Reagan was the Great Communicator, Clinton felt our pain, and Obama is hope we can believe in.
But when it comes to message, Coke is The Real Thing.
No one does it better, from the permissive Pause That Refreshes, the harmonious Buy The World a Coke, to the crisply elegant Enjoy Coke.
We should take a lesson from Coke. At least from the company’s latest ad.
It’s called “Mailboxes,” and features a series of pensive youth opening mailboxes that contain, surprise, a bottle of Coke. But the real gift isn’t the soda, it’s a college education, courtesy of Coca-Cola’s scholarship program.
The narrator explains: “If you’ve bought a Coke in the last 20 years, you’ve had a hand in giving college scholarships to thousands of our nation’s most promising students.”
In one sentence, they have ennobled our soda consumption, while touting their corporate largesse. We are partners, us and Coke; teammates for a better-educated America.
That simple commercial contains the nucleus of a response to the anti-government, anti-tax rhetoric that is so poisoning political debate. Somewhere in there is an antidote to the gospel of selfishness so deeply ingrained in the all-government-is-waste-and-folly message of the Angry Right.
In the “Mailboxes” ad is a message of community good, of shared lifting missing from our political discourse.
Translated into political speak, it’s: “Despite the terrible recession, the taxes you’ve paid these past few years have educated this many kids, treated this many cancer patients, kept this many widows in their homes.”
“Mailboxes” threads the needle between the indignant anger of the right, and the scolding pedantry of the left.
Instead of saying, “You’ve been burned by the Tax Man,” or “Here’s what you’ll lose if you don’t pony up,” a mailbox-style message instead points out the amazing things we’ve accomplished despite the recession.
You’ve sent more kids to college with your taxes than Coke can dream of sending with its scholarships.
So, learn the lesson from the masters of message: Tell Californians all the good they’re doing.
Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer: That helicopter that rushed the injured kid to life-saving treatment at a hospital? You paid for that.
The cops who broke up the rampage? You hired them.
If you’ve ever paid a penny in taxes, you’ve had a hand in building thousands of schools, hundreds of hospitals and dozens of water treatment plants. You built those bridges, you own those parks. The freeways were bought by your parents taxes, and their parents, and theirs. Same for bridges, dams and universities. If you were paying taxes in the late 1960s, you rounded up Charlie Manson and his “family.”
And, by the way, some of the taxes your grandparents paid, money that you didn’t get to inherit, it liberated Paris, and the Philippines, and sent Hitler scurrying into a bunker to blow his brains out. How’s that for money well spent?
There has been waste. There have been mistakes. But that conversation is incomplete without reminding folks all they have accomplished with their taxes.
The lesson in this latest Coke ad is that sharing the credit and offering a little gratitude is a great way to explain the relationship between the individual and the group.
Taking a little liberty, the ad says you’re not a chump to pay your taxes. You are a partner in a great system. You are at once a benefactor and a beneficiary. None of the peace and order and safety we take for granted would be possible without a dependable system, and that system – there’s no way around it — runs on money, some of which comes from you.
That won’t, of course, get anyone lining up to pay extra taxes. But at least it can temper the insane message that it’s magic rather than money that makes our lives better than the lives of those unfortunate enough to live in weak-government nations.
Let’s ask, What’s right with California? What worked last year? And the year before that? What has been accomplished, and who deserves the credit?
The answer to that last question should be pretty darn easy. It’s not any governor or officeholder. It is, as it always has been, the people who do the work, cast the votes and pay the taxes. And somebody ought to remind them of that.
Acknowledgment: It’s the pause that refreshes.