Tag: "politics"

An Open Letter to the Stewards of the Progressive & Democratic Brands

Hello Stewards,

You may not realize it yet, but you need help.

I’ve been told by many in politics that there are no well-known (or even proven-effective) brand strategists focused on helping Progressive causes. (There are an astounding number of political strategists but that’s a different animal.) This may be due to the common belief that Democrats won’t pay for core brands to be developed. Dems spend a fortune on polling, message crafting, and message testing, but when it comes time to actually develop the unchanging core of progressivism or the Democratic party there’s no one willing to buy more than a quick logo invariably containing some combination of red, white and blue. And perhaps this would be fine if this were universally true across the political spectrum…

But it isn’t. Conservative leadership has long understood that without a deep and powerful identity they’re lost. The world’s greatest branding minds are regularly paid immense sums to work for Conservative initiatives. These strategists have worked hard to develop, execute and maintain a consistent Conservative brand that appeals to a broad spectrum of Americans from every economic class.

Think it’s a coincidence that every conservative issue comes down to just two things? Every thing is about either Liberty (or it’s cousin “freedom”) or faith (in our founding fathers, our business leaders, our capitalism, or our God). I have yet to find a conservative cause that couldn’t be summed up by some combination of the two ideas. And they’re a brilliant combination. The freedom and liberty to do whatever is in your best interests, backed by faith in whatever it is that you believe? That means that so long as you maintain belief in whatever floats your boat the details on any particular issue are irrelevant. It’s true because of our belief system, not because of the intricate details of an issue.

It’s one of the most impressive feats of branding I’ve ever seen.

But it’s beatable. Just not by progressives as they’re branding themselves now. Progressives (and their current host, the Democrats) we put all their eggs in the fairness basket. This is fine when our country is stable and the masses believe we are well served, but when the system is rigged to consistently sacrifice the ability of one group of our citizens to survive in order to benefit another it seems to me that “fairness” is a bad fit.

Think about the rulings and legislation passed recently. Conservatives have successfully argued that corporations are people. Money is speech. Unlimited anonymous donations can be made from individuals and organizations to any candidate through Super PACs, arguably protecting and legalizing the buying of favorable treatment from our government.

The only reason Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” has not “perished from this earth” is that corporations are now people. Astonishingly powerful people.

This isn’t an issue of fairness anymore in much the same way that it wasn’t about fairness when we abolished slavery, gave women the right to vote, or allowed workers to protect themselves from doing crazy things like, say, becoming an ingredient in the sausage they made.

I’ve recited the Pledge of Allegiance countless times in my life and I’m pretty sure that there’s no mention of fairness there. It’s not in the Constitution either. Nor the Bill of Rights. We have no right to fairness other than perhaps the right to attempt to achieve it in our pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of fairness seems better suited to squabbles involving siblings and nannies in modern vernacular.

So what might be a better fit? When we look at the pledge most of us recited daily as school children there’s a phrase that may be key. The Progressive Promise of “Fairness for All” isn’t there, but “and justice for all” is. Justice is a focal point of the first sentence of our Constitution, and makes a repeat appearance in Article 4 section 2, ensuring that not only will there be justice, but that within the borders of our nation one cannot escape it.

The recent Occupy movement isn’t just demanding fairness. They’re demanding justice. And it’s when that level of emotion and passion is stirred that progressives become effective agents of change. It’s a shift from “we need to adjust things” to “this is criminally unjust” that seems to help America make progressive leaps forward.

Progressivism’s biggest weakness is that it must necessarily ebb and flow as the perception of our government’s ability or willingness to provide equal justice under the law shifts. When the government leans toward treating everyone equally progressivism has trouble gaining a foothold. When it is perceived as oppressive to the common man progressivism inexorably rises up to rebalance or rebuild the system. Once fixed the progressive movement fades until the oppression becomes visible again. If the oppression isn’t fixed it gradually becomes the accepted way of life and we move on.

