Changing the Way the President Gets Elected and What it Means to Your Business

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A long, long time ago there were “Media Kings”. They had names like King Henry and King George. Sure, they also controlled armies and wealth, but as they were soon to discover, it was their control of the media that was the real source of their power.

Back then, when one of the kings wanted to get a message to his subjects it was delivered on horseback, posted in the town square, or read aloud to the assembled crowd. Then, in the 1600s, an invention came onto the scene that would change everything and the world would never be the same.

That invention was the printing press and it would put the power of mass communication into the hands of the common man. No longer would the “Media Kings” be in control of what messages people received. It would take another 100 years, or so, but the printing press would prove to be the force that ended the monarchy as “the” system of government. The pen was truly mightier than the sword.

In January of 1776 an anonymous pamphlet titled Common Sense came off the presses, written by a patriot by the name of Thomas Paine. Its contents stated simply and clearly the case for American independence. Common Sense described the concept of hereditary succession as being absurd, destroyed all arguments for reconciliation with England, presented the economic advantages for independence and even illustrated the cost analysis for creating an American Navy.

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It is impossible to overstate the impact that Common Sense had on our emerging nation. It quickly sold 150,000 copies and then an additional 500,000. It was read by every member of the Continental Congress, but even more importantly, it was read by people everywhere and for the first time mass public opinion favored the cause of American independence.

King George still had his army, but his power as “Media King” had come to an end and without that power, a new nation was born.

Fifty years later, the same power of mass communication that fueled America’s fight for independence was soon to tear the country in two, pitting brother against brother as they fought in the horrifically bloody battlefields of The Civil War.

The year was 1850 and a woman by the name of Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a factually based story depicting the chilling horror that was slavery.

The book’s characters remain with us to this day: Uncle Tom, a slave who is resilient and saintly; beaten by his owner, Simon Legree, but resolute in his unwillingness to oversee other slaves. The term “Uncle Tom” is an American colloquialism referring to an African-American that accepts subservience to the “white man”.

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Sales of Uncle Tom’s Cabin reached 1.5 million, a staggering number for the mid-nineteenth century. The book personalized the issue of slavery as no congressional debate ever could. For the first time, northern ‘whites’ got a taste of slavery that they could never forget.

In 1862, then President Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe and said, “So you’re the little woman that wrote the book that started this Great War”. At a time when women lacked even the right to vote, through the power of mass communication, a woman had changed the course of history, ending the untold suffering of thousands of men, women and children.

Another fifty years later, in another corner of the globe, another man would use the printing press to dramatically alter history. His name was Karl Marx and his book; The Communist Manifesto would lead first to another monarchy’s demise and ultimately divide the entire world along ideological lines.

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But, a new invention, photography, was coming into play. And a picture, it was said, is worth a thousand words. Still photography, even primitive examples, can evoke feelings much faster than the printed word. A photograph can send chills up one’s spine, make one laugh or cry…and bring back memories in an instant.

Still photography would evolve into motion pictures and movies would soon prove to have immeasurable impact on the opinions of the public. With the birth of radio and then television, we could now absorb messages that would otherwise take weeks, or even months to read, in a matter of minutes.

Consider this: As powerful as the printed word unquestionably is, no one ever jumped to their death from a 7th floor window while reading War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. And, had Orson Wells’ famous radio broadcast been televised, who knows what kind of chaos would have erupted as a result.

The persuasive power of movies and television has proven to be without peer. Joseph Goebbels, the infamous Nazi Minister of Propaganda understood this power and used it to unearth previously unimaginable evil. When the United States, during the early part of WWII was faced with a crippling shortage of fighter pilots, the government harnessed the power of motion pictures, commissioning a documentary film starring Clark Gable. Pilots, from that point forward were plentiful, even though the job itself was, in those early years of the war, as close to a death sentence as one could get.

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Television increased the influence of motion pictures exponentially by bringing them into our homes. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch-hunt for “communists in the State Department” was brought to an abrupt end when the country watched as he was humiliated on national television. In 1962, women across the country began, practically overnight, wearing Channel sunglasses and pillbox hats atop bouffant hairdos. Could this effect have been achieved as the result of an ad campaign? Certainly not. It came as a result of “self-discovery”. People self-discovered that Joseph McCarthy was not someone they wanted to follow and that First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, with her modern look, was.

