Presidents are all the rage. Obama and Nixon, in their own ways, are the toast of the Hollywood glitterati. And Ronald Reagan has emerged as a genuine internet pioneer.
Okay, okay. It’s fair to say that Reagan didn’t threaten Thomas Jefferson’s legacy as the sharpest tool in the White House box. Fans of the political satirical show Spitting Image will recall the enduring image of Reagan as a rambling oaf with, literally, no brain.
But part of his legacy has been overlooked. Reagan was, in fact, a pathfinder for the digital age.
Sure, he was heavily criticised, called stupid — even dangerous — but vilification is a visionary’s burden. He suffered because he adopted a multi-media approach to life and learning way ahead of his time.
Many believe the late Sir Charles Wheeler’s withering criticism of Reagan’s dislike of reading and preference for video briefings created the dimwitted public persona.
If Wheeler was right, we’re in trouble. The fact is we’re all falling out of love with the printed word. The latest US statistics reveal TV and the Internet have displaced newspapers as the news sources of choice.
The people want short, sharp text and, increasingly, video and audio. We’re all following in Reagan’s time-strapped footsteps.
The journalist Nicholas Carr captured the Zeitgeist in Atlantic magazine: “Immersing myself in a book used to be easy…That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do.”
The lesson for B2B marketing departments is to stop worrying about “dumbing down”. If Jefferson sat down to write the Declaration of Independence today, you just know he’d take a multi-media approach.
You don’t avoid looking stupid by producing 18th century content for 21st century audiences. Think like Ronald Reagan and you’ll get the message across.