What does this mean? Well, it means that progressives have a very limited window of time in which to rebalance the system now that oppression is perceived. If progressives can’t unite their distinct voices into a single call for change that is connected to the core of their cause they will fail to have an impact in our era. And it’ll be because they couldn’t simply and powerfully define themselves.

As for who the progressives area at their core? I’m pretty sure they’ve never been able to powerfully describe it. The progressive promise shouldn’t be “Fairness for All” or even “Justice for All”. It’s should be about the willingness and responsibility to defend the rights of every American, not just the ones with money or power.

I’ll take a shot at defining the progressive core. How about:

No American Stands Alone.

I’m pretty damn sure that this is the sentiment behind every great step forward that America has taken since the time of Lincoln. It all fits. And it seems to align with almost everything that progressives are aiming to achieve today.

But time is short, the election is coming, and the Democratic brand and message is a horribly confused mess.

It’s fixable. And the election is winnable. And change can happen in this era. If only progressives would invest and believe in who they are instead solely on what they say.

If you’re not one of the stewards of the Democratic brand and think there’s merit in this idea then perhaps you can forward this letter or link to someone who is. Your Democratic Congressman, someone in the DCCC, or the White House would be a good start.

If you are one of the stewards? Don’t be shy. Comment, call, or write.  Mostly because I haven’t a clue who you are. Unless you’re President Obama, of course. (And if that’s you, Mr. President, please do reach out because as I understand it you’re not yet taking my calls.)

And in the unlikely case that there isn’t a steward for the brand, I humbly throw my hat into the ring. Or I would if someone could tell me where the ring is.


Tate Linden
(A proven brand strategist.)


The Terrorists Formerly Known as al-Qaida (That Could’ve Been)

Posted By:
Tate Linden

Can changing the name of an organization without changing anything else actually work?

The news today says Osama bin Laden was recently considering a rebrand. And before anyone tries to tell a joke about it – The Daily Mash sort of predicted this all the way back in ’07,  so… you’re already behind the times.

The AP helped break the story:

The problem with the name al-Qaida, bin Laden wrote in a letter recovered from his compound in Pakistan, was that it lacked a religious element, something to convince Muslims worldwide that they are in a holy war with America.

Maybe something like Taifat al-Tawhed Wal-Jihad, meaning Monotheism and Jihad Group, would do the trick, he wrote. Or Jama’at I’Adat al-Khilafat al-Rashida, meaning Restoration of the Caliphate Group.

As bin Laden saw it, the problem was that the group’s full name, al-Qaida al-Jihad, for The Base of Holy War, had become short-handed as simply al-Qaida. Lopping off the word “jihad,” bin Laden wrote, allowed the West to “claim deceptively that they are not at war with Islam.” Maybe it was time for al-Qaida to bring back its original name.

(via an article by MATT APUZZO, which can also be found on Google News)

But was the problem really about al-Qaida’s brand?

It’s easy to make that assumption. Think about all the organizations – governmental, business, or grass-roots – that have assumed it was true that all we have to do is call something by another name and SUCCESS WILL BE OURS.

Remember Blackwater? They rebranded to the easy-to-spell but hard-to-say “Xe” to escape their scandalous past. And then they continued to behave scandalously, tarnishing their new brand in exactly the same way they’d done the last.

Or “Diebold Election Systems” changing their name to “Premier Election Systems” after the CEO used his corporate influence to raise funds and directly support a presidential candidate that his machines were responsible for electing. Even with the rebrand the division was sold for a loss, rebranded a second time, and then sold again.

Or the shell game AIG went through via an interim AIU Holdings brand to today’s Chartis. Which until recently was led by the same people that had caused the scandal in the first place.

Reactionary rebranding – trying to cover up a tangible screw-up or known negative affiliation – by just calling yourself something else violates the essence of my (admittedly evolving) personal theory on identity.

It’s not what you say that matters. It’s also not what you do. It’s your reasons for saying and doing – and whether others believe in and relate to those reasons – that matter.

Great brands are only effective when the communicated intent is believable and meshes well with motivations of the people they need to impact.

