Thursday, January 24, 2008

Market Luther King Day.

Got an email from Tony Robbins this past Monday. As many of you know, some years back I registered as a member of his online community—facetiously referred to herein as Robbins World—to keep tabs on TR and entitle myself to these little marketing missives he sends out at regular intervals. Tony, as we also know, has a knack for turning every holiday or established occasion into a sales op. This applies regardless of whether the occasion is celebratory or somber in nature; it applies regardless of whether there's any natural link between the occasion and Tony's wares. It's all the same to him. In the past, we have noted his endeavors to variously commercialize Mother's Day, Labor Day and even, yes, 9/11.

The latest email reposed unopened in my inbox till Wednesday morning. And now that I've read it, I have to say, I think Robbins has outdone himself.

A photo of Martin Luther King, Jr., taken during his immortal "I Have a Dream" speech—the visual context is easily recognizable—dominates the top of the email. Alongside Dr. King there's this quote, which, as it happens, is not from that speech: "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."

Then we get to the content of the actual email.

Under a heading that reads, "Discover the Power of Emotions," Tony writes, "You could have financial security, tremendous health and a fulfilling relationship, but if you expend emotions such as worry, guilt, anger or frustration to reach your goals, it may all be for not.* As Tony Robbins has learned in working directly with more than 3 million from over 100 countries, your emotions determine the quality of our life."....

The pitch goes on in that vein for another few paragraphs, during which Dr. King and the broader concerns of all humanity do not come up again. Of course, there is the obligatory link to Robbins merchandise.

The King reference is there be there. It is there for no ostensible reason except to capitalize on the holiday and—put more bluntly—to take what was a great and ennobling moment, with a unique place in American history, and twist it to Robbins' commercial purposes. Consider the stunning dissonance between the message of the quote and the message of Robbins' marketing copy. The King quote is all about self-sacrifice and doing for others (from a man who walked the walk and was martyred for it). The Robbins material is all about YOU. And the more you break down the email into its component parts, the clearer this dissonance becomes. Tony talks about not letting such presumably unproductive emotions as "guilt" get between you and your personal goals. (By the way: You think maybe Dr. King occasionally felt a pang of anger or frustration en route to his goals? Did that make it "all for not"?**) TR concludes by exhorting the reader to "keep checking your e-mail for practical tips and strategies for creating a life you deserve [emphasis added]." You see? No need to worry about the collateral damage of your crusade for personal fulfillment or any of those other inconvenient emotional distractions. Just do it, baby! I mean, you deserve it, right? Follow your dream!

It may not be the kind of dream Dr. King was talking about. But was that ever important here?

* That idiom, "be for not," is in common usage today, but I never liked it. It doesn't make sense to me. Be for naught is the way I'd go. And by the way, the following line does indeed read "Tony has learned in working directly with more than 3 million from over 100 countries." In other words, there is no people where you'd expect it to be, after the "3 million."
** And what exactly does Tony mean by the implied concept of "guilt-less wealth"? Think about it.


roger o'keeffe from nyc said...

That's a pretty ballsy blog Steve. You don't worry about litigation? The guy has a reputation for being litigious from what I hear. I'm not saying you're not right. I think he's pretty sleazy too. I'm just wondering if you're covered for the risks?

Steve Salerno said...

Roger, yes, TR has a reputation for going on the offensive. I don't want to disclose too much in the way of my "emergency preparedness." I've addressed the matter before on the blog, but to be honest, I think that was indiscreet of me, then, and the situation has changed, now. I look at it this way: Why give people on the dark side tactical insights that they could later use against me? If somebody wants to sue over any of this, let 'em take their best shot.

Bear in mind, in most of these cases, when you're dealing with public figures--and Tony is very much that--invasion of privacy statutes become largely inapplicable, and truth is an absolute defense to allegations of defamation. We try to speak the truth here. :) And the opinions are clearly labeled as such.

Anonymous said...

Please, Steve, say it ain't so!!! When I read "all for not" in your entry, I started laughing at the thought that TR was displaying gross ignorance. Then you said it's now common usage. Surely, uh, not!!! "Naught" means "nothing"--thus, "all for naught" means, as of course you know, all for nothing, i.e., a total waste of effort. But what in heaven's name does "all for not" mean?!!!

