Charm and branding

Charm is an interesting thing. I always thought it was nice for people to call me charming. “Charming” is an adjective that’s usually applied to people who make friends easily…ingratiating people, quick-witted people, people with nice smiles and self-assured body language. Seems like a compliment, right? Well, given that (a) you can “Charm the pants off of someone” and (2) the information I found by listening to an interview on Fresh Air… maybe not so much.

The following quote is from January 12, 1999 (replayed on September 22, 2006), and is an excerpt from a discussion between WHYY’s Terry Gross and Actor James Woods, most recently of Shark, the CBS weekly legal drama. It discusses the real motivations behind many “charming” people. I certainly wouldn’t want this to be misconstrued as an indictment of all charming people, but it’s interesting nonetheless. It gets down to a very interesting point (in the second graph) that I’ve been pretty fascinated with in my own life (that is to say, my life outside of work) for quite some time. It’s really amazing to me–and not only in a bad way–the duality that almost every person struggles with, silently, on a daily basis. From the most insignificant activities (people who sing in the shower but never in front of other people) to downright lies (take Mark Foley for example), this dilemma is everywhere and affect everyone. Please don’t kid yourself by saying in your mind, “Well, sure, but not me!” Anyhow, take a moment and read the following quote:

“I have found in my rather voracious reading about many criminal types, whether they be in politics or the world of petty crime, that oftentimes, very charming people are in fact highly sociopathic. They use charm as a kind of negotiating ploy to lure people into their lives and into their circles and then “vampire-ize” them for their own ends. We see it the highest level of politics and the lowest level of street crime. Very charming people find a way to enlist compatriots in their worlds of crime.

“I believe that people, by and large, are engaged in a chronic, manic denial over who they really are… so they’re always rationalizing or defending a position that is in fact usually the opposite to how they truly behave behind closed doors, or in moments when they don’t feel they’re being observed.”

Again, I’m not saying that you’re a criminal if you can be charming, or have many friends, or can be manipulating at times. Certainly there are many people out there that have these characteristics that don’t engage people in a malevolent/misanthropic way. But it’s certainly something to think about, and perhaps a nice place from which to jump into a fit of self-improvement.

So… since this is a blog about brands and advertising, Mr. Woods’ quote serves to bring up a great point. There’s a huge number of “charming” companies out there. Tobacco companies come quickly to mind, but there are many more that escape immediate recognition.

Obviously, you don’t want to be one of these charming, vampire-like people. And I’m sure it brings no satisfaction to kind-hearted people to work on a brand that is two-faced. But you might be living this lie without even knowing it. I was really worried over the past few months that I could be one of these people, that I was charming people into friendship and using them for my personal gain. This is one of my most significant insecurities (why am I blogging about it?!) and I’ve thought a great deal about how to approach changing such a personality characteristic. The keys are listed below. I’ve written them from the perspective a human being, rather than a brand. But the lessons apply to communications as well.

1. Honesty

This is the hardest step, and could possibly ruin you. If you’ve acted in a sociopathic, charming sort of way, it’s probably about time to stop messing around and be real about who you are. Some people that are used to the earlier version of yourself will probably reject the new version, but that’s to be expected. These people will quickly drop out of your circle of friends, possibly say mean things about you, or cause you some harm. But that’s OK, because you met and befriended these people under false pretenses. They (1) have a right to be mad and (b) you probably shouldn’t have been hanging out with them in the first place. In the end, all will be better, and your remaining friends will like you better for your recent change. They may even buy you a beer.

2. No, really. Honesty.

As heart-rending as the first step was, after a few months have passed, you need to re-assess how truly honest you are being. You’ll find that you’ve slipped in some places, which, again, is to be expected. If you’ve been living a lie for a really long time, you may have just reverted back to your old charming, seductive self. It’s time to try again, and really scrutinize all your relationships. The affects (both good and not-as-good) will be the same as you encountered in step 1.

3. Focus on who you are, not what you do.

People that are really charming do well in life because of the things they do, not because of who they are on the inside. They are probably attractive, are good conversationalists, and pick up the tab for their friends at the bar. They are probably generous to a point, good/capable dressers and are likely very street-smart. But they probably also have enormous egos and are disingenuous about the very fiber of their existence. So the key to shedding all of these fun characteristics (the ones listed above) is to focus on who you are on the inside. Get spiritual, do some yoga, maybe work out more, drink more water/less alcohol and take vitamins. Become clean of body and of mind by sitting back and taking inventory of your life’s decisions. This may take some time; set aside an hour per day for introspection. In the end you’ll find yourself a kinder, gentler, more Mother Theresa-like human (I hope!). Or seek professional help.

4. Give up all manufactured appearances.

Stop worrying about your hair, your skin, weight, beard, clothes etc. Good, real friends/lovers/acquaintances/colleagues don’t really care about this stuff. Anyone who really, actually cares about the aforementioned characteristics (unless in regard to your physical/mental health) is not a real friend. And as for the “quality” of the friends you keep… re-assess your criteria for your friends. I know this has been mentioned before but it bears bringing up again.

Now what?

So, ad-folk, I challenge y’all to apply this to your brands/companies, and see where you end up. This is a really entertaining exercise, and is probably best undertaken by people who are very secure in their jobs. This applies to agencies as well. Clients are probably not going to be all that stoked to hear the results of this survey, unless they are “cool clients” or you’ve got a great relationship with them. Or, alternatively, you can take a look at your brand from a “charming” perspective and not tell anyone about it–just do it for your own good. In the end, you should end up in a place that is very “customer-centric” or, rather, you’ll end up building great relationships with the customers/clients that you have.

But, come on, a little white lie never hurt anyone, right? …


3 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. Some more quotation-love from the interview. Talking about a killer he played in The Onion Field

    “Killers aren’t killing every minute of the day, they still have to buy groceries and get their laundry done, I always try to think of giving a character like that an entire life. All the everyday, boring details of how he lives his life. And then along the way, just unexpectedly, this capacity to destroy in such a horrific way just erupts! And I think that’s the way it is for most sociopaths. Their approach to life is “Whatever is good for me, I will do, and whatever i need other people to do for me, I will charm them into it.”

    “The ‘superobjective’ for a sociopath is: ‘How do I get whatever I want, all the time, and pretend to be a normal citizen when I have to.’

    “When you’re young and in particular, male, there’s a greater level of a manic self confidence that comes as a way of denying your fears. A lot of male behavior–you know, extreme sports, war–a lot of aggression that comes naturally just from biological imprint on young males has to do with a kind of confidence that as you get a little older and wiser, that you realize is a pretty false confidence… but confidence doesn’t know if it’s true or false. You just go out there and you feel it until you get your first big whack on the forehead with a 2×4 from life.”

  2. I am happy your introspection continues.