The problem with an al-Qaida rebrand (had bin Laden not been killed) would’ve been that the only thing changed were words. The deeds and the intent behind them wouldn’t change. Changing the existing perception of the intent isn’t something that can be done by just slapping on a new slogan or name. If that worked all that folks like Bernie Madoff would’ve had to do is change their names and adopt nifty slogans so all would be forgiven.

Sadly for Bernie and al-Qaida it just doesn’t work that way.


The Rebirth of Effective Progressivism: It’s not what you say, and it’s also not what you do.

Posted by:
Tate Linden

Tomorrow morning (9 AM at Netroots Nation 11) I’m serving on a panel of national experts and authors of books on political messaging and polling with Drew Westen and Celinda Lake. As the lone panelist without a Wikipedia page (probably should do something about that, no?) I’m honored to be included in the group.

I was invited to speak after addressing members of Congress and their staffs on the role of branding and identity in politics, and participating in a heated round-table session (along with Drew) with the Congressmen about how to address the issues raised during the day’s many discussions.

My role on the Netroots messaging panel is to discuss three critical issues working against the advancement of Progressive ideals:
1) Progressives (as individuals and as a group) have an outmoded understanding of alignment.
2) Progressives do not discern between actual intent and perceived intent.
3) Progressives ineffectually use logic to counter Conservative faith-based arguments.

These three issues combine to make it extremely difficult for any Progressive to build and maintain the credibility and power to effect change.

The solution is to build a new model of alignment that ensures words and actions are aligned with core ideals – and to make the alignment strong enough to withstand the reinterpretation efforts of the opposition. By building Progressive initiatives on a foundation of positive intent and perhaps linking this intent to strongly positive and deeply held American beliefs (consider the great and popular historical achievements of Progressivism such as the abolishment of slavery, the establishment of civil rights and women’s suffrage, victories in two world wars) the movement can once again begin building a greater America.

You can read more detail in the attached summary (Download the PDF Version here!). If you’re attending the session you’ll get a hard-copy when you arrive. I welcome your thoughts and comments during the panel session – or feel free to approach me any time (though I’m only in attendance at Netroots Nation 11 on Thursday) to share your feedback or ask about scheduling deeper discussion or problem solving for you. You can follow the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #NN11.

Comments, questions, and opinions from across the political spectrum are also welcome on the Blog – or through the email listed on the PDF.


And it’s also the today of politics, I suppose. Shouting is just a fact of life.

Someone sent me a letter from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that had the following header:

Seriously people. Who is going to be the one to get the Democrats to understand that ranting until one’s face turns red is not an effective way to convince people to take action (unless they’re in boot camp or perhaps in a really crappy relationship.) Nor is it the most compelling portrayal of what I believe to be a proud and storied political party. (I actually thought that this was a great trick played by the Republicans, but, sadly, it was not.)

And while you bend their ear on that topic, please also mention the following carefully researched but non-exhaustive list of terms that are likely not entirely effective vehicles for conveying empowerment and change:

  1. bluster
  2. bombast
  3. diatribe
  4. harangue
  5. bellow
  6. tantrum
  7. fume
  8. rage
  9. scold
  10. shout
  11. bait
  12. chafe
  13. bristle
  14. fret
  15. gall
  16. goad
  17. irritate
  18. miff
  19. rankle
  20. vex

Ranting is ineffective. Ranting is obnoxious. Ranting is what the Republicans say the Democrats do. Claiming ownership of the term as a badge of pride, as many persecuted groups have done, does not automatically boost one’s status. Sometimes it just makes one look out of touch or clueless.

What’s the impact of ranting? It doesn’t create change. It reinforces status quo. It indicates that the ranter believes they are owed something they don’t have, and that they believe they’re not likely to get it. And, damnit, that’s just not okay. And they believe you need to know that. Whether you want to listen or not – which they know you don’t.

If that isn’t a recipe for (Duh) WINNING, I don’t know what is.

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