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

By October 29, 2012June 26th, 2015In 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.

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • Hi Linda,

    I absolutely love your post. What damage we can do with our tongue is beyond beliefs. I think of the tongue as a weapon, it can kill either others or ourselves as you so well explain in this post.

    Nowadays, everything we say or do is captured by sound and video devices and there is basically no much room for mistakes.

    All such examples apply so well to online entrepreneurs and other business owners as well. We need to watch that ‘tongue’ or hand before we send such damaging messages.

    • linda rastelli says:

      Thanks for your feedback, Syviane, and your warning about the permanency of what we say is well taken. Donna makes the same point. We are all creating the proverbial “permanent record” online for ourselves, aren’t we?

  • Hi Linda, I loved your post and how you used the presidential analogy with how we run our own businesses. Negativity Never Works! We always must be careful what we say (or write) because we need to protect our band and business. We can take a good lesson from the political platform. One wrong word and things turn into a frenzy!

    People are pretty picky these days and we do have to watch what we say, even in a Facebook “Rant” because whatever we say will be out there forever!
    Thanks for your wonderful article.

    • linda rastelli says:

      Ahh, yes, Facebook rants can be risky. Someone on this site suggested waiting a day when in doubt — that makes great sense. For emails, too.

  • I agree, but I don’t trust anyone of them period. At the end of the day, when all the promises don’t get address and our hopes turn into annoyance for someone we voted for, they are still politicians. the right stuff is said to sway our vote and that’s that. he worst part is someone has to win, and all we can do is hope and pray for the next 4 yrs.

    • linda rastelli says:

      Yes, I get discouraged like you, but then I realize how impossible the job of a politician is. In comparison the responsibilites of a marketer seems easy!

  • Adrienne says:

    I think for the most part I say things in plain English. I use that expression because I believe that I address things so that people can easily understand them. Unfortunately that’s not always the case as it is with most people.

    How we react to that and how we plan on addressing that are a whole other issue. For me I have to take into consideration who it is and what’s being said. I’ve taken the high road a few times but I do my best to address them in the nicest way I possibly can. Luckily for me I don’t have some huge corporation or I’m a candidate for the presidency.

    Great shares here Linda and do love your analogy!


    • linda rastelli says:

      Adrienne, Not suggesting taking the low road, just not using that term as an excuse to avoid addressing something. I’ve made that mistake and learned the hard way. (Is there any other way?, I sometimes wonder.)

  • Ken Pickard says:


    Spot on and very timely. i love to see posts that take current events and weave them into life lessons, or align them on how to build a business. i usually stay away from politics on my social sites as I don’t particularly align with what’s being represented.

    In my opinion, the negativity, smearing and bashing only market to the lowest of common denominator. I fully support the idea that we are the ones who must do what’s right for our own house and we are the ones who need to rise up and declare our independence from common thinking and government support.

    We should have a system of government who is really for the people, but I just don’t see it. i don;t want to get to far off topic, but lets just say that as long as free enterprise is free it’s the only way to go!

    Ken Pickard
    The Network Dad

    • linda rastelli says:

      Hi Ken, I agree the lowest common denominator seems to be the target–also people who aren’t paying attention to the facts.

  • Sue Price says:

    Hi Linda
    I am an Australian but we get enough of your election news down here for me to understand. We have the same stuff happening here too. I hate all the negative cheap shots.

    Negativity has no place in business that is for sure. I think also we must always own our communication. I got into the habit many years ago when I was working as a CPA of saying “maybe I am not explaining myself very well —- “. Some of my colleague would say things like “you clearly don’t understand” – hmm.

    Great article and very amusing as well as factual.

    Thanks Linda


    • linda rastelli says:

      Thanks, Sue, not sure which part was amusing but nice to hear you got something out of it.