business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There’s a line from too many movies in which the bad guy basically asks: who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes? Incredibly, we sometimes answer that question wrong.

It was against that background that I finally report on the Comedy Central Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, held October 30th in Washington, DC. I found myself almost incredulous when I watched the coverage of the rally, which was widely called a Democratic rally or a massive youth rally in so many accounts. Strangely enough, I saw almost zero political signs in my time at the rally. (Unless Papa Smurf for president! counts as a political statement.) Better yet my wife and I (both semi-happily in our 50s) saw many people older than us in the crowd.

Who am I to believe: my own eyes or what commentators later told me? Tough choice, but I’ll go with my own eyes.

So why am I writing this article 10 days later? Mainly because I felt the rally wasn’t political, so I had no intention of writing about it before the election. More importantly, I thought the rally gave us a couple of interesting lessons and hopefully with the election behind us it’s easier to talk about such issues.

Start with the power of a brand. I went to the rally because I really enjoy the comedy of Stewart and Colbert. They are unashamedly sarcastic and ironic, two traits I really love. While I would totally concede that both are liberal leaning, their comic barbs cut sharply on both sides of the aisle, which I find refreshing these days. By running their rally, the political talking heads warned, Stewart and Colbert were damaging their brands. A serious rally, they warned, would ruin both.

Here’s a shock. The talking heads were wrong yet again.

Yes, Stewart got serious at the rally, but did so in a way that absolutely upheld his brand. He urged more civil discourse and the importance of civility in public discussions. Plus he chided the media for the breathless way it reports and comments on everything. (His metaphor of the media holding up its magnifying glass of clarity to burn ants on a sidewalk was dead-on.) Colbert, whose on stage persona is more narrowly defined as a somewhat crazed blowhard, upheld his brand too. His goal was to stir up fear, which he did at one point by threatening to release bees coated in peanut butter to attack everyone in the crowd allergic to bees and/or peanut butter.

Here’s the coolest part: the crowd understood the brand. Among my favorite “protest” signs were: “You can’t spell fear without kittens” or one that simply proclaimed “Sign.” In other words, the crowd understood the brand was irony and sarcasm, even if they were told it wasn’t.

The entire rally was an interesting concept. As a frequent traveler I had the misfortune of seeing political ads in countless states during the past two months and they were uniformly awful. Our choices seems to be between horrible people each of whom is hell-bent on destroying life as we know it on this planet - at least until November.

If food companies ran similar ads we’d do nothing more that convince customers that eating a competitor’s product or shopping at their stores would do nothing short of kill them. Good ads and good marketing build our own brand. Only in politics can you win the other way around.

So maybe a rally about sanity, civility and sarcasm wasn’t such a bad idea. And while it’s awful to think we’re taking advice from comedians, this time we should. Especially when they make us smile and say please and thank you just a little bit more often.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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