The death of the national icon

The CNN headline read, “Fawcett ‘last of the iconic pinup girls.’”

The Indiana TV station’s Web site declared, “Icon Ed McMahon Dies.”

Florida’s...

The CNN headline read, “Fawcett ‘last of the iconic pinup girls.’”

The Indiana TV station’s Web site declared, “Icon Ed McMahon Dies.”

Florida’s NewsChief.com called TV pitchman Billy Mays “a pop-culture icon.”

Wikipedia declares Gale Storm an “American icon of the 1950s.”

And The Wall Street Journal announced somberly, “Death of a Pop Music Icon” when Michael Jackson fell victim to cardiac arrest.

We may be overlooking the death of the national icon itself. Only a few decades ago, everyone knew and followed the same popular stars.

But one of the realities of today’s niche marketing, music and news media is that we all have different icons. Conrad Hilton’s name was known and respected by entire families in the 1950s and ’60s. Perez Hilton’s name will earn you only head-scratching from today’s senior citizens—and to many, Paris Hilton is still a hotel.

Niche marketing has made producing a national icon more difficult for marketers, although within a niche, icons tend to emerge very rapidly. For example, the name Chris Cillizza may sound like a steakhouse entrée, but The Washington Post political analyst/blogger has nearly 12,400 followers on Twitter and more on TV news-talk shows.

It may be that, aside from progressive presidents and intrepid astronauts, we don’t need national icons anymore. Like everything else, we want our icons to be all about us and our own needs and niches – and we’re not interested in sharing, since he or she belongs to “us.”

Communicators will be challenged with identifying niches, building personalities, and gaining supporters. We’re much less the United States of America these days than the Segmented States of America.

Janet Tyler, president and cofounder of Airfoil Public Relations

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