V for Victory and Viral

Churchill_VJuly 19 marks the anniversary of World War II’s “V for Victory” campaign. New York Times article of the day describes it as a “nerve war” against the Nazis in occupied Europe. Launched by the BBC, championed by Winston Churchill, and executed by countless brave people in conquered countries, V for Victory was quintessential propaganda. It was also viral marketing in an era when the only computers were a handful of top-secret, room-sized machines (also part of the fight against the Nazis, used to break their coded messages).

The concept began in early 1941 with a BBC radio broadcast by Belgian refugee Victor De Lavelaye. He urged those under occupation to use “V” as a rallying symbol, the first letter in the French “Victoire,” the Flemish “Vrijheid,” and the English “Victory.” BBC editors embraced the concept, and the service beamed the official campaign to occupied Europe.

Per the NYT account, a BBC announcer with the nom-de-guerre “Colonel V. Britton” read a statement from Prime Minister Churchill:

The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the occupied territories and a portent of the fate awaiting Nazi tyranny. So long as the peoples continue to refuse all collaboration with the invader it is sure that his cause will perish and that Europe will be liberated.

Col.  Britton urged listeners to create “V” graffiti, to chalk or paint the letter on walls and pavement. The “V” theme continued as it was construed as the Roman symbol for the number “5.” Listeners were instructed to read Daniel 5, beginning with the fifth verse–the “writing on the wall” foretelling the downfall of the Babylonian empire that had enslaved the Jews.

Additionally, Col. Britton told the audience to tap out Morse code for the letter “V,” three dots and a dash for the benefit of friend and invader alike. That rhythm mimicked the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth (again, V as 5), a motif likened to “fate knocking at the door,” an extra affront to the Germans that co-opted the greatest work of one of their greatest composers. The first notes of Beethoven’s Fifth became the BBC’s call sign for its broadcasts to continental Europe throughout the war.

V for Victory spread across Europe, as one defiantly drawn or tapped “V” sparked another and another. Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels quickly countered, claiming the campaign was a Third Reich invention signifying the German “Viktoria.” The Nazis posted their “V” on banners and newspaper front pages and used Beethoven’s Fifth in their radio broadcasts. It is true brilliance when you can get the competition (enemy) to carry your message.

V for Victory was viral marketing. A major media platform, the BBC, created the spark and the people did the rest. The great communicator of the age, Winston Churchill, continually flashed the V sign for photographers, maintaining his role in the movement. Seven decades before social media let people strike blows against dictators and report from battlefields, V for Victory gave voice to Hitler’s involuntary–and temporary–subjects.

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Mass Killers and Communication, June 17, 2015

Dylann Storm Roof, 21, has been arrested the perpetrator of a mass shooting at a church in Charleston, SC. Roof created an online manifesto declaring his hatred for African Americans.

This targeting is similar to the actions of George Hennard, perpetrator of the 1991 mass shooting at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, that left 23 dead. Well before his crime, Hennard complained to the FBI about being the victim of a “conspiracy of white women.” While carrying out the attack, Hennard shouted that it was his response to what the women of his town “had done” to him.

Compounding this latest tragedy, Roof’s friends heard him make threats and one hid his gun from him for a day. In short, those closest to Roof knew there was something wrong and took what they believed were appropriate measures. Still, those measures were insufficient to stop another mass killing. See below a post I wrote during my graduate studies addressing the 2011 Tucson mass shooting. In it, I reference Anatomy of a Massacre, a book I wrote on the 1991 mass shooting at Luby’s Cafeteria, America’s worst such attack until the 2007 incident at Virginia Tech.

“Mass Killers and Communication”

Posted January 13, 2011

Mass killers are communicators. They communicate their anger, their disconnection from reality, their progress toward violence. They communicate vividly and frequently. They find audiences who receive and understand their messages. And despite their prodigious output of warning signs and pronouncements, mass killers go unchecked. This is the ultimate lesson of the attack in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 13 including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

In 1993, I wrote Anatomy of a Massacre, a true-crime book about what was then the worst mass shooting in American history: George Hennard’s attack on Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, TX, October 16, 1991, that left 23 dead. Hennard was a communicator, as was Jared Loughner, perpetrator of the Tucson mass shooting. Hennard exhibited bizarre, threatening behavior in the lead-up to his crimes. He stalked a family–Jane Bugg and her daughters, Jill and Jana–who lived down the street from his parent’s home where he was living alone. Jane’s complaints to local police brought no official action.

