Lessons From Obamney: Three Scary Messages You Might Send Without Realizing It

By October 29, 2012In The News
Lessons From Obamney: Three Scary Messages You Might Send Without Realizing It

Are you as weary of this never-ending presidential campaign as me? Then let’s talk about what smart marketers can apply–online and offline–from political gaffes. Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have generously provided fodder.

Business owners also must campaign and appeal to people’s emotions. Research shows people make decisions based on emotion first, then look for reasons to justify their thinking afterward. We selectively interpret the facts, and dismiss the ones that contradict our conclusions, which are often based on intangible impressions that we can’t always explain.

Negative messages can really resonate, too. Beware of conveying the following messages, courtesy of Obamney (which I say facetiously, not to imply the candidates are identical).:

1. Defending Myself Is Below Me

President Obama conveyed this in the first debate, to his detriment. Don’t think you can get away with not playing defense for yourself or your brand. When attacked, recognize the threat and mount a swift, decisive defense.

Examples of this in business are the high-fructose corn sugar advertising campaign and the defamation charges brought by the South Dakota company that manufactures so-called “pink slime” (its manufacturer calls it “lean beef”) against a television station. Whatever happens, both industries are doing their best to combat threats to their businesses.

I’m not saying you should sue everybody who criticizes you, but you are never above rebutting something you disagree with. Deciding to  “take the high road” or “let the facts speak for themselves” may seem mature, but it doesn’t play that way in public, where it can look arrogant or at best, indifferent. You’re not infallible and people don’t have to give you the benefit of the doubt unless you give them a reason.

2. That’s What I Said, But What I Meant Was. . .

This has a close cousin: “If You Don’t Understand What I’m Saying, Then It’s Your Fault.” It puts the burden of understanding your sloppy, ambiguous or incoherent communication on the listener, always a horrendous idea. This is seen when candidates:

  • talk in long, serpentine sentences that fail to get to the point
  • rely on abstract, professorial jargon rather than concrete examples
  • frequently course correct, seeming to waffle or flip-flop

It doesn’t matter what you meant to say in your marketing, only what gets conveyed. Be clear as a bell the first time in your written and spoken communications and you won’t open the door for misunderstandings to happen. You rarely get a second chance.

3. Your Worst Fears About Me Are True

President Obama offended rural Pennsylvanians with his comments on “clinging to guns and religion,” while Governor Romney got into hot water with his “47 percent are dependent upon government” remarks. I’m not addressing the validity of those comments and whether they were unfairly taken out of context, which is only too easy to do–as I just did. What’s inarguable is that the resulting sound bites are public relations disasters, stoking the fears of the electorate that a politician was not “one of us.”

Damage control cannot fix them, either.

One can backtrack about one’s words being “inelegant” or “taken out of context” or whatever, but people who are angry or offended are unlikely to change their minds. They’ve stopped listening and are busy printing up t-shirts.

What businessperson would do something like that?

During the BP oil spill two years ago, former British Petroleum CEO Tony Hayward said, “There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back.” That disaster claimed 11 lives, hurt animals, and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. I doubt Hayward intended to sound callous. He may be a hard-working leader and a genuinely caring human being. But complaining about being inconvenienced for your own mistake when others have lost their lives and livelihoods is a public relations catastrophe. Hayward resigned.

Whether it’s a potentially negative perception that’s held against your industry in general or only your company, you must be aware of that perception and not say anything that might ignite it.

Avoid these blunders and of course, remember to vote next week.