On grass roots organizations and the way they communicate

Reading Time: 2 minutes

It’s probably a good bet, and something to explore someday (as part of that list of well-meaning interesting projects I’d like to do and will probably never get to — the editorial calendar of that great magazine I want to do in the sky). I’ll bet there’s an instant way to test the sincerity and authenticity and likely the justification of a movement and that is, by the quality of their Web site, let’s say.

They will always be plain, scruffy, unadorned, undesigned, and largely prose oriented, with heavy amounts of text.

Whether this is purposeful or accidental is hard to tell, without invesitgation, but I’d guess it’s the latter. The last thing that do-gooders and well-meaning social engineers manage to do is to look professional, that is make the effort (assuming they even had the resources) to look like what all other entities who communicate to the public and manage any degree of efficacy in forming opinions and swaying emotions.

The tentative communications strategy I would suggest to them is a stealth one, borrowed in part from guerrilla marketing and other seemingly off-the-cuff, scruffy-looking, disorganized seeming strategies that have been successful in the past.

André the Giant bombs the world! (from Salon.com)

Earnest people, and the organizations they form, seem often embarrassed to suggest that packaging is important in order to get the attention of many people. Certainly the greater part of the population of the United States of America – at least all of those who can be reached through a broader medium than accosting them face-to-face in the street or in their homes – has been conditioned to be spoken to a certain way. Like it or not, they are swayed by how things are said. They are moved by how things look. They are persuaded by appearances.

In addition to the significant problem of gaining the attention of any individual altogether there is the added problem of holding it for long enough at least to attempt to deliver a message of some substance – even if that message, as famously and tortuously promulgated by Ernie Kovacs, is as simple as "Chew Gum!" For those who couldn’t possibly know what I am talking about, I am referring to a phony commercial that Kovacs produced as one skit in one of his television programs (he hosted several, most of them of a variety format) in which an elaborate stage set, involving drapes covering a stage opening to reveal a full and rather large chorus of men and women, all dressed in long satin choral robes, and all of them holding open music folders. With the curtains fully drawn, the entire chorus drew a deep breath, and in harmony intoned the words, "Chew gum!" with some emphasis. No doubt part of the joke derived from a very deep reference to a famous pronouncement of architect Frank Lloyd Wright to the effect that television was "chewing gum for the eyes." Kovacs, speaking in more or less the same time frame (we’re talking the early days of commercial television of the 50s), said, television is a medium, so called, "because it is neither rare nor well done."

Similarly, the Web is not particularly well done by most of the people who have taken the trouble to put a page or two, or an entire site, up for the entire world to view.

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