By Marian Salzman, Wednesday, October 21, 2009, at 2:26 pm.
If 2008 had a word of the year, it was arguably “change.” It was a wildly successful campaign slogan but more than that: the sudden shift from the age of excess to the new restraint, revolutions in the media and marketing worlds, the whiplash pace of…everything.
The ancient Greek philosopher Heracleitus said, “Nothing endures but change.” He was right, but is change testing our endurance? Are people on change overload, or do we still crave it? Has the very notion of “change” become overused?
In retrospect, last year’s elections were crystal clear: Obama promised change and people responded by voting for him. Even now, if you google “change,” the first two answers are the Obama-Biden transition site and the official White House site.
But this year’s congressional races are murky as can be. Democrats are facing Republicans who are throwing Obama’s slogan back at them, often without meaning—or without meaning the deep-seated changes that the president proposed in his campaign. Several races are paralyzed because change no longer seems party-based but a call to action to overthrow an incumbent. It’s now less a matter of what it’s a change toward than a change away from. No one even has to offer a plan, but voters are confused and party leaders are concerned.
From an article in The Wall Street Journal last week:
Republicans are poised to pick up a number of seats in next year’s congressional elections, pollsters estimate, on the back of a deep recession, public unease about the growth of government and the size of the nation’s deficit. Anti-Obama activism manifested in rallies and town-hall meetings has galvanized conservatives, injecting enthusiasm into the Republican base.
But these newly energized conservatives present GOP leaders with a potential problem: The party’s strategy for attracting moderate voters risks alienating activists who are demanding ideological purity, who may then gravitate to other candidates or stay at home. It’s a classic dilemma faced by parties in the minority—tension between those who want a return to the party’s ideological roots and those who want candidates most likely to win in their districts.
At the brand and product level, change for change’s sake seems to be a way to establish a company’s modern creds. A new logo, typeface and so on has become a way to rejigger a product even if it isn’t really necessary. Think about Tropicana, whose generic-looking redesigned packaging quickly earned the scorn of the design (and mainstream) community and was changed back to the original look. Or here in New York City, our ubiquitous drugstore Duane Reade recently reinvented its visual identity to decidedly mixed reviews. Some things need to be improved, not just changed.
Same with people. The concept of calling yourself a change agent isn’t working so well; it’s better to walk the walk, practicing change and guiding an organization into and through change. Take the upward rise of Lauren Zalaznick, who became president of NBC Universal Women and Lifestyle Entertainment Networks last May after a successful tenure at Bravo—and who proves that gradual evolution from within is often the best idea.
Maybe the lesson here is, the more things change, the more we want them to stay the same.