P008: The Ups and Downs of Provocation

These go to eleven

To understand a topic as broad as communication, it occasionally helps to break it down into its component pieces: the message, the medium, the sender, the recipient and the desired reaction. By adjusting the first four inputs, you can get an infinite number of possible results. There are a lot of resources out there for people who are looking to get a positive reaction, but what if the exact opposite is your intention? Maybe there should be a playbook for dealing with the fallout when your inflammatory rhetoric is “successfully” received.

Smug smug smug

Meet John Lefevre, a man even less likable than Goldman Sachs. His Twitter account (@GSElevator) purported to be real-world utterances from the hallowed halls of the massive megabank, but (SPOILER ALERT) was just Lefevre living out his class-warfare-meets-misogynistic-bro-down fantasies from behind a keyboard in Texas. Since then he has lost his book deal, been outed as a plagarist and got trolled most epically by the actual @GoldmanSachs:


In response, Lefevre went on the offensive in Business Insider, by which I mean, he got all defensive in an “open letter to the haters”. Turns out, being outed was always part of the plan, we’re all pawns in his game, up is down and we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. Side note: when airquoting BI, is “Business” Insider, Business “Insider” or “Business” “Insider” the preferred method?

One for the Money, Yes Sir, Two for the Show

In an apparent effort to avoid spending another year as the luxury car brand preferred by the elderly and out of touch, Cadillac launched an aggressive, jingoistic commercial during the Olympics, which no one saw because DVR, so they ran it again during the Oscars. If you haven’t seen it, take a moment to see what all the fuss is about (Trigger warning: YouTube comments from #tcot types).

I’ll admit it: I like the ad. I think it’s effective in reinforcing long-held positive brand perceptions of Cadillac while challenging the less-positive ones. It’s beautifully shot and well-paced. The line about leaving the keys in the moon rover is awesome and it doesn’t trip all over itself letting you know that it’s selling an electric car. Hell, I even thought Neal McDonough made a pretty decent M. Bison. The things I don’t like about it (glorification of wealth and workaholism, mindless acceptance of the lie of meritocracy) are the same things I don’t like about myself. We’ve all got things to work on, n’est-ce pas?

So the Cadillac ad hits its intended mark and the obvious reaction takes place. How does Craig Bierley, the advertising director for Cadillac, deal with this PR opportunity? By being a defensive, sniveling semanticist in AdAge of course! Thanks for the 6-point dissertation about how the world misunderstood your commercial, you are a beacon of light and understanding unto us all.

No More Half-Measures, Walter

If you’re going to go negative, be provocative, be inflammatory, you have to own it. You think George H. W. Bush lost any sleep over Willie Horton? Going on the defensive after you accomplish your initial goal isn’t a good look for anyone, especially if you are only capable of sounding like a passive-aggressive man-child when doing so.

Periodically Yours,

Bob Sherron