Monday, June 25, 2007

Inflatable Rats and Tired Tactics: Time for New Marketing for Unions

Pardon me as I do a brief Jerry Seinfeld impression:

"Have you ever noticed these inflatable rats that union guys put up?"

For the past few weeks, I've driven by a construction site for what appears to be a new bank. Every morning like clockwork I also see one or two sorry looking guys standing out on the sidewalk with signs on their chest, milling around a giant inflatable rat, like the one pictured at right. It's a rather surreal scene.

I can't help but think that there's gotta be a better way to protest the growth of a non-union building, as they're attempting to do.

Here's how I see it:
  • In general, union memberships are down from historical highs in the 1950s when about a third of all workers were in a union. Today it's plunged to around 13 percent, according to this Encarta article.
  • Whether properly deserved or not, unions have a checkered image in today's world. From the Jimmy Hoffa days of mobster ties, to today's impression that union workers are unproductive, unions need all the help they can get if they want to survive.
  • It's 2007 and marketing has become a virtual science on changing people's decisions and behaviors. If you have a positive association with a "brand", you are much more likely to buy that brand over a competitor's brand. Case in point-- would you rather have a Lexus or a Ford Pinto? That's branding power (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
  • The "brand" of unions pretty much bites the big one. Though unions stand up for the rights of their workers, which I think is generally a good thing, there's no way unions will survive if they don't improve their image. It's really that simple.
So back to the inflatable rat image. Suppose you're a parent with a 10-year-old child in the car driving past this inflatable rat. Junior asks you why they have that big scary rat by the building. Without getting technical, what are you going to say? Perhaps explain what a union is all about and the cause they're trying to support. But inevitably, that kid is going to connect the huge ugly rat with workers' unions and pretty much be totally disenchanted with the union "brand" because he made the connection between "ugly" and "unions". And for that matter-- so will many adults! This article from FastCompanymagazine claims otherwise, citing a union leader as saying that businesses go bonkers when they see that inflatable rat outside their store, but my hunch is that that's just a temporary frustration, rather than any kind of a long-term effect that might incite change.

Ok, so in sum, the point I'm trying to make here is that image is everything, and the image of unions is that of strong arming, inflatable rats, and smoke-breaks, which is not going to help recruit new members any time soon in my humble opinion. Granted, I'm not suggesting that stringing up inflatable butterflies and flying kites in front of non-union businesses will do the job of changing people's minds, but in my opinion a cleaner, friendlier, smarter image will be needed if they want to prove to the public that they're still a viable option in today's world.

"What's the deal with these inflatable rats?"

1 comment:

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