A Local WEBN Advertisement and Our Political Debate

April 14, 2008 at 9:59 pm

WEBN is a classic rock station here in Cincinnati that has decorated our town with a lovely series of billboards. The billboards are easily spotted by single black quotes on an otherwise all-white billboard.

Here are a few samples:

  • “102.7 WEBN stinks,” Maya Buttreeks from Kenwood
  • “102.7 WEBN is immature,” Hu Flung Pu, Mt. Adams
  • “102.7 WEBN has never been clever,” Stu Pitt, Hyde Park

WEBN is a classic rock station. They play Led Zeppelin. They play Guns N Roses, Nirvana, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They play Bob Seger and Nickelback. They play Metallica, but only after Metallica became an accepted part of popular rock.

Their symbol is an angry frog that is part Chester Cheetah, part Yosemite Sam. Think the Warner Brother’s frog pissing on a Ford.

WEBN’s latest slogan on their website is “Shut Up and Rock!” Here are a few of their on-air personalities:

  • Wildman Walker – a 50-year old sports announcer who always sounds like he’s speaking in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS
  • Shroom – a relatively new member of the morning Dawn Patrol show
  • Jenni Buzzkill – the attractive blond who I’m guessing provides the laugh track to the morning show
  • Bob the Producer – another veteran who has been with WEBN since the 80s

I mention the DJs at WEBN to paint a picture of the radio station. It gained fame during the 70s playing up and coming rock bands. At one time it may have actually threatened the establishment by playing rock and roll. Now that it has been playing the same rock and roll for 4 decades, it is the establishment.

But back to the advertisements. I bring these up because they are an excellent example of branding that uses the outrage narrative.

The sayings themselves and even the humorous names used would not by themselves make an effective ad. It’s the locations of the fake people that make the ads powerful.

Hyde Park, Mt. Adams, and Kenwood are all older suburbs of the city of Cincinnati. These areas, on the East side of town, could be characterized by golf, country clubs, estates, and expensive cars and houses – mid-to-upper level middle class. The people who live in these areas tend to either come from older monied families and/or are very well educated.

WEBN, a station well past it’s prime, is trying to differentiate it’s listeners from these elites. The advertisements work by characterizing its’ listeners as funny and non-elitist, while the elites in Hyde Park, Mt. Adams, and Kenwood would never stoop to this kind of childish humor.

The difference, however, between the WEBN of 1970 and the WEBN of today is that then, childish humor was being used to challenge the status quo and bring about something better and different, now it’s being used solely to defend a stale status quo.

The ad also works to insulate WEBN from any criticism. Any critics are, according to the logic of the ad, elites. Again, the irony here is that who is the status quo? WEBN.

But rather than change to provide something better, it would be easier to just try to resurrect that rebelliousness by coming up with a false target: the people of Hyde Park or Mt. Adams or Massachusetts who will try to tell you what to do.

Do you see where this is going? The advertisement reminded me of how this same outrage narrative is being used in politics. The GOP has worked very hard to brand any opposition as liberal elites and themselves as down-to-earth regular people.

And it has been very effective. Al Gore was branded as elite. John Kerry, when he went windsurfing, was branded as an elite. And now, they’re trying to brand Barack Obama as an elite after trying to paint him as “too black” didn’t work.

The most interesting and saddest thing about all of this is that it is all character attacks. The press just seems to be fascinated by any minor comments that can be taken out of context from either side. And while they spew the snark, the country continues to sink into recession.

Barack Obama spoke the truth that some people may be bitter because of the declining state of our country. Wouldn’t this be a sane reaction? Sure, we have to always hope for a better future, but at the same time we can still be angry that much of what we once had is gone.

The truth is that WEBN does stink. At least if you judge it by offering anything new, funny, and different. And Obama may have a point that some Americans turn to religion or anti-immigrant sentiment because they are bitter about the economy.

It appears that if you’re looking for a good divining rod for finding the truth these days, look first for the personal attacks. And then look past them to figure out what is really going.