On this day fifty years ago an announcement came over the public address system at Dowell Elementary School in El Paso, Texas. “President Kennedy has been shot. School is closing and the students are to be dismissed immediately.”
As a ten year old fifth grader, I had no clue as to the significance of that day – that event. All that mattered at that point was an unexpected Friday afternoon off from school. As the weekend unfolded the gravity of the situation began to become more apparent. That Sunday, after our family returned from church we witnessed Jack Ruby murder Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV. In an effort to regain a semblance of normalcy, the family went to a restaurant to celebrate my brother David’s birthday. The seven of us accounted for nearly half of the total crowd. People were stunned, saddened, angry, perplexed. The country was in a state of shock.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated. That is not the reason why he is this Friday’s Fearless Brand. I’ve selected JFK because of the enduring connection he created with our nation – and the world – long before the tragedy of his death.
Fearless brands create an emotional connection built on authenticity and relevance.
For many, Kennedy embodied the American ideal. He was a war hero, young, handsome, had a beautiful wife and adorable children. He was charismatic, dynamic and likable. There was a presence about him. He debated Nixon in the first ever televised Presidential debate and it was said that his style and demeanor won the election for him more so than substance.
The Sixties were turbulent times and JFK certainly had his share of controversy and confrontation. Communism, Khrushchev, the Cuban missile crisis, the Bay of Pigs, the beginnings of the both the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam war and wide-spread domestic unrest. He made mistakes, angered many, and frankly came very close to potentially igniting a nuclear war. So, what did he do to create the emotional bond?
Kennedy ignited this country’s imagination. He leveraged American pride and ingenuity. He spoke of ideals and of how things could – and should be. He set a tone in his inaugural address with this challenge -“My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Perhaps his most significant initiative was his challenge to put a man on the moon. Within ten years no less. The Space Race gave the country something to rally around, a sense of pride and determination that was desperately needed. Kennedy furthered his challenge with this perspective – “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
He was speaking in San Antonio the day before Dallas when he said “We stand on the edge of a great era, filled with both crisis and opportunity, an era to be characterized by achievement and challenge.” What a true statement, albeit for reasons Kennedy could not have perceived.
Shortly after his assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy referred to the Kennedy years as the American Camelot. She did an interview with Theodore White of LIFE magazine and played a song from Camelot repeatedly focusing on the final lyrics “Don’t let it be forgot that once there was a spot for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”
White later wrote that Kennedy’s Camelot was “a magic moment in American history, when gallant men danced with beautiful women, when great deeds were done, when artists, writers, and poets met at the White House, and the barbarians beyond the walls held back.”
He certainly wasn’t attempting to ‘build a brand but John F. Kennedy created an emotional connection rarely seen – and with that his legacy will continue to shine brightly as symbolized by the ‘eternal flame’.
Fifty years later that fifth grade boy has a much better sense of the significance of the assassination of John F. Kennedy…and with a tinge of sadness, remorse and pride hits publish.