Death to slogans

Blank placard The title of this post is, in fact, a slogan. But I’m thinking slogans are verbal dead weight in the internet era. What harm would it do us to just cut them all out and put content up front?

I used to think I was just tired of seeing the same ones or slight variations of same after 22 years working for the labour movement. Which is certainly true. But it’s more serious than that.

Think of what sorts of slogans we write. Forward together. Standing together. Standing for fairness. Fairness works. Working for fairness. They could be about anything. And produced by anyone. And we use them so many times that we run the risk of being docked google page rank for duplicate content.

Slogans in the labour movement are either a call to action, a political declaration used as part of a concerted effort to make change (what we call campaigns), or (most excruciatingly) some form of general, thematic statement for a convention, conference or big-ass meeting. The slogan is applied to visual collateral associated with the campaign, convention or initiative.

One of the reasons I hate slogans is that it’s usually after the hard copy ‘look’ has been designed – complete with slogan – that I’m given the artwork. It’s already been the subject of weeks of meetings, arguments, brain storming sessions and approvals so there’s no changing it even though it’s designed to go on legal sized paper, a 3″ button, a frisbee or anything other than a web page.

But that’s another blog post.

The slogan is meant to be evocative so that it sticks in your head and acts as a sort of memory gateway to all the other good words that the union fed you in the leaflet, TV commercial, newspaper ad, etc. And the next time you happen by it, on the side of the bus, in a newsletter you get in the mail, you’ll feel like there’s some movement going on and that you’re part of it.

We work hard at getting the ‘right’ slogan. And we work hard to make it a different slogan every time.

We want them to be unique because they are designed for a moment in time which emphasizes the importance of the call to action. Things have never been this bad. Nothing has ever been this important. How do you know? Because we have a slogan like no other. Even if it’s in fact an issue we’ve been fighting for years or even decades. As most of them are.

All other slogans previously constructed to fight for x or against y have failed to lead us to victory hence we need a new one.

We also want to create and express our own uniqueness – as communicators – and demonstrate our creativity. Organizationally we want to set ourselves apart from that other union.

And yet we never get there.

Even if the internet hadn’t happened I would think at this point most slogan writers should be having some sort of existential crisis.

In the bad old days, the people working on a campaign would sit around a table (or along a bar) and dream up the slogan. They would chose the one they hated the least by the time they were too tired or frustrated to keep fighting.

Then in the late 1980s and early 1990s we started to hear about this thing called social marketing, the central premise of which was that we social change organizations should use opinion research techniques to craft our messages so that we would be more successful.

So our slogans started to be generated by focus groups and opinion polls. They became less ‘out there’ and original and more machined, sanded down (polished) to appeal to the most people or some imaginary average opinion.

“Can’t argue with that” replaced “capture our imagination” as the objective. But here’s the thing. If a slogan is supposed to motivate people to action, how are we really succeeding if all we motivate them to do is not-argue-with-something?

Once I was driving back from my dad’s place, when I saw something that almost made me drive into a bridge abutment. Still fresh in my mind was a two hour meeting/phone conference to discuss whether the anti-privatization campaign slogan should be “building strong communities”, “re-building strong communities” or just “strong communities”. All of a sudden I saw, at the bottom of an Ontario Ministry of Transport road sign warning of construction ahead, “building strong communities”.

So this is where we often find ourselves. Trying to find craft the perfect epithet and get it on a button before someone puts it on a road construction sign, milk bottle or some such. That should have given us slogan writers pause right there.

But then the internet happened.

And suddenly the relationship between audience and communicator was inverted. We don’t go out and find our audience (by postering or leafleting workplaces or mailing them at home). They find us. Our websites. Our social media presence etc.

Think of what captures the imagination on the internet. And how it’s identified. Wedding video. Crasher squirrel. Double rainbow. Dancing baby. Drinking kitten. These are not slogans. They are nouns with adjectives. Keywords or key phrases. Imagine a million conversations taking place over SMS, SnapChat, Facebook or in real life at a bar that go like this:

“Did you see that video where [something crazy or wild happens]?”

“No. It’s good? What’s the address?”

“Don’t remember. Just Google [adjective noun] and you’ll find it. Do it now.”


So how would our slogans fare in the same conversation? Terribly of course.

“Did you hear about the union’s latest campaign against X or for Y?”

“No. But I have a feeling I’m about to.”

“Yeah. They’ve got a great video on the YouTube”.

“What’s the URL?”

“I don’t know. Google something fairness.”

“Uh I did. What am I looking for?”

“Never mind. Did you see that thing where Olivia Chow is riding a unicorn? It’s awesome.”

Slogans make it harder for people to find and share our stuff. Very few people will have their minds or their behaviour changed by reading one. I think it’s time we question why we continue to spend so much time creating them.

300km and counting

Yesterday I rode a 130km loop to Winchester and back. I must say I’m loving the Ottawa Bicycle Club. Even if you don’t do the group rides there’s years of wisdom in their route maps. These last two rides have been inspired by routes I’ve found on their site.

