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 14, 2016

Omar Mateen committed the worst mass shooting in modern American history, 49 fatalities to date in Orlando. He targeted Pulse, a gay nightclub.

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, Mateen’s wife was reported to have known his intention to commit an attack. Others heard Mateen’s threats of violence over the years and sympathies for terrorism. The FBI investigated Mateen twice and placed him on a watchlist. In short, many close to Mateen knew there was something wrong and law enforcement was aware of him. Still, this was 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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Whole Foods, the Life Cycle and the Matrix

Whole Foods announced the opening of its first 365 by Whole Foods Market, a smaller store concept than its main outlets, stocking fewer and less expensive items. The store name is based on Whole Foods’ lower-priced private label. The company’s same-store sales, a key metric for retailers, have declined for three consecutive quarters. Whole Foods is under pressure from traditional grocers, such as Kroger, that are selling organic products at lower prices. Overall, sales of organic foods are rising.

365 inaugural store under construction in Silver Lake, CA. (Photo by Amy Seidenwurm)

Beyond its classification as hub of the “Place” strategy, the Whole Foods retail concept can be considered a “Product” in its own right, a branded offering marketed to targeted consumers. As such, it is subject to analysis through the product life cycle, four sequential stages in a product’s duration:

    • Introduction–the launch period when the market is small and costs can be high.
    • Growth–the climb of a successful product with improved profit margins stemming from higher revenue and economies of scale.
    • Maturity–the plateauing of sales as competition increases and price becomes more critical in the marketing mix.
    • Decline–the reduction of demand for the product, typically the result of a saturated market or the emergence of a new product.

Entire industries have a life cycle similar to the one for products. The life cycle for organic foods indicates the growth stage with sales increasing and more competitors joining the market. The life cycle for Whole Foods indicates maturity with the flattening of sales. Less than a year of same-store drops may not be enough to declare the decline stage.

The Wheel of Retailing is another concept to track marketing lifespan, applied to retailers as they become more complex–and less agile–with success, inviting streamlined startups to take the place they occupied in early stages of the wheel. The downturn at Whole Foods does not align completely with the wheel since the store is losing share to even more complex competitors–major grocers selling their own organic lines. However, this consequence is in keeping with the product life cycle as competitors will attack the leader with lower prices. Whole Foods’ derisive nickname of “Whole Paycheck” depicts the company’s reputation for high prices.

When facing product maturity, companies must change the product, target a new market, and/or lower costs to avoid decline. To develop and select such strategic alternatives, companies will use Ansoff’s Matrix as a decision-making tool.

Ansoff's Matrix

Ansoff’s Matrix. (themarketingagenda.com)

The matrix allows companies to contemplate combinations of new and existing products and markets. As the grid shows, risk increases as the company adds more new elements. “Diversification” becomes the riskiest strategy with Unrelated Diversification–a product new to the company being marketed to an unfamiliar market–being the point of greatest risk.

Whole Food’s 365 store concept can be considered Related Diversification led by a different but well-understood offering: a smaller store with lower-priced items. The different market comprises the ever-elusive millennial, per media accounts. As it places its chips in the far quadrant of Ansoff’s Matrix, Whole Foods is also seizing the Wheel of Retailing by creating its own nimbler startup. In turn, 365’s simpler product array and shrunken footprint fulfill the cost reductions dictated in the mature stage of the life cycle.

It is a difficult time for many retail segments, from electronics, to clothes, to food, as shopping habits change and prices remain a concern. Whole Foods is responding with the 365 store, a new concept that draws on existing branding and know-how. Does the consumer prefer a dedicated destination for organic products? Or will a separate shelf in the regular supermarket suffice?


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