RSS

Tag Archives: Ira Glass

VW in Detroit?

This American Life just solved Volkswagen’s Branding PR debacle free of charge.

I’ve been thinking about VW’s diesel fraud a lot lately. Why? Because I was one of the VW faithful – one of the tribe. I drive a VW Jetta TDI and have felt betrayed by a friend. And every day that I drive my car I wonder if the person behind me at the stoplight is looking at the “TDI” emblem and shaking their head thinking ‘you poor sap.’

My interest has also been sparked by attending some Branding Seminars at our local business center, The Enterprise Center of Johnson County, and following classes on Marketing and Branding on Coursera, specifically ‘Brand Management: Aligning Business, Brand and Behavior, by the London School of Business’ Nader Tavassoli.

For Tavassoli’s class we had an assignment where we were to look at a brand we were interested (typically that of the company you work for, but in my case, VW) and ask people what they think of the brand in one word (apparently a mantra of Brand managers is: Distill, distill, distill). Fortunately for me, I don’t even have to go looking for answers. Every time I open the paper there’s an article like this one on the correction that VW is going to be using in new cars going forward. Every time I listen to the news on the radio, I hear reports like the All Things Considered report I mentioned in my last post.

So, what words are people using today to describe Volkswagen? Fraud. Liar. Arrogant. Mistrust.

What other companies have faced PR debacles like this and survived (or not) in the past?jack

  1. TylenolI talked about this one before. The message here being that if you get in front of the problem and make your product even better than before, you can come out on top.
  2. Ford Motor Company – Remember the Pinto? The New Yorker just did a brilliant piece in The Engineer’s Lament.
  3. Nixon – well. There might not be a lot to learn here, but the country did recover once Tricky Dick resigned. Sometimes heads have to roll.
  4. Jack in the Box – This one got used in the This American Life piece – and, I’m not sure if I can really get behind their decision to take the offensive. Let’s just say that there are various solutions to any given problem.
  5. Bridgestone Tires – Tread separation led to as many as 200 deaths and 700 injuries.
  6. GM, Ford, and Chrysler CEOs– We learn that sometimes it’s a bad idea to fly your private corporate jet to Washington DC to ask for $25 Billion in bailout funds. In this case, the shaming was personal and was ‘rectified’ by driving hybrids to all future government meetings.

#6 doesn’t really fit the mold of brand problems, but it was a PR problem for these CEOs. Why? Irony. That’s why. And this is the problem that VW is facing: VW’s brand was built on Trust. When Nixon lost the country’s trust, he had to resign from office. There was no saving his brand. People like to see perpetrators pay for the problems they cause.

#1 – Tylenol. That had irony too. A medicine that kills. There was a good chance that it would be the end of that brand, but instead, they doubled down and said, ‘Not only are we going to make our product safer. We’re going to make all medicines safe.’  What could VW learn from this? Perhaps incorporating software to make the driver aware of their car’s emmissions just as many cars now show instantaneous MPG readings. Perhaps by inventing a product that can improve all diesel engines. Perhaps by bringing in a third party regulator to ensure that all VW standards are upheld across the board.

Then…

Today, while raking leaves from the front yard, I listened to the new This American Life podcast by Ira Glass that brought up the problem of VW’s brand. And, as fast as that, they solved it by going to ad execs and asking for ways to stop the bleeding of trust. 1-2-3.

  1. Invite an outside group to do some ‘All Access’ reporting on the way that VW goes to solve its problem.
  2. Crowdsource the solution – and keep their mouths shut and their ears open (my least favorite idea)
  3. Move their headquarters to Detroit, Michigan, own the problem and make a solid investment in a city that needs it right here in America (my favorite idea – it’s a big one, and costs a hell of a lot – but at least the property itself will be cheap)

Untitled.001

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Congratulations Sarah Koenig

logoOn January 13, 1999, a girl named Hae Min Lee, a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, disappeared.

So begins the serial podcast – a spinoff from This American Life featuring Sarah Koenig researching, editing and performing long form journalism which she and her staff have spent a year investigating.

Adnan Syed has been serving a life sentence for the murder of his former girlfriend, Hae.