Television, more than any other factor, led to our first unpopular war. We sat in our living rooms self-discovering that our children were dying every day across the world in a place we barely knew existed. We watched college campuses burn as tens of thousands, some hippies, others not, protested eloquently against U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Would the Korean War have been equally unpopular if televised? Televised Presidential debates, first seen during the 1960 national elections, kept Nixon from sitting in the Oval Office. And, just over a decade later, television broadcasts of the Senate Hearings on Watergate, would do so again.

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Where there is communications power – the likes of television, there is also money to be made. It is expensive to create and broadcast television programming, but with its audience size and influence, there has been no shortage of corporations ready, willing and able to foot the bill by buying commercial time during broadcasts. After all, how can you compare the impact of a printed advertisement to one seen on television? Ask yourself: How many print ads can you recall from childhood? Now, how many television commercials come to mind?

In the beginning, companies sponsored programming directly. Early television viewers could tune in to The Texaco Hour, for example. Programming was extremely limited and if you wanted to reach virtually every household in America, you simply ran your commercial during The Lucy Show, Tuesday nights at 7:00p.m. In the 1950s, The Lucy Show received ratings representing over 90% of the total audience. It’s somewhat funny to realize that so great was the lure of “Lucy” during those years that Macy’s Department Store closed early on Tuesday nights.

With a limited supply of programs on which to advertise and practically unlimited demand from growing companies with products and services to sell, the cost of television advertising soon began to rise.

Broadcasters used this flood of revenue to increase the supply of programming and hence their inventory and our growing economy of the 1960s ensured that the demand for commercial time would keep pace, which pushed broadcaster revenue ever higher.

Today, the cost of starting your own national television network would be in the hundreds of millions, if not the billions. The cost to advertise on national television begins in the high six figures and goes well into the millions and tens of millions. As a result, today we have new “Media Kings”. But this time their names aren’t King George, or Henry. Today’s Media Kings have names like Ruppert Murdoch, Steve Case, Michael Eisner and Barry Diller, to name but a few.

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Because of the exorbitant cost to get a motion picture message out to the American people, it now costs an estimated $100 million just to get through the Presidential Primary Elections and something close to half a billion dollars to actually run for President of the United States.

It is not surprising then that, up until Barack Obama of course, President Clinton, who lost much of the nation’s respect over his relationship with a White House intern, is still hailed by Republicans and Democrats alike as being the greatest fundraiser in political history. It is sad commentary that the number-one qualification to run for political office today is one’s ability to raise funds. But without those funds, one can’t get their message out on television and in politics, if it isn’t on television…it didn’t happen.

Not exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind, is it?

REVOLUTION… PART 2.

As the 20th Century was coming to a close, new computer technologies were beginning to have a revolutionary effect on mass communications, just as the printing press did in its day. Computers do two things: store 0s and 1s and manipulate 0s and 1s. As their storage and processing capacity increased, we saw the birth of desktop publishing.

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Prior to the desktop publishing revolution, one required a publisher with substantial resources to create a book, or magazine. With the new computer systems and software, such printed communications could be created by anyone with the mind to do so…at a small fraction of past costs.

Just a few years later, the World Wide Web promised to distribute printed communication to the masses at a cost that was trivial when compared with any means previously utilized. Web sites in the 1990s proliferated like bunny rabbits on Viagra and because any semi-intelligent high-school student could build them, the ability to get a printed message to millions of people became available to all that wanted it.

Today, when we seek information about a company, millions of us make Websites our first stop. As all of the media attention was focused on the development of the Internet, another revolution was quietly underway…a ‘reel’ revolution and one that will truly rival the printing press and television in its impact on mass communication.

For a while the Web was really more evolution than revolution. It was really just another way of getting the printed word and still photography widely distributed. Today, broadband connections capable of transferring more data at faster speeds have changed that, however, and the Web, if it doesn’t already, will soon have the same impact of broadcast or cable television. The printed word as a communications medium, while excellent for storage, precision and distribution, still requires an inordinate amount of processing power on the part of the recipient, or reader.

