SOURCE: Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn Group

December 13, 2013 08:47 ET

In Consideration of Mandela's Brand, Christopher Johnson, CEO of Whitehorn Gives His Opinion On How We Can Respect and Preserve His Legacy

Why Brand Management By Mandela's Heirs is Critical For Posterity and Also Humanity

NEW YORK, NY--(Marketwired - December 16, 2013) - As politicians weigh in on Mandela's legacy all over the world to eulogize him, the rest of the humanity mourns and celebrates this exemplary man and icon. Christopher Johnson, CEO of the brand strategy firm Whitehorn Group in New York shares his own experience and opinion as a branding expert, "Mandela's name is increasingly becoming what I respectfully refer to as a mega brand all over the world. All of us can see that the media is currently idolizing him to the extent that his original message, which created Mandela's brand in the first place, is beginning to loose its original meaning." This is not uncommon for revered public figures that have died, but because all of what Mandela represented is well worth preserving -- not over simplifying or turning into political sound bites -- this is worth careful consideration. In fact, Mandela was not a superhuman or a saint -- something he himself emphasized when he was alive. In extraordinary humility for someone of his stature, he said, "I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."

Johnson says, "Since he died, like most of us I have been thinking about his legacy. This prompted me to go back and dig up Mandela's original messages and actions that made him one of the greatest icons in world history. What I discovered was that most of the ideals Mandela advocated have been simplified over the years and co-opted by politicians, primarily in the West." Despite their not describing fully what he stood for, many of these leaders are now trying to attach themselves to Mandela's legacy in the hope that it will rub off on them.

To begin with, David Cameron, the British Prime Minister has been accused of hypocrisy because of his stance on Apartheid in the 80's. Cameron, who in 1989 was a member of the Tory Policy Unit, accepted a trip sponsored by the infamous racist PW Botha to Apartheid Era South Africa. Our own President Obama calls Mandela one of his role models, but tolerates drone attacks that end up killing many civilians, including infants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Additionally, there is Ted Cruz, who offered a good eulogy for Mandela, but his own party looked entirely the other way when black South Africans were being oppressed. At that time, members of the GOP voted to keep Mandela in prison and refused to acknowledge how poorly the white government in South Africa treated black Africans. Each of these leaders is not acknowledging the breadth of Mandela's principled actions that confronted racism and any denial of human rights.

Johnson states, "This continues as many want to be identified with their own watered down version of Mandela's brand." Many who have done so, currently lead a world where the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen and where archaic ideologies of racism and homophobia still fester. Yes there are pockets of progress on these issues in some parts of the world. However, these leaders do not explain why poverty is still a far too common condition and why an entire continent -- Africa -- has been mostly excluded from the world's financial system. Johnson continues, "So even though many may understand parts of what Mandela stood for and have a sense of why he spent all those years in prison, few are clarifying the truths embodied in Mandela's life and Mandela's brand."

Johnson says, "With all the respect in the world, as a brand expert I humbly suggest that those closest and most responsible for preserving Mandela's legacy -- his family, the ANC and possibly South Africa itself -- begin to organize an appropriate expression of his brand. Handled properly, the practice of brand management can define the brand and create ownership and control. Doing so, not only considers the inevitable commercial aspects that must be addressed by his heirs -- but will ensure that Mandela's brand will be the complete, crystal clear and irrefutable truth for all of humanity now and in the future. It is vital."

Johnson explains, "At his core, Mandela stood for freedom and human rights. At a time when many Western leaders still actively ignored the rights of LGBT people, Mandela advocated strongly and effectively for LGBT rights." This is one of the primary reasons why South Africa allowed gay marriage years before American politicians got the courage to even mention it in public. Apart from this, he described poverty as one of the greatest evils in the world, saying, "Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times -- times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth creation…" He went on to say that poverty should be ranked alongside slavery and Apartheid as social evils. Mandela also emphasized that ending poverty is a basic human duty and that overcoming the same is not a gesture or charity. He rightly believed that where poverty existed, there was no true freedom. Johnson says, "These are ideals that are simply not making it into the public discourse around Mandela's legacy that can form the basis for Mandela's brand. As I have said, it is vital to preserve this for humanity."

Johnson says, "But despite the gap in presenting Mandela's principles in the media, we can still fully own the ideals and the actions which define the Mandela brand. His is a humanitarian brand, one that lauds freedom for everyone -- regardless of race, belief, economic status or sexual orientation. It is important to recognize that Mandela's life teaches us that just one person who chooses to remain true to their own self, never surrendering even while surviving all sorts of trials, can make a big difference." Johnson continues, "His brave personal choices together with his life's work as President, give power to the Mandela brand. It is one that is both simultaneously complex and exceedingly simple -- which is inherently human by definition -- and so effective that we sometimes forget the evils he fought against."

A meaningful way to honor Nelson Mandela's spirit would be to support all human rights. This includes those who are in poverty, LBGT people everywhere or those who are persecuted by society including political prisoners. Johnson says, "We can all own the powerful truth of Mandela's brand and continue his extraordinary legacy. He may not have been a saint in the true meaning of the word, but he was one in a billion -- possibly seven billion. I personally cannot imagine some of the circumstances Mandela endured or fought to change. But, I am immensely supportive and grateful to anyone who, just like Mandela, trusts the power of their own heart and follows their convictions into action, honestly and consistently -- regardless of circumstance or outcome." Johnson closes, "I hope that as the rhetoric dies down and as his heirs and the world look to the future, what remains to embody Mandela's brand also stands for the power we all have within us as individuals to change the world for the better."

About Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson is CEO of branding firm Whitehorn Group. Mr. Johnson is a highly regarded authority on political and celebrity branding as well as in creating brands that change entire markets, like Infiniti Motor Company and JetBlue Airways. He attended Carnegie Mellon University where he won the Tholenheimer Award and McCurdy Prize. www.christopherwjohnson.com

About Whitehorn Group

Whitehorn is a premier brand strategy firm. They create what's NEW and NEXT through global branding, design, product innovation, political and celebrity brands, business strategy, global marketing and distribution. www.whitehorngroup.com

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