The podcast succeeds in several ways: It is the gripping product of intense investigation and reflection; It questions what it is to be accused and sentenced (without ever fully committing to whether this is sentence is correct or not); and it illustrates how the prosecution of minor offences by the police and fundamental religious values within a family can lead to unpredictable and undesirable ends.

First, the purpose of serial is to present one single story from beginning to end over the course of a full ‘season’. In doing this, much more time is spent on a single question than almost any other form of journalism. Each week focuses on a different element of the story from the history of the case, interviews with the witnesses who were called (and some not called) in the case, an exhaustive exploration of cellphone records, and even one episode devoted entirely to the inconsistencies of the case.

Second, it asks what is it to be accused and convicted of a crime that you did not commit (giving Mr. Syed the benefit of the doubt in this question)? What does it do to a life? How much or how little evidence is needed to convict? What factors (other than the facts of a case) may play into a jury’s decision?

Screen Shot 2014-12-19 at 4.01.41 PM

A note from the victim, written just before the crime.

Mr. Syed speaks about how it hurts to have lost the trust of his friends and community. He explains how he has never known independence in his life after leaving school to go directly to jail. He discusses his experience in jail – how it was or was not as he expected, what he does all day, and how he maintains relationships with those on the outside.

Thirdly, it is plain (to me) that much of the trouble that the different players of this story get into is due to their initial unwillingness to expose relatively minor illicit dealings to the police or to keep parents in the dark with respect to relationships outside of their own cultural group (Mr. Syed is of Pakistani Muslim descent and his family has prohibited him from dating girls outside of this religious community.

And, lastly, on a more personal level, this story brings memories of a case in which I sat on the jury for earlier this year. Was our judgment correct? Were we biased against the defendant? Did we have sufficient information to make the decision we made? It was painful to weigh the lack of ‘hard’ evidence against an abundance of ‘circumstantial’ evidence. Yet we were instructed by the court to consider both types of evidence as equivalent (an instruction that literally wound up settling our decision more than any other single fact).

How would I feel if I was the one on trial? Wouldn’t I be irate if I learned that I had been convicted on the basis of such a simple instruction? Is justice really blind? Was this instruction about evidence reasonable?

All during the trial, it was plain to the jury that it was the incompetence of the defendant’s lawyer that really made the case for the prosecution. Would he have been convicted if he had a better lawyer?

I’ve been mulling over all of these questions – bouncing from the case of Adnan Syed, to the one I served on. For all this, I think Serial has been incredibly successful.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

My Small Circle

ImageI was just reading a blog entry someone had posted about Mike Birbiglia’s new movie ‘Sleepwalk with Me’ and I wrote  a quick comment back to say that I had just heard this story told on ‘The Moth’ yesterday, when I suddenly realized how small my circle of interest is sometimes. I’m constantly hearing the same people appear on one show or another mostly because I keep listening to my three favorite NPR shows:

‘This American Life’

‘RadioLab’

‘The Moth’

I’m also interested in, and follow, a lot of the people who wind up appearing on these shows. For instance, I’ve read most of David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell’s books because I’ve enjoyed their appearances on ‘This American Life.’ I also have read a lot from Jonah Lehrer from both his appearances on ‘RadioLab’ and his column in the New Yorker (previous to the recent problems he has suffered / brought on himself). 

That’s another one, tack on ‘The New Yorker’ because our household devours that on a weekly basis. And, what do you know, a lot of the same people appear in its pages too.

I think I’ve become one of those people that I don’t like who get all their news and information from a single source and have trouble understanding any other points of view. I do try to balance myself out a bit by also reading ‘The Economist’ which is regularly fiscally conservative. I really need to find a good source of information that’s out of this small bubble though. The only caveat is that if I am going to listen to / read someone’s material, they have to be a good producer of that material (quality of reporting / discussion and quality of resources that they draw upon for their material).

Any suggestions would be welcome.

Also any suggestions for other circles of interesting entertainment that lie outside of the NPR triumvirate I mentioned before would also be fun. I love all those guys and enjoy their company, but sometimes I feel like they’re the one’s that are always talking. When are Ira Glass and Jab Abumrod going to sit down and listen to me for a change? 

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,