Hennard made his own complaints to law enforcement. He reported to the FBI that “a secret group of white women” had formed a nationwide conspiracy against him. He made a pilgrimage to the site of the San Ysidro McDonald’s where James Huberty set the previous mass shooting victim record at 21. He voiced his hatreds, paranoia and speculation about killing people to those around him. His physician father openly deemed him mentally ill.

Still, nothing happened to stop Hennard. He drove his pickup truck through Luby’s front window at lunch hour, exited the vehicle, and began firing on the building’s occupants with two 9mm pistols. Five minutes later, several police officers engaged Hennard in a gun battle. Twelve minutes later, he was dead in the restaurant’s back hallway. Twenty-three innocent people had been fatally shot with approximately 40 wounded.

Hennard communicated the outcome of Oct. 16, 1991, to anyone who would pay attention. Huberty communicated his instability and intent as well. So did Charles Whitman, the sniper atop the University of Texas tower, who killed 16 people in 1966. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the mass killers at Columbine High School, documented their threats and early dangerous acts online. Seung Hui Cho, who exceeded Hennard’s death toll by killing 32 at Virginia Tech, was a known menace to family, students, teachers and authorities. Nidal Hasan, murderer of 13 at Fort Hood not far from the location of Hennard’s attack, recurrently expressed extremist views and sent intercepted e-mails to terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki.

And now we hear the all-too-familiar story of Jared Loughner, his ominous behavior, his outbursts, his YouTube video speaking of genocide. In Comm 4144 at University of Denver, we are currently studying communication models. Emulating flow charts, they track the path and effect of communications. Repeatedly, the communication model for mass killers is: Source–>Message–>Receiver–>Tragedy

It’s time for a new model.

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Adversarial Advertising

Edgy ads are a staple of advertising, attempting to break through the communication clutter and jolt the viewer. As Tom Altstiel and Jean Grow point out in Advertising Creative, edgy ads risk offending the general audience to appeal to the target audience, deliberately driving “a wedge” between the audiences. Altstiel and Grow warn about going too far, which two recent campaigns have done.

Protein World. UK-based supplement company Protein World launched a display advertising campaign in the London subway system asking “Are You Beach Body Ready?” (Note: linked article contains photos of protest signage with blunt language.) A gorgeous, toned blonde in a yellow bikini dominates the design. Thematically similar “get ready for summer” ads have been standard issue for diet products, fitness clubs and plastic surgeons for decades; however, this ad struck a nerve, triggering a social media backlash punctuated by poster defacing and public protests. Global news media seized on the controversy.

Protein World struck a defiant tone on Twitter, using the hashtag #getagrip and retweeting supportive posts from British TV personality Katie Hopkins who called protestors “feminazis,” “chubsters,” and “fat.” After the company declared the ad would remain, it was pulled when the Advertising Standards Authority announced an investigation to determine if the campaign “breaks harm or offense rules or is socially irresponsible.”

Bud Light. As part of its “Up for Whatever” marketing campaign, Bud Light shipped bottles with labels featuring the tagline: “The Perfect Beer for Removing ‘No’ from Your Vocabulary for the Night.”

As seen with Protein World’s campaign, digital protests arose, saying the tagline encouraged rape culture and flew in the face of the “No Means No” campaign to stem sexual assaults on college campuses. Also in parallel, major media covered the controversy. However, Anheuser-Busch deviated from Protein World by being contrite instead of defiant, issuing a public apology and terminating production of the offending labels.

Many asked, “Wasn’t anyone paying attention before printing the labels?” The Wall Street Journal reports that the tagline passed through five levels of review including ad agency BBDO, multiple corporate departments at parent company AB InBev, and the U.S. Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

In the end… will the backlash hurt Protein World and Bud Light? Protein World recorded a sales jump amid the news coverage. Bud Light saw its “buzz” score drop, clouding its summer sales season to be kicked off by a “Whatever, USA” event on Catalina Island, California. Revenue and regulation will be the ultimate determinants, with bad PR known to affect both negatively.

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