Reading The Smartest Guys in the Room has certainly confirmed one thing: I am glad I am not headed toward a career in finance. Assets, liabilities, balance sheets, special purpose entities; all concepts I am happy to have left behind in accounting. Putting these terms aside, I decided to put my interest in marketing into practice. After youtube-ing videos on Enron to get a better grasp on the downfall that occurred, I came across several promotional Enron commercials. “ask why” was a major commercial selling point of Enron prior to their bankruptcy. Commercials were broadcasted via television all across the nation urging consumers to ask why.
In one commercial, ideas of change were invoked as we were quickly told to adopt the use of Enron Online, and switch from “the dark, blind system that existed”. This quote was accompanied by three blind mice dressed in business attire and walking around with canes and brief cases. Although I wasn’t amused by this apparent humor, it was clear that Enron was trying to promote change with an out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new method.
A second Enron commercial I looked at dealt with predicting weather. However, when I say weather I don’t mean the blustering snow showers or the miniscule temperatures leaving ice beneath our feet (hey, we do live in Lewisburg… what did you think I would talk about? Clear skies and endless sunshine? That’s as common as accurate earning statements at Enron…) Enron used the term weather in a symbolic sense. As a company, Enron claimed to have “created a new market to protect revenue against unfavorable weather.” This quote appeared in their second commercial, and this sure had me laughing a lot more than the silly blind-mice-businessmen. Although it may have to do with the fact that I am seeing the commercial post-bankruptcy, it is still very funny to think that Enron was claiming to help others predict “unfavorable weather”, when they were ignoring the past, present, and future weather themselves. Their contradictory commercials served as just another scheme to fill the holes of their company.
Looking back to the very beginning of our reading of Organizations and Organizing, media was presented as an important aspect of an organization. The effect of media is “more subtle and less widely recognized, but it may be the most profound in its implications” (p.5). Clearly Enron was trying to use media to reach and attract a larger customer base. While images flashed across the screen and words were spoken, it is also important that Enron was out there and making their new image and acquisitions known. Enron was dragging you into its grasps, and leaving you wondering why you weren’t, in some way, a part of this company. Marshall McLuhan suggests that we should “focus attention on the characteristics of the mass media themselves… in contrast to the content transmitted by these media.” There are many cases where I will agree with McLuhan, but this is not one of them. I believe it is the message, and the underlying messages, of the actual information in the commercial that are of importance, and not the fact that Enron chose a commercial over a print ad. The significance came through the images of blind business men dressed as mice, a bustling floor of tradesmen, and the constant singing of the word “why” in the background. Viewers weren’t interested in Enron’s choice of using a commercial, they were too busy being hypnotized by the sounds and mesmerized by the images.
So now that I have watched several Enron commercials, am I, the consumer, really the one who should be asking why? Maybe ten years ago I would have jumped on the bandwagon, bought some stock, or found another way to become a part of the company, but not now, not today after I know what Enron really is. In the end it was the investors, employees, and those who lost their fortunes that were asking why.