The more I write about how critical it is to discover and express both your authentic self and your customers’ deepest desires in your brand, the more questions I get. Many are about how one can discover the true self they should be promoting, or how to know exactly what their customers want. Clearly answers to both these questions require a lot more time than an email answer or even blog post offers. But the other frequent request is for a clear example of a brand that is congruent with both its own authentic self and the desires of its clients. Sure there’s a pat list of expected answers including names such as Apple, Porsche, BMW, Panerai, Ralph Lauren, Harley-Davidson, Prius, Las Vegas, and Hermes.
But perhaps the truest brand example I can think of is Bill O’Reilly. Seriously. Bill. O. Freaking Reilly.
Before I explain, let me issue a prophylactic disclaimer. I’m neither condoning nor condemning O’Reilly’s politics in this blog. For the sake of illustrating the concept of true brand value I’ve gone out of my way to be as agnostic as possible. The point here is not the what, but the how.
It was O’Reilly’s contention that ESPN’s refusal to run the spot was a clear example of what he called “America’s War on Christmas.” Click HERE to watch the interview.
If O’Reilly had actually permitted me to explain why ESPN had disallowed the commercial I would have told him about these three factors:
To not offend their viewers, ESPN – like all television networks – has policies regarding how much religiosity they allow. Before you jump to conclusions, look at it this way. Most Americans wouldn’t mind Christian messages, and many would accept Jewish messages. Fewer still might tolerate Muslim doctrines on their TV set. But how about Baha’i teachings? Or Wiccan sermons? Or even Pastafarianism (The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster)? These are all accepted religions that are guaranteed freedom of expression under the Constitution. But because the network’s choice is to limit them all or limit none, they chose the former.
EPSN – again like all television networks – has clear charity requirements. I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet the potential advertiser didn’t fill out the required 501(c) 3 forms and therefore the network couldn’t be sure that any money donated to them would be used appropriately.
Did you notice that the little boy in the spot was wearing a surgical mask? And did you notice that the mask had a big red splotch on it? No TV signal wants their viewers changing the channel to avoid looking at blood.
The funny thing is that O’Reilly, one of the highest paid personalities on television, knows these things better than I do. But explaining them doesn’t promote his brand nor engage his audience.
Bill has strategically built an aspirational brand by living the life his viewers wish they could live. Bill sells his brand to disaffected, formerly middle-class general market consumers who are angry that the life they lived is being eroded by rampant technology, increased minority rights, painful economic realities, and encroaching old age. And so O’Reilly brilliantly fabricates crises such as The War on Christmas to empathize with his audience while he first enrages and then placates them by manhandling his guests. Quite simply, O’Reilly beats up his mostly affluent, well dressed, educated, and/or minority guests because his audience wants to but can’t.
By doing this, O’Reilly has perfectly aligned his authentic self with his audience’s deepest desires and created one of the truest and most profitable brands on television.
Simply remove O’Reilly’s signature rancor, and there’s a lot to learn and emulate from his brand, regardless of what you think of his politics, his practices or his policies.