When the embattled mayor of Toronto nearly steamrolled a female city councillor as public officials discussed stripping him of his powers, it reminded me of Chris Farley crashing through a coffee table as motivational speaker Matt Foley on Saturday Night Live.
Both seemed to hit rock bottom.
For the mayor’s sake, I hoped he realized this and would start to come to his senses. Unfortunately, it looks like that may not happen until he’s living in a van down by the river.
And so continues the self-destruction of the personal brand known as Mayor Rob Ford.
At first glance, Mayor Ford seems like a likeable, blue collar guy. He wears sports jerseys to official meetings. He’s known for giving his phone number to constituents and personally returning their calls.
Say what you will about the guy, but he’s the mayor of the fourth largest city in North America. And he won the election by double digits.
So how did it get so bad so fast?
Well, Mayor Ford has been under fire for his now famous mouth since he was a city councillor, making controversial comments about people with AIDS, Asians and fellow councillors. He was also seen visibly drunk at a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game.
As mayor, he’s been criticized for texting and reading while driving. He’s been accused of making inappropriate comments to female staffers. And yes, more public drunkenness.
It all started to unravel in May of this year when it was reported that there was a video showing Mayor Ford smoking crack. His response?
“Absolutely not true.”
I don’t know if this was Mayor Ford’s first lie, but it was the backbreaker. Even if he thought he was positive a video of him smoking crack didn’t exist, someone obviously knew he did it.
This is when he should have realized that most people will forgive mistakes, but they become much less forgiving when you lie about them.
Finally, the video surfaced in October and he was forced to admit that he had smoked crack. But one particular comment brought even more scrutiny:
“Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But do I? Am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”
This is when he started his transformation from mayor to cartoon character. A better response might have been:
“Yes, I smoked crack one time about a year ago. It was a terrible mistake and I’m sorry for it.”
And so began a number of bizarre and sometimes shocking comments and behavior. As Mayor Ford compared efforts to strip his powers to “when Saddam attacked Kuwait” and declared war on the council, the laughing in the audience sounded just like a pre-recorded laugh track from a sitcom.
And finally, just a few days ago, people laughed as Mayor Ford damn near flattened a woman as he rumbled towards a heckler like a buffalo in a stampede.
A few weeks ago, I actually felt a little bad for the guy. But he’s not a likeable or sympathetic figure anymore, if he ever was.
Toronto Councillor Shelley Carroll summed it up brilliantly:
“The term ‘Mayor Ford’ has become a verb. It’s how you describe certain types of behavior.”
Honesty. Transparency. Decency. Common sense. These simple things we (hopefully) learned from our parents as young kids are cornerstones of a strong personal brand. It ain’t rocket science.
By lying, and speaking and behaving so recklessly and smugly, Mayor Ford’s personal brand has quickly – and most likely, permanently – devolved from blue collar mayor to a punch line. I can only dream about what Farley would have done in that role.
The damage to a brand will always be minimized by getting out in front of a mistake and telling people the truth. Always.
The damage may still be bad and the repercussions severe, but it beats the self-inflicted harm brought on by an attempted cover up.
Let’s not forget what a brand is.
A brand is a promise to solve a problem or fill a need for your target audience – a promise that creates perceptions, sets expectations and gives people a reason to support you.
A new survey shows that 62 percent of Toronto voters would not vote for Ford under any circumstances, and higher powers in Canadian government have vowed to intervene at the council’s request. A brand that took years to establish has imploded in a matter of weeks.
As Mayor Ford continues his “war” to stay in office, I hope someone reminds him that sometimes it’s best to shut your big yapper. Otherwise, you might just end up eating a steady diet of government cheese and living in a van down by the river.
If you don’t get some of these references, please watch the video below.
Where have you gone, Chris Farley? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you… woo woo woo…