The more important communications-related revolution underway has thus far hardly been covered by the traditional mass media. It’s called “digital video” and it’s fueled by today’s computers with their immense processing power and storage capacity, combined with newly developed editing and visual effects software.

Digital video technology means that, just as the printing press gave the common man the ability to publish Common Sense, today’s common man can now produce a movie or television program without the cost or cooperation of today’s Media Kings. Digital video is about to forever change how we communicate. It will change the way business thinks.

It will change forever the way the President of the United States gets elected.

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Because of digital video technology, creating broadcast quality programming can now be done at a fraction of the historical cost. While only a couple of years ago you needed a Hollywood studio or broadcast network to create your show, today it can be done with significantly fewer and far less costly resources. Today’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin would not merely describe the plight of the enslaved, it would show it in living color.

Of course not just anyone can create entertaining, informative, let alone persuasive quality programming. To do so requires talent, insight, experience and some degree of resources. But as compared with anything the world has seen before, it is about to be an entirely new communications ballgame. The area that stands the most to gain from the digital video revolution is that of American business. Communicating via thirty-second television commercials has become costly, as it has decreased in effectiveness.

No one in this day and age believes that the woman shown on television truly “gets her whites whiter with Tide”. It may be true that for marketers of packaged goods sold on supermarket shelves, television remains at least marginally effective as a communications medium. But, for many companies, those that market products and services with features and benefits too complex to be adequately conveyed in thirty seconds, the availability of digital video holds the key to market leadership.

The fundamental shift in understanding that these companies must adopt is that they are no longer advertisers, they are publishers. And the following equation, is how publishing information becomes the key to growth.

Entertainment + Intelligently Designed Information = Persuasive Communication

What if a company could create a movie or documentary that while entertaining, was designed to allow the viewer to “self-discover” and adopt an intended point of view? Remember the Jacqueline Kennedy example referenced earlier? What if Channel could have created the same effect intentionally as opposed to it happening outside of their control? A “documercial,” if you will.

Consider that successful companies, regardless of their industry, have compelling stories to tell. In all businesses there is no shortage of drama, action or comedy, the elements of creating quality programming. Who better to communicate the value of a company’s product or service than the company’s actual loyal user-advocates? What’s more effective than the recommendation of someone you trust and identify with, when making a purchase decision?

In the past, film production has always been very expensive. Film needs to be processed, just as the pictures you take with your 35-millimeter camera need to be processed and developed. The cost of film processing is hundreds of dollars per second and that doesn’t include editing or any other step in the process. Even older video formats like Sony Betacam, although they don’t require processing, have always come with exorbitant price tags for equipment. Because of the high costs involved, it has always been very difficult to justify using a company’s actual customers, executives or workers in the production process. These people are not professional actors. They are not trained to deliver scripted lines and you may need to film them for hours to get but a few seconds of usable footage.

These real people can’t deliver scripted lines, but what they do deliver is unadulterated truth. As long as they are ‘playing themselves’, they are the best actors in the world. With digital video there is no film processing cost and the cameras, systems and equipment used in editing and effects generation are far less costly than ever before. As a result, it can now be cost-effective to feature real people telling real stories of product or service satisfaction.

In the last few years we’ve begun to see the power of real people in the genre termed “reality T.V.”. Shows like “Survivor” demonstrate our attraction to reality and truth over other forms of entertainment. Companies must begin to view their own products and service offerings as having the potential to entertain and inform and that loyal customers are by far their most persuasive salespeople.

DISTRIBUTION IN A NEW WORLD…

The other important technological innovations that have taken center stage in this communications revolution are Digital Versatile Disks, or DVDs, and the video sharing networks, such as YouTube among many others. Thus far most people only know the DVD as a storage medium for movies rented at Blockbuster Video; much like CDs were to cassette tapes, DVDs are to the VHS format. That usage, however is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The operative word in DVD begins with the ‘V’ for “Versatile”. DVDs can store hours of broadcast quality programming, link to the Internet when viewed in a computer’s DVD-ROM drive and hold files that can be printed by the user on their personal printer. All at a duplication cost of less than 50¢ each! And video sharing sites can make such programming available to millions, quite incredibly, for free.

