Friday, March 30, 2007
Brands? We don't need no stinkin' brands.
A few years back, I found myself in Miami shooting a television commercial. As is usually the case with location shooting, we had hired local cops to control traffic and keep gawkers at a respectful distance, and among our contingent of Miami’s finest was one particularly memorable specimen. He was a strapping fellow, obviously spent a lot of time in the gym, and equally obviously did not wear a standard issue uniform. His appeared to have been bespoke tailored out of some kind of shiny, stretchy material, chosen to show off the product of all that gym time. It was impressive, in a vaguely Village People kind of way, but also a bit unsettling. It sent odd signals about what motivated this particular public servant, signals more about vanity than responsibility. I understand the value of looking intimidating to the difficult job of policing; I was less clear about the value of looking like you're ready for your closeup. I just kind of thought that if I was being rescued from bad guys or dragged from a burning wreck, I’d want my savior to be completely unconcerned about the crease in his trousers or whether his badge was interrupting the line of his pectoral muscle.
This is what came to mind last week as I beheld the new livery of the Toronto Police Service’s patrol cars, which again demonstrated that the inherent vanity in branding might not be suited to absolutely every purpose. Okay, the new cruisers aren’t as disturbing as a black spandex uniform, but they still feel a bit… I dunno… brand-y. Where the old ones had all the personality of a tax form, the new ones seem to be saying, “Introducing All-New Police Ultra! Now 20% more law enforcier!” If I was being transported to the hoosegow in one of these things, I would feel more like I was in a movie than in trouble.
I wish there were brand cops. Whoever sold the police service this bill of goods would be brought up on charges. Some kind of recklessness or negligence thing. Everybody knows that a brand is not the sum of what it looks like, it’s the sum of what it does. Everything sends a signal, and the signal a police car should send is, “Don’t worry, we’re here.” Or maybe, “You are so busted and screwed beyond belief.” It shouldn’t send a signal that says, “I am snazzy. Admire me.” I mean, geez, you need look no further than the major military conflict of the last century to see the truth in this. Who had the coolest uniforms and the flashiest stuff? The facists. The bad guys. The guys that lost. They wore Hugo Boss.
Moral authority doesn’t go shopping.
Fortunately, the rest of the Toronto Police Service brand experience is pretty much intact. The earnest blue uniforms, the handcuffs, billy clubs, mace, Glocks, flashing red lights, all that will still get my attention and respect after I sail through my next radar trap. Despite the fancy new package, the product inside is the same as it ever was, and this is one of those rare occasions when I think that’s about as it should be.