Most of my adult life he has been there, on the television screen–horn-rimmed glasses, thick German accent, steely eyes– opining on the sweep of human events: war, plague, genocide, coups, peace and detente.
Most of my adult life I have not understood a thing he says.
I recall the early days of his public discourse, immediately after leaving the White House. As crises would flare up around globe, the call would go out for Henry The K to put it all in perspective for the nightly news audience. I would look forward to his appearances, seeking the insight I knew I lacked on the why’s and wherefore’s of this or that international incident.
And each time I would be left thinking:
“What the hell did he say?”
I have come to realize that Kissinger is a figment of a marketing machine: identified as a “wise” Harvard academic by Nelson Rockefeller, brought to full Technicolor fame by President Nixon, Kissinger was identified as a diplomatic genius due to where he worked, who he worked with, and the way he spoke. A virtual Chance, the character in the classic Peter Sellers film, where a dunce of a gardener is perceived through a weird set of circumstances to be a wealthy captain of industry, whose every word is doted on.
Henry Kissinger has had the mystique of a marketing machine–a mystique he diminishes every time he opens his mouth.
There is a wider marketing rule here: when a product, a company or a leader manages to develop a mystique, don’t let it speak. Mick Jagger could be on Letterman and Oprah once a month if he wanted to. When is the last time you saw an interview with Mick? It’s not that he doesn’t adore fame. He just knows when to shut up and let the machine do its work.
Throughout their careers, a treasure of world-class personalities have created god-like personas in part because they allow their fame to grow cult like, knowing that every time they would appear on Leno or Meet The Press would interfere with that viral magic. They know instinctively that cults grow best organically.
Think of Dylan, Lennon, Salinger, Jobs, Gandhi. Every time these icons would sit down for a Charlie Rose interview, we would see them as human. And humans don’t make for good icons.
We all fall victim, and happily so, for products that make a BIG promise but never explain HOW they will:
* Make us bone thin
* Make our minds wiser
* Make our teeth snow white
* Teach us Russian in a week
The more they say, the less we would believe. Great politicians know this all so well. The ones who win high office do so on the basis of a slogan. All of their commercials are slogans. All of their debates are simply another venue to toss out the same slogans. Ask them a question, and they answer in a slogan.
So often, clients want MSCO to say everything about their product or service. But we know, and advise, that so often, that less is more. The devil is in the details:so put them in the fine print.
Once you start talking to hear yourself speak, it’s always Kissinger redux.