I need someone to believe in, someone to trust.
I’d rather trust a country man than a town man,
You can judge by his eyes, take a look if you can.
He’ll smile through his guard,
Survival trains hard.
I’d rather trust a man who works with his hands,
He looks at you once, you know he understands.
Don’t need any shield,
When you’re out in the field. – Genesis, 1974
Uncle Buck has a branding problem. John Candy’s wonderful portrayal of the title character from the 1989 John Hughes film is pushed and pulled in so many different ways in all of the relationships in his life, that he’s completely lost his way. He has lost control of the one consistent feature of his personality: honesty.
Oh, don’t get me wrong – Buck lies. He lies to girlfriend (Amy Madigan) about gambling debts. And he lies to his moody teenaged niece, Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly), about his life so she won’t see her uncle as more of a loser than she already maintains. Tia is like Ferris’ sister, Jeanie, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – only twice as mean, not as funny, and she’ll eventually come around.
Tia’s parents think Buck is a jackass, but they’ve probably never had one honest conversation with their daughter. Buck’s girlfriend is frustrated by his non-committal, but he seemingly has many friends who rank him as a standup guy. Buck is overly honest, straightforward, and has a ton of love to give, but to a point: he is guarded and secretive only because he’s been forced those ways. When the opportunity arises to babysit for Tia and her young siblings, Buck takes hold of it to work on rebranding himself. And he does so with unlimited transparency.
Buck knocks it out of the park. He stands up to a ratty old school principal, shows he can run a house, take care of kids and dogs, commit to his girlfriend, and, most importantly, break through the ice that is the ignorant, judgmental, teenaged nightmare. Tia warms to Buck because he gives her honest advice about relationships and follows through on his actions as head-of-household. He calls her out on her nonsense and opens up for her a clearer path to figuring out her place in the world. Tia’s parents return home flabbergasted, as they should be.
We hear a lot about branding and rebranding these days. Mostly in the world of entertainment, where actors, artists, musicians, and musicians-turned-businesspeople irritatingly push out the notion that they are more than just human flesh and blood – but a brand. What happened to “career?” Have we become that narcissistic? The successful self-branders are the people who stay true to themselves, never (or rarely) stray from their core beliefs, and don’t sell out to corporations. The even more successful, and fulfilling, examples are those younger generations who have the ability to take what they’ve learned and experienced in life, adapt, adjust their “brand,” and progress naturally as do normal, everyday human citizens. Politicians have a hard time maintaining an honest, consistent brand. So do corporations.
Marketing, branding, and communications efforts from corporations are pretty darn consistent, though. Yet there are certain types of products whose entire marketing lifecycle has been based on lies. There’s not much honesty in marketing cereal to kids. Cereal has almost no nutritional value. Hundreds of millions of dollars are pumped into the claim that it will cost taxpayers loads of dough for food companies to start GMO labeling. Also not true. A known raging racist like Mel Gibson is still being employed; athlete and dog murderer Michael Vick still allowed on the football field; and Anthony Weiner – a perverted politician with no concern whatsoever over the private life or feelings of his family – still invited on talk shows. These are all products and brands that have, at one point or another (or, all the time), skewed their position, avoided the facts, and downright unleashed lies as part of their overall marketing strategy.
So, what do we have here? We have three different metrics to measure marketing success, based on how truthful a marketing strategy is: A) The consumer who believes the lies and presses “Like” when Kashi announces a new version of their “healthy” cereals (hint: Kashi isn’t good for you); B) The consumer who knows they are being lied to, but shrugs it off; and C) The conscious consumer who makes their purchasing and voting decisions and actions based on facts (see, my favorite: climate change).
Marketing is based almost entirely on performance measurement and management: using various metrics to gauge how successful a product, service, or person is at being portrayed a specific way. But within the act of portrayal, comes branding/rebranding and refocusing. And with these comes dishonesty, as most of the time the first order of business in getting a quick sale is to portray something or somebody as something or somebody that they are NOT. This is highly relevant in the world of social media – as consumers and people – and in the world of social media marketing in business. We have an increasing amount of available social media tools to help us shape and create the kind of life we want to portray to others as having; as do businesses have in shaping and creating the type of transparent engagement they appear to have with their customers and fans.
The social media part is maddening, but can be a boon in many respects. The most important one being the aforementioned “engagement.” People trust brands, companies, politicians, and celebrities more if they’re putting themselves out there, being engaging, not condescending (see: Andrea Kerzner, Ricky Gervais, or Cory Booker). The sooner marketing and branding strategies place more emphasis on honest communication and engagement, the sooner humans will stop lying to each other.
Tia smiles and waves goodbye to her uncle Buck when he departs. She even accepts his invitation for coffee the next time she finds herself in downtown Chicago. What’s happening here? Buck stayed true to himself. He uncovered the inner workings of the angry teenager. Like most of John Hughes’ comedies during this era, the angry teen is angry because there’s no real and honest communication from the parents. The parent figures are secretive, dishonest, and materialistic. They find importance in more and more things, quantity over quality, and push marketing of their beliefs, ideas, and demands. Buck gives Tia what she so desperately needed: his true self with clear and open dialogue. Buck rebranded himself honestly. She respected all levels of his truth marketing.
Josh Valentine is Chief Marketing Strategist at Promenade Media.