?