Additionally, and most importantly for business application, DVDs, like CDs, do not have to be viewed linearly, from start to finish. Their contents can be accessed by selecting chapters in menus and submenus making them interactive and extremely effective in their ability to cover a multitude of subjects without requiring the viewer to watch hours of programming to get to the areas of their greatest interest. Let’s say we are talking about a bank. How could a bank utilize the power of digital video communications?

To begin with, the bank could produce a program that featured its actual customers discussing why they are loyal customers. How the bank helped a young family purchase their first home, or start saving for retirement. How an older couple relies on the bank to help them make investment decisions. Obviously there would be no shortage of dramatic, interesting and, in all likelihood, funny stories that customers could share. Also featured would be those that work at the bank…the people that make the bank special. Nothing gets personality across like seeing it on T.V.

The DVD’s menu could then be divided by topic with footage related to Home Loans found in the section or chapter labeled Home Loans and so forth. Also included on the DVD could be a link to the bank’s Web site and printable files of all of the bank’s brochures, which the customer could print at home or work as their interest dictates.

All at a duplication cost akin to what the bank currently pays for a single rack brochure. There simply is nothing that compares to the potential power of the DVD for business communication purposes. How about a health plan or hospital? Couldn’t a prospective member or patient be entertained and informed while being introduced to the actual doctors and the facilities by the actual members and patients? Wouldn’t we prefer to learn about joining a health plan from its actual members as opposed to hearing what the company itself has to say?

What if you were considering the purchase of a new car…Let’s say a Ford Mustang? You turn on the T.V. and by chance you see a program on The History Channel profiling the history of the Mustang from 1965 to today. While watching the show, you are introduced to actual Mustang owners as they describe their overall satisfaction with the car. You are moved. The Mustang in your eyes is now more than just a car… it is a part of what makes America great. You want to take a test drive. The likelihood that you will purchase a Mustang has, as a result of the television show, dramatically increased.

Now why should Ford Motor Company allow that scenario to occur…by chance? Why wouldn’t Ford create such a program itself and distribute it to prospective purchasers on DVD? And by the way, because it’s a DVD, the Mustang need not be the only model profiled. A single DVD could easily contain chapters of similar programs covering the entire Ford line…Lincoln Mercury, too!

Then, with the viewer now interested in learning more, he or she could utilize the DVD to launch their Web browser, assuming it is being viewed in their computer connected to the Internet, and be instantly transported to the Ford site where they could locate the nearest dealer or find out what is offered by Ford Motor Credit in the way of financing.

In contrast, Ford Motor Company unquestionably spends perhaps twice or three times as much as the duplication cost of the DVD described on a single Mustang brochure.

The applications for business digital video and the DVD are limitless. Will people watch these programs? Not if they are boring…or fake…or in any way not worthy of their time. But those factors have always been true. No one reads badly designed or written printed communications either.

According to the Computer Electronics Association of America, as of December 31, 2001, approximately 40 million households have DVD players. And with the price point for DVD players now starting at $69, it’s clear that VHS as a format is about to go the way of the 8-track tape.

Digital video has other advantages as well. For one, digital video does not deteriorate like film does. Film or analog video begins to deteriorate from the moment you open its packaging and expose it to the atmosphere. Digital video files, stored in a computer’s hard drive become assets that last indefinitely. This means that once you create your first digital video production, you can continue to re-purpose that footage for an infinite number of uses at minimal cost. For example, the bank might decide to make use of the footage used in their DVD to create a thirty-second television commercial starring their real customers and employees. Especially when you consider that to do so would only cost a few thousand dollars – not a few hundred thousand.

With all of these exciting changes being created by digital video, the Web, and the DVD, it’s even more incredible to realize that the future holds even more. The Web now delivers digital video almost effortlessly, lowering the costs of its distribution even further. Today, companies literally have the ability to create and broadcast their own programming to millions of people around the world. As we enter this period of economic recession or worse… it’s critical that business people look at things differently and take advantage of the opportunities presented by what’s available today that was never available before.

Of course, the technology does not create the talent and creativity required to effectively communicate and entertain, but for those who have it, the next decade will be as exciting as one can imagine as the DVD and digital video removes today’s Media Kings from their thrones just as the printing press did to King George.

God Bless America.

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