Thursday, November 11, 2010

The squandering of a legacy: Rafik Hariri and Michael Jackson


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"Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as raven's claws" so said Jim Morrisson (singer of The Doors, in case you are wondering), or to be more cynical, what an industry figure said about the death of Elvis Presley: "a good career move." But death, seems to be the great redeemer - well, until you overdo it.
In this post (mostly because nothing seems to be happening in the market right now), I shall try to discuss how the legacy of two figures "larger than life" has been squandered by being mishandled. After all, last week I read a book called "Principles of guerilla warfare" by an author called "Che Guevara" - yup! You might recognise the name: That mythical figure that adorns the t-shirts, caps etc .. After all, if Madonna and Kylie Minogue, the ultimate hispters try to model themselves after him decades after his death, it should tell you something!
Let's not kid each other, a person is a product just like any other. And just like brands have a psychological presence, people have a marketing angle to them. I know of a person who only introduces himself as "Dr. So and so" - why? Because he is effectively doing an ad for his practise by adding his title to his name, "you never know when I can grab a potential customer" he said.
Indeed, a name, a hair look (think French singer Desireless), an accessory (think the eyeglasses of Elton John), or whatever other physical of fashion attribute all participate in our packaging (which I must remind you is part of the 5Ps in the marketing jargon). While speaking of me, a friend was trying to tell someone else who I was, then he added: "come on, short guy, small round eyeglasses and flowery shirts!"... To which the other person replied: "Oh, him!"
Naturally, politicians and showbusiness people (well, this is often interchangeable as a profession, to quote late French comedian Coluche: "I shall stop doing politics when politicians cease to make us laugh" ) are the prime examples of "people as products" - some easy examples come to mind: Barrak Obama, Lady Gaga or the ultimate "switches" such as Cicciolina (to whom Jeff Koons who did the above photographed Michael Jackson and Bubbles sculpture was married), Ronald Reagan, etc...
But then something, somewhere, goes wrong! This week marked the streaming of a new Micheal Jackson single called "Breaking news" - after he topped the listing of highest earning celebrities for this year dethroning ex-Beatle John Lennon. Well, how about milking the cow dry while we are at it!... Even in his own lifetime, Michael Jackson's output (after the heydey of the 80s) was at best sporadic, lackluster, and at worst, frankly appaling!
But let me wonder (as someone who was a major MJ fan in the 80s) what is the "real" Michael Jackson legacy is? Well, apparently it is caring for the environment! I kid you not. Just google it and prove me wrong! Now, how exactly he was an eco-warrior is beyond me. His lavish lifestyle (leaving Carbon footprints - but certainly in reverse as he was "Moonwalking" :) ), his exessive purchases, his numerous cars, extravagancies point to the total opposite in terms of behavior - oh, and saying "the earth is sick, it has fever" (his exact words) in "This is it" does not redeem anything (please spare me the meek references to "Earth song"!).
Of course, money-wise Jackson is now making tones of dough to secure his own "Cirque du Soleil" show, many anthologies and compilations, and - God help us - an idea of turning his epic "Thriller" video clip into a full-length movie directed by Peter Jackson.
Now let us get back more to the Lebanese scene. The major political tumult currently the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, in terms of doubting its legal elements, its political sense, its security ramifications, its links to Israel, its power to unearth the much-drummed up "truth" etc... all stem from the same problem: That at this stage the personna of Rafik Hariri has failed as a "brand."
Having been a part of the team that took care of some elements of the posthumous "branding" of Hariri (which was different that the one he enjoyed while being alive) I saw the major report that was submitted to the family as how the "strategy" should function. It included, among many other parts, 9 elements that were supposed to have been proven internationally to have honoured men of the caliber of the "ra2is el shahid" (as he has become to be known - the title was supplied by the same person who was Hariri's PR arm Ramsay Najjar), one of them included naming an airport after him - which actually happened. Naturally, you also need a commemorative statue (the hideous thing is show above - and it actually has a flame that lights everyday at the exact time of his death (11:55 a.m.)).
So where's my problem? One of the major success cases in posthumous branding became muddled, unfocused, un-single minded and outright hillarious. Just go back to my own backposts about his face was placed and plastered on political billboards (so badly printed they were tearing down right after being hanged), about his face was unaesthetically cropped and put with other "martyrs" to sell every possible election or political decision (at least Impact/BBDO had the decency to wait for the last day before the election before posting his face when they handled the Future Movement's election campaign for 2009).
However, it was the over-exposure that finished him off.
Famous British singer Morrissey (ex-lead singer of the Smiths) once said about Sir Bob Geldof (some months after the release of "Do they know it's Christmas"): "One can have great concern for the people of Ethiopia, but it's another thing to inflict daily torture on the people of England." Which is the
Instead of keeping the momentum of a campaign in the rhythm of "easy does it", the whole thing went out in comet-style... and dwindled from there on. One particular instance comes to mind, Ghida Majzoub (I am not criticizing her personally as I think she is exceptionally cultured and talented) one of the main anchors of Future Television's (owned by Harriri) "3alam el sabah" the morning daily show, while speaking of "al ra2is al shahid" said that he was a big supporter of sports and theferere he was Lebanon's premier sportsman - literally in Arabic "al riyadi al awwal"... The statement made me laugh so loud.
Actually, the whole thing was aimed against president Emile Lahoud (at major odds with Hariri and who suffered major political setback, including boycott and literally insults, from the 14th of March clan) trying to discredit some of his titles. Lahoud was actually a major sports person (the unconfirmed rumour is that he went daily for a swim at the Officers' club in Manara come hell or high water) and was therefore "Lebanon's premier sportsman" (svelte and muscled, Lahoud has everything to justify this). Problem is: Hariri was actually obese! So there was nothing that could remotely inspire sports about him.
Naturally, when every pitiful student election was "offered to the soul of the premier", when every crochet exhibit in a foresaken town was sponsored by him (thankfully without mentionning that he was attending - remember he was already dead!), when every insignificant foreign dignitary had to pass by the "dari7" (the tomb - next to Virgin Megastore on Martyrs' square), when Gregorian calender became A.H. (anno Hariri as witnessed by the digital clock on the way to Hamra which counts the days after his death), when there are now two commerative events for him (his birthday on November 2nd and his death on the 14th of February) - when every event related to him becomes a "major event" or - going back to MJ - a "breaking news"... Eventually, it all reaches a point of saturation - which it did.
The media image of the man - of the two men - is now squandered.... Long live the Che and Jim Morrison!
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