The trip back yesterday pretty near killed me. A 20km headwind had me crawling, grateful for any speed over 20km/hr, whereas I zoomed down generally speaking in the mid 30s.

This much shorter route I did Thursday evening. Usually I head for the Gatineaus mid week but apparently they’re still skiing out there. So hill climbing will have to wait or maybe I can find a road route outside the park to do some climbing.

And now we ride: Almonte 115km

First time out. A slightly accelerated approach to training for the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour. They tell you to ride 1000km in preparation. I usually manage to come close or exceed this. But then I usually start riding by mid March. So there are ten weeks before Rideau Lakes and one weekend where I’ll be away. I reckon it will be an intense training season.

So this week was Almonte. 115km. Reasonably favourable wind. Speed sensor conked out on me just as I was coming back into downtown, but it claims an average speed of 27.6km, which is a slight improvement over where I started last year.

Although this year, I’m all about the heart rate, not the speed. I spent most of my time in zone 3 (between 77 and 88 per cent of maximum) which is quite different from running, where I spend almost all my time in zone 4. Of course I’m only running for about an hour where it took me just over four hours to do this loop.

I was pretty fried by the end of it. And the last 20km definitely felt like work. I can’t imagine keeping my heart rate in zone 4 for four hours. Maybe I don’t have to. Time to Google for some training regimes.

Route/road notes:

  • Flewellyn Road is construction free and smoother than I remember.
  • Corktown Road is nastier than I remember. Railway tie bumps every 20 metres or so. Really dispiriting.
  • This route requires 2km of gravel road riding (Hamilton Road to Appleton Sideroad, which was doable but a little bit washboard)

Weather/clothes notes:

  • Temperature in the low teens, mostly sunny with some cloud
  • Arm and leg warmers, shorts, shirtsleeve jersey, light full fingered gloves
  • I think I put one leg warmer on backwards because it was pinching the back of my knee

Designated day creep: it’s a thing

469532545In one of my earlier posts about designated day creep, I cited evidence of a trend wherein the number of special days we mark in the union movement is growing at a dizzying rate. It’s possible you scoffed. It’s possible you ignored the post completely. It’s possible you’re not even reading my blog.

But nonetheless, as further evidence of the perils of designated day creep, I give you the United Nations official list of observed days. I’ll save you the effort. There’s 115 of them. For the purposes of this discussion I won’t even mention their lists of monthly or yearly observances. But know, dear reader, that they exist.

Now it’s very likely uniondom will never adopt World Television Day (November 21st) or the International Day of Human Space Flight (April 12th but I ask my self why only ‘International’ – seems unambitious – look for an Intergalactic Day of Human Space Flight soon. Possibly in January as there’s still a few blank squares on the calendar).

But we mark Earth Day, why not International Day of Forests and the Tree? Or World Wildlife Day? World Migratory Bird Day anyone? Or just plain old World Environment Day (June 5th – who knew?)

CUPE marks World Water Day. That dam has cracked. Will the other national unions have to follow?

No more special day appeasement. It’s time to make it all stop. Just one year. See who notices.

Is Heartbleed really as bad as all that?

Okay so there is a vulnerability in OpenSSL. And that’s bad. But the extent of alarmist rubbish out there about it is making me bonkers. This Globe piece is not the worst.

But here’s a thought for you. Vulnerabilities are discovered in software all the time. There’s a lot of competition between open source authors and commercial software authors as to which sort has more.

But vulnerabilities are only problems if there is an exploit (a computer program written to make use of the vulnerability for profit, vandalism or other unauthorized access) in the wild before there is a fix. The term we’re looking for is zero day exploit.

Most researchers that look for vulnerabilities let the developers know about the problem before they make their big reveal. That way the fix is out before the crackers, thieves, vandals and script kiddies have a chance to use the vulnerability.

Post-facto note: Thanks to Bob Chandler for pointing out that that’s sort of what happened. People too keen to take credit for the fix publicized the problem before people had had a chance to put out their fix. But I’m still not convinced there is or was an exploit in the wild.

So here’s where the hysteria leaves the path of normal security research sanity. When you see words to the effect of:

ZOMG it’s been around for two years what if people have been downloading my secret data for two years and I’m just about to lose everything. Quick – panic!

Do we actually believe that black hat hackers could keep an exploit of a major package like this secret for two years? Yes there’s secrecy among the black hats, but there’s also competition, ego and bragging rights.

And if there was an exploit that someone developed, tested and successfully deployed to (as is widely contemplated) steal account and credit card information do you really think no one would notice the results?

Enough already.

BTW I’ve patched the two servers I run.

Laurie Kingston: That could have been me

The courageous, honest and brilliant Laurie Kingston writes about her experience with depression and anxiety in response to the obituary Andy Jones and Mary-Lynn Bernard’s wrote for their son.

My point in sharing all this is to let go of a bit of the shame and chip away a little at the stigma. Andy Jones said in his interview that “compared to people who do heart surgery, the mental health field is still in the 17th century.”