Your PR Guy said...

From a rhetorical perspective, we have to marvel at the shear creativity of Robbin's spin machine to churn out messages that, obviously, persuade many to buy into Robbins-think and his wares.

I say "obviously" because if this tactic wasn't working, we wouldn't be having this discussion. And I also use "obviously" because here and elsewhere Robbin's methods are documented and successful, at least monetarily speaking.

We have to ask ourselves if Robbin's spin machine tactics are ethical and if they do, indeed, create long-term behavioral change. And the answer is, no.

There is research to suport that emotions are nothing more than chemical reactions to environmental stimuli. And it is our rational, fact-finding mind and decernment which affects (or should) affect our behavior.

But too many people have come to enjoy the quick fix. Whether its sex, shopping or filling some sort of false empowerment from an "I-deserve-it" stance toward life, those people get exactly what they purchase -- cheap thrills and empty promises.

But a temporary divorcing of emotions from rationality helps us decern and choose the right course of action toward whatever stimulates that chemical reaction we preceive as sadness, happiness, fear, love or any of the myraid of emotions anyone of us can experience.

We all want to feel empowered and in control of our lives and destiny, the sad truth is we never really are in control. There's just too much chance we can't possible control.

RevRon's Rants said...

It really irks me that TR has passed on the opportunity to commercialize one of the most significant events in my world: Connie's birthday (which, it so happens, is today!). I think I'll sue! :-)

Steve Salerno said...

PR Guy: Huh. I never figured you for a determinist.

Case said...

"Self-Help" means the individual, right? Well, I wish more products focused on building a strong family or community rather than on fixing the various dysfunctions of every individual member. I think we've lost the sense of community and family that helps sustain people. Instead, we've replaced it with the pursuit of money, success, and individual spiritual enlightenment. I think living well is about both individual and family, individual and community. To think in terms of me or them, and to encourage such thought without discussing family, friends, or community, strikes me as on the whole destructive to the well-being of our country.

Yahoo article on Happiness and Money

Steve Salerno said...

Case, thanks for the link. It ties in quite nicely with my next post, which examines a recent report on the "happiness rankings" of various nations, in which the U.S. placed quite poorly.

One simple answer as to why there aren't more books on the altruistic/collective form of happiness you describe is that publishers don't consider such books viable. No matter how much people "talk the talk" about charity and good deeds, they view success through a highly personal lens. Whereas you might think of "success" in terms of being a good husband and father, the vast majority of book buyers (and other self-help consumers) approach the topic from a far more narcissistic vantage point: What do I get out of this? What's my instant personal gratification? Sad, maybe, but true.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Case! What a great post.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of The Giant TR, I am sure you will be receiving an invite to his birthday celebration on 2/29. It only happens once every four years. What does he do in his off birthday years? Does he send invites out for 2/28?

Anonymous said...

I wonder how much TR paid MLK Jr's family to use his image and words. MLK Jr's estate is well known for selling his speeches and images to the highest bidder. The estated sued CBS in 1999 for it and is still under civil litigation. TR must have paid a pretty penny to quote MLK Jr.

Steve Salerno said...

I hadn't heard that before, Anon (about the MLKJr. estate). But I'm left wondering--if the Robbins Buzz Machine was going to buy a quote--why that one? Couldn't they have gone through the rhetorical archives and found something just a bit more on-message for TR?

a/good/lysstener said...

The saddest part of this to me is that it must work for Robbins or he'd stop doing it. He must know that these mailings are successful. Which also means people respond to them despite the content, which I personally find tacky. But I guess it's like the comment you wrote about the Paris Hilton "fan club" on your previous post, that people get caught up in all this and don't stop to think about it, whether it makes sense, whether it's tacky, whatever. Robbins fans are caught up in Tony's image the same way Paris Hilton's fans are caught up in her.

mikecane2008 said...

>>>I wonder how much TR paid MLK Jr's family to use his image and words. MLK Jr's estate is well known for selling his speeches and images to the highest bidder. The estated sued CBS in 1999 for it and is still under civil litigation. TR must have paid a pretty penny to quote MLK Jr.

Well then I am toast.

And yes, it is properly all for *naught*.

Guilt-less wealth? A splendid example of that sociopathology.