Harper’s: Madison Avenue Makes Us Love Our Government

The article/conversation “Can Madison Avenue make us love our government?” published in the February 2011 issue of Harpers is a thought provoking dialogue about advertising and the image of the federal government.

“Last September, when the pollsters at Gallup asked Americans to ‘describe the federal goverment in one word or phrase,’ 72 percent of the responses were pejorative. The federal government was ‘constipated,’ ‘obese,’ ‘crappy’ ‘bureaucracy’ run by a ‘bunch of yahoos,’ or by a ‘bunch of [profanity deleted].'”

“One often hears that we should run government like a business. What would a business do if it saw brand loyalty give way to such brand hostility? Wouldn’t its executives summon the alchemists of advertising?”

What follows is a witty discussion regarding the federal government by four people from different ad agencies.  Is it the government people dislike or the politicians?  What does the government do well?  It provides security, safety, and freedom.  How have views of the government changed since World War II?  People like the Postal Service, NASA, the CDC.  Isn’t that government?  How does the United States’ brand connect to its citizens.  Afterward, each agency developed a mock-up of their ad.  The mock-ups were smart, they connected well, and I hate to say it, even kind of inspiring.  One agency went so far as to develop a website.

What made this article interesting is that I’ve been caught up watching Mad Men.  It put me in the mindset where I could better visualize these people.  Sure, it’s probably totally off base, but there’s something resonant.  I could picture these ad-men sitting around a table throwing out ideas about their customer, and seeing what sticks.  What comes out is a frank look at why people are dissatisfied, and what might help increase their approval rating for the federal government.

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