Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

The power of groceries in projecting national strength 2 – thinking through media and messages 1

Posted in book recommendations, macroeconomics, Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on May 31, 2014

I recently posted a brief note on national strength and on how it is most effectively displayed – not with military parades and displays of weapons but through a country’s demonstrated capability and willingness to meet its people’s needs (see Part 1: setting the stage for this discussion .)

I initially set out to write what turned into Part 1 of what is now this series, with a primary goal of sharing one story that I presented there. And the basic message of that story, was one of how distorted a national leadership can become when it operates essentially entirely from its own power base and from within its own ideologically protective bubble. This distortion was expressed in Part 1 in how a nation’s leaders perceive an effective projection of national strength and capability that they would share with their own citizens and with the world at large – and in terms that do not always connect with their own citizens, and certainly not as a positive that addresses their lives or their needs.

In times of international conflict or of high risk and concern of that arising, a display of military strength might reassure. But at any other time it can just become a display of seemingly misplaced priorities and of governmental inefficiency and waste – and particularly when the basic human and societal needs of its citizens are not being met.

So I wrote Part 1 with a goal of discussing how a government can more effectively present its strength and its system’s superiority, by showing how it better meets the quality of life needs of its people. But even as I wrote that I found myself thinking back to the Kennedy Khrushchev kitchen debate that I cited more in passing there. This was a televised debate at a time when television was a still new communications medium. And Kennedy understood how this new communications tool could be used in advancing his ideas and his agenda; Khrushchev did not and it showed. So I switch directions here from a focus on message as content, to one of the message as medium, or more precisely to one of medium as message to use the phraseology of Marshall McLuhan in his book:

• McLuhan, M. and Q. Fiore (1967) The Medium Is the Massage: an inventory of effects Bantam Books.

And for that side to this now larger discussion, I go back to an earlier generation than that of Kennedy or Khrushchev and to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his use of radio as a medium. Roosevelt was first elected President of the United States in 1932 in the early days of what became known as the Great Depression. And over the course of his terms of office he pursued and advanced a very far-reaching activist agenda. He succeeded in enacting as much as he did in creating government programs and pushing through new laws, and with sufficient Congressional support to be able to accomplish that, because he was able to capture and hold the public support of large numbers of the voters who put and kept those members of Congress in office. And one of his most powerful tools for cultivating this voter power base came from his use of the radio with his regularly recurring fireside chats. Between 1933 and 1944 Roosevelt used radio as a medium of choice to directly reach out to that public 30 times, bypassing newspaper editorial review and any other potential filtering to directly speak to the people. This really worked for him in helping him convince the public to support his programs and in large enough numbers to sway Congressional support in his favor too. And Roosevelt’s political opponents by and large never were able to compete with him there because they did not really understand the nuanced power of radio or how to use it towards their own ends.

I began this discussion at least in passing in Part 1 by citing John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States and how he understood the power and use of television in ways that Nikita Khrushchev did not. At least as tellingly, Kennedy understood and used television much more adroitly than Richard Milhous Nixon could when Nixon ran against him in 1960 as the Republican Party presidential candidate. Kennedy studied television. He knew how he came across on it and how to look and act when on screen. Nixon did not and that showed in the way his live and in person approach to debate made him appear less trustworthy then his young Democratic Party rival. The 1960 election was close; Kennedy won but not by a wide margin. It can be and has been argued that if Nixon had presented himself as effectively as Kennedy in their first-time televised presidential debates he might have won over his arguably less experienced political opponent. And subsequent history would have been different.

I have to add that while Nixon was elected as the 37th President of the United States, he never really came to understand television as a medium or how to make effective use of it in conveying a message, or an image as a reliable and trustworthy messenger.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment where I will move ahead by another generation and both in human and in technology terms: to the 2008 presidential political campaign of Barack Obama and his use of the internet and online social media as his perhaps defining voice. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Macroeconomics and Business and also at Web 2.0 Marketing.


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