Friday, August 21, 2020

Setting Standards: The Penalty of Leadership

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It’s often seen that difficult situations encourage creative thinking and resourceful solutions, and this holds true for automotive giant Cadillac too. In the year 1915, when competition was seen to be shaking up Cadillac’s numero uno status, the brand responded with an advertisement that remains etched in history. A former newspaper reporter and a copywriter, Theodore F. MacManus penned a revolutionary advertisement for Cadillac, which is said to have reversed the company’s business fortunes at that point in time, and continues to be seen today as an example of a persuasive copy. Titled The Penalty of Leadership, the ad ran only once (January 1915) in the Saturday Evening Post, and without even one mention of Cadillac cars or its utilities, the ad defined the brand identity of the auto company, giving it an edge over competitors. Doing away with the then popular style of explaining why a consumer must pick the brand over others, the ad describes the penalties in store for people striving to maintain high standards of excellence (to the level of Cadillac), stating: “Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work.”

Advertising industry observers opine that the power of the work lies in its success in declaration the brand’s dominance, saying that irrespective of what others might say, the Cadillac-owning populace are leaders in their own right. By saying, “That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live – lives,” the company was essentially telling its prospective buyers that among other things, in a Cadillac, they would rise above all others, despite the naysayers. If one had any second thoughts on the impact and popularity of the work, know that besides bagging a slew of industry awards, both Cadillac and the agency MacManus, John & Adams reportedly received requests for a copy of The Penalty of Leadershipalmost every week in the 30+ years after it was written. Not just that, Elvis Presley, who was a big fan and kept a framed copy in his office at Graceland, is also said to have helped pushed the work into limelight.

Here’s the text of Cadillac’s iconic The Penalty of Leadership advertisement reproduced below:

“In every field of human endeavour, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are always the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction. When a man’s work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shafts of the envious few. If his work be mediocre, he will be left severely alone – if he achieves a masterpiece, it will set a million tongues a-wagging. Jealousy does not protrude its forked tongue at the artist who produces a commonplace painting. Whatsoever you write, or paint, or play, or sing, or build, no one will strive to surpass or to slander you unless your work be stamped with the seal of genius. Long, long after a great work or a good work has been done, those who are disappointed or envious, continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountback, long after the big world had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius. Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by. The leader is assailed because he is a leader, and the effort to equal him is merely added proof of that leadership. Failing to equal or to excel, the follower seeks to depreciate and to destroy – but only confirms once more the superiority of that which he strives to supplant. There is nothing new in this. It is as old as the world and as old as human passions – envy, fear, greed, ambition, and the desire to surpass. And it all avails nothing. If the leader truly leads, he remains – the leader. Master-poet, master-painter, master-workman, each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live – lives.”

Historical speeches by Obama and Harris led the most powerful night yet at the Democratic National Convention

Former President Barack Obama speaks during the third night of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020. (Democratic National Convention via AP)

Why have a conventional convention ever again?

The past three nights, the Democrats have shown that the virtual convention might be the way to go from now on. Simply put, the Democrats are crushing it.

And they still have one night to go.

Turns out, the first two nights of the Democratic National Convention were only a warmup. Wednesday was a whole other level.

Typically the speeches are the highlights on any convention — and that was the case Wednesday with speeches delivered by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren before the co-main events of Barack Obama and Kamala Harris.

But equally impressive as the speeches have been the well-produced videos and storytelling that, on Wednesday, highlighted topics such as immigration, sexual and domestic assault, climate change and race. Personal stories surely stirred emotions, particularly firsthand experiences of domestic violence and families being separated at the border.

And, as I’ve said the past two days, the quick pace with no downtime between speeches and stories has allowed audiences to remain engaged. If you were interested enough to tune in then you likely didn’t touch the remote from 9 p.m. Eastern until Harris’ speech ended a little after 11 p.m.

While there wasn’t a dull moment in the evening, clearly the highlight of the night for Democrats was the speech given by Obama.

Former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, on MSNBC after Obama’s speech, said he has helped on a number of Obama speeches over the years and “there has never been one like that. … It’s alarming to hear it. He’s basically saying if this election goes to Donald Trump, our democracy could be over.”

Obama didn’t hold back. (Here’s the transcript.) Just read this passage:

“I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care. But he never did. For close to four years now, he’s shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”

It really was unprecedented to see a past president go after a sitting president the way Obama did Wednesday.

CBS’s John Dickerson said, “You cannot raise the rhetorical or historical stakes any higher. This was the most powerful ‘get out the vote’ message that’s ever been delivered from a convention.”  

Obama did praise his “brother” Joe Biden, but it was his remarks about Trump that stood out.

As far as Harris’ speech, Dickerson said, “Traditionally the vice president is the attack dog. But the attack dogs are traveling in packs at this convention. Everyone is attacking Donald Trump. And so, while she will make a defined case against Donald Trump, Kamala Harris comes to this speech with a lot more star power than vice presidents normally have.”

Harris, smartly, spent much of her speech selling herself — her background, her resume, her upbringing, her beliefs.

And, again, because of the format, it worked. In fact, all of the speeches have been way more powerful and resonated more because they are not constantly interrupted by the applause we normally see at conventions.

No one saw a pandemic wiping out the traditional conventions, but give the Democrats credit: They have figured out this virtual convention stuff. And there’s still one more night to go.

Two versions of the same speech

Barack Obama’s speech?

Here’s what news veteran Dan Rather thought in a tweet: “Obama. Powerful. Moving. He demonstrates once again why he was twice elected President. Whatever you thought of his tenure in office, there is no denying that he can summon forth an inspiring vision of the American story.”

But on Fox News afterward, Chris Wallace said, “I got to say guys, I thought it was a really curious speech. You say he talked for 15 minutes —  somebody will tell me if I am right or wrong — but I bet he didn’t talk about Joe Biden for five of those 15 minutes and basically said he was my brother in the White House, he made me a better president, he will make it a better country, talked about how he will get control of the pandemic and rebuild the economy. It wasn’t even all that much about Donald Trump, although he certainly made clear, I think you could only call it contempt for Donald Trump, but most of it was about, almost like the community organizer from Chicago, about how people have to go out and organize and as he said our democracy is at stake. But as a full-throated endorsement of Joe Biden, not saying he wasn’t for him, it was a curious speech.”

Things that popped into my head while watching Wednesday night’s DNC

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during the third day of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Let’s not forget the history made Wednesday night as a Black and Asian American woman accepted the nomination as the vice presidential candidate. On Fox News, commentator Donna Brazile said, “I am excited and let me just say as someone who has worked so hard for so long to see this day, I know that Kamala tonight is going to talk about the steely shoulders that she stands upon. From the first woman to serve on a major party ticket, Geraldine Ferraro, to of course Sarah Palin on the Republican side to Hillary Clinton and tonight Kamala Harris, we have come a long way but we are not there yet. My hashtag tonight is MVP; madam vice president. That is who I want to hear from.”
  • Don’t underestimate how the appearance of music star Billie Eilish might impact young people. She has a huge, devoted following and a debut performance of a song is going to draw a big audience. Perhaps her fans weren’t watching live, but they will see her performance and message in the days to come on their phones and computers.
  • Many of Fox News’ top personalities on “Fox & Friends” and “The Five,” as well as Laura Ingraham, have slammed the DNC for being boring and awkward. Let’s see how they critique next week’s RNC, seeing as how most of that will be virtual as well.
  • Obama stood up for the press in his speech: “A free press isn't the enemy,”  he said, “but the way we hold officials accountable.”