What do Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and America have in common?

They all have a lot of detractors who constantly have ANT’s when thinking about or discussing any one of these names. An ANT is an automated negative thought, and I am borrowing the term, which is usually associated with depression. In the context of depression, it refers to negative thoughts, mostly about one’s self, that tend to occupy the sufferer’s mind to an inordinate degree. (Example: I am not good enough. Everybody hates me.)

But think about this: whenever Microsoft does anything, there is a great deal of the technical elite, especially the Mac faithful, that will instantly respond with ANT’s.

Wal-Mart, same. Anything Wal-Mart does triggers ANT’s. Whether it’s the “what about the little man” crowd or the anti-corporation crowd or the “rebel” crowd, Wal-Mart is always getting “ANT-ed.”

America, same, especially internationally.

This is a marketer’s nightmare, especially when the detractor, ANT crowd is vocal. Again, think America. Even Americans are becoming increasingly prone to ANT’s about America. [Yes, I am purposely using America, instead of United States because America is the primary brand. Still, US, United States, USA have about the same ANT trigger I would guess.]

ANT’s also tend to blend, merge, distort, confuse, generalize, magnify and do other ugliness. Bush –> Administration –> Washington D.C. –> America – ANT ANT ANT!! Meanwhile, the Bush Administration has to be composed of tens of thousands (likely hundreds of thousands?) of people who are not all bad and who are not all doing bad things. Even the leadership (say 1,000-10,000 depending how you might count), cannot possibly all be bad, no matter what your politics are. Then, even the top leadership, even Bush, sometimes does good things. Probably usually, but certainly not always, does good things. (I am quite sure, many readers are having their own ANT’s right now. They can’t possibly entertain the thought of Bush doing good. ANT. ANT.)

I don’t want to spend too much time focusing on politics because ANT’s are so prevalent in this area, regardless of political persuasion. Maybe the one possible silver lining (thin lining) is that at least ANT’s are predictable. Suffice to say, if you find someone is infected with ANT’s and that wants to engage in a conversation in any way related to his or her ANT’s, run. Quickly.

By the way, in Austin, real estate developers are one of the top targets of the ANT phenomenon.

For companies, the problem with a good portion of the market having ANT’s about you is that it puts you at a perception disadvantage. Microsoft and Wal-Mart are obviously still strong and profitable companies, but the ANT problem clearly has an eroding effect.

The trouble with it, and I don’t have a good solution, is it’s hard to counterattack. The reality is the group effect that ANT’s and their purveyors have on the ANT-susceptible crowd can only be attacked by identifying how blind the people entertaining these ANT’s are being. Unfortunately, this goes to herd mentality, follow-the-leader, sameness. Unfortunately, being Microsoft or Wal-Mart (and yes, America, too) attacking this is the pot calling the kettle black. Of course, the companies and America achieved their following by growing and achieving dominance. The subsequent ANT population grew by attacking them for being big and dominant. And for having to deal with the realities of being big and dominant — and staying that way.

If a sizable (I would say 1%) of your market are both ANT-ridden about you and vocal, this is a serious threat that should be monitored and dealt with aggressively. Again, I wish I had the answers. To add to the challenge, these ANT-ers are often fanatical about their ANTs. The ANT-ers are one with their ANTs. Very hard to attack the ANT without being perceived as attacking the person with the ANT.

Perhaps, if possible, preventative measures are the best way to fight and contain the problem. Keep your ears to the ground and try to listen for ANT’s popping up.

If you’re an Ayn Rand fan, ANT’s of ANT-mongerers is what ultimately drove the industrialists to the hills.

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