Thursday, April 15, 2010

Saving the Brand

I was going to call this post "Another Old Queen," but then I decided that would be a little harsh (though not so much as to not mention it at all, lol).

I want to share with you
this article I found, which I think makes a very apt analogy:

Does Pope Benedict have a DVD player? Does Vatican City have a Blockbuster outlet? If so, someone has to get his Holiness a copy of The Queen.

The 2006 Oscar-nominated movie tells the story of the dire crisis the House of Windsor faced in the week following the sudden death of Princess Diana. Queen Elizabeth, a woman who considered herself the incorporation of the British people she had served for more than half her life, found herself struck deaf to their needs as the nation was consumed in unprecedented spasms of public grief. In the end she pivoted from hidebound tradition to save the Crown.

Pope Benedict would do well to learn by her example.

Some might rankle at the comparison of the Catholic Church to a politically neutered royal dynasty but they have much in common. Both trace their roots to a foundational story from which they derive their present-day legitimacy. They are steeped in tradition, pageantry and hierarchy, not to mention often vaguely comical costumes.

Most importantly both the Catholic Church and the British royals have always believed strength devolves from constancy and tradition. Change and public whims are not adapted to, they are withstood.

Just as the institutions have much in common, so do the Diana crisis and the Church’s current troubles (although the Church’s sins are real and Elizabeth II’s were more imagined). The Queen initially brushed off the public outpouring of emotion and growing anger as a form of irrationalism fomented by anti-monarchists and abetted by a scurrilous media. In the movie she dismisses suggestions that she break with protocol and fly her Royal Standard at half staff. “I believe a few over-eager editors are trying to sell newspapers,” she says, “and it would be a mistake to dance to their tune.”

She was convinced she could ride the crisis out precisely because the growing mountain of flowers outside of Buckingham Palace and the endless public weeping was so uncharacteristic of the country she knew. “I doubt anyone knows the British people more than I,” intones Helen Mirren as the Queen, “and it is my belief that they will any moment reject this mood.”

And yet in the movie as in life, Elizabeth II finally yields to the wisdom of Sicilian writer and fellow blue blood Guiseppe Tomasi’s dictum that “if you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

The royals trooped back from Balmoral to London, lowered the Royal Standard and submitted themselves to the indignity of bowing before the casket of a woman who had done more to destroy the dynasty than even the loathed and exiled Wallis Windsor. All was forgiven and a year later the Queen enjoyed a modest vindication when a poll revealed that a majority of Brits were secretly embarrassed by the whole uproar.

The British royals and the Catholic Church may be sombre and important institutions but at their heart they are franchises and brands. The Queen’s rescue of the family business in 1999 could just as easily be taught at MBA school as the granddaddy of all corporate crisis case studies, the infamous Tylenol tampering.

In 1982 seven Americans died after consuming Tylenol that had been laced with cyanide. Johnson and Johnson’s immediate response was to pull every single Tylenol product off store shelves. The company took bold and exceedingly costly action. Today Tylenol is still a leading anti-pain medication.

When faced with a threat to a franchise the instinct is to retrench and protect the brand. From Tylenol and the British royals we learn that the brand is best protected by putting the client’s interest first.

If the Catholic Church is to endure, it is going to have do the unthinkable and yield to the modern world. Pope Benedict will have to admit fallibility [I'll assume he means in matters other than the rare ex cathedra dogmatic definition about faith and morals], bring about massive institutional change and humble himself not to God but to his followers. Only that will save the Catholic brand.

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