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Monday, June 22, 2015

Marketing 101

English: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
SC Governor Nikki Haley famously, said she didn't see the Confederate Battle Flag as a big deal in last year's gubernatorial debate:
“What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state,” the governor noted. “I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.” 
Haley said that she had tried to improve the perception of the state by ordering employees to answer the phone with the phrase “it’s a great day in South Carolina.” 
“But we really kind of fixed all that when you elected the first Indian-American female governor,” she insisted. “When we appointed the first African-American U.S. senator, that sent a huge message.”
Leaving aside, for the moment, whether she indulged the classic definition of a gaffe- getting caught saying what you really believe- by defining her notion of who the South Carolina electorate really is, it raises the question whether the economic development obsessed governor has paid much attention to the brand she represents. Blogger Asa Ingram puts the issue plain:
You see, for those of you who truly believe the flag stands for your heritage and the glamorous aspects of the antebellum South, you’ve made a big mistake over the decades. You haven’t protected your brand. 
Here’s what I mean from a marketing perspective. Disney will sue the pants off anyone, big or small, who uses Mickey’s likeness without their approval. Remember the stickers of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes urinating on various logos? Bill Watterson, the strip’s creator, sued to protect that brand from such usage. Does Coca-Cola let just anyone use their iconic logos whenever they see fit? Try to sell merchandise with your favorite college’s logo without their permission and watch the cease and desist letter arrive promptly in your mailbox. 
These entities protect their brand so that it doesn’t become soiled. So it’s not misused for despicable purposes. So it’s not twisted beyond the sanctity of those who created.
And you, fellow Southerners, didn’t protect your brand. 
You let the Ku Klux Klan take the flag as its banner following the Civil War. You stood by as racist segregationists waved it as their rallying symbol while fighting against the Civil Rights movement. You didn’t stop it as it flew proudly at Selma and was held up to taunt black Americans as they crossed that bridge. You’ve turned a blind eye as neo-Nazis in America and beyond adopted it as part of their symbolism. 
Even the hoisting of the flag to the top of the South Carolina statehouse in 1961 was meant as a direct affront to the Civil Rights movement (no, it wasn’t to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War—stow that crap elsewhere). 
If you wanted it to stand for heritage and not hate, you should have tried a lot harder to keep it from being associated with hatred. 
Maybe there wasn’t much you could do. A swastika, prior to World War II, used to have a benevolent meaning. Now, it’s synonymous with evil. Perhaps you can’t stop a group of ignorant, hateful people from sullying a brand and giving it a permanent new meaning. 
But you do, at some point, have to accept that your brand is lost. You have to accept that it was adopted decades ago by the bottom feeders of our nation, and it doesn’t get to represent what you want it to anymore. The hateful people of America took ownership of it long ago. 
Look no further than the front license plate of Dylann Roof’s car. The Confederate flag was his brand. Are you sure you still want it to be yours? 
Bring it down, South Carolina.  

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