Uncategorized « maslansky + partners

Sofia Briley

Along with southern charm, Sofia brings strong media experience to our firm.  Sofia is a recipient of two Emmy Awards for her role as producer of two Public Service Announcements. As well as talent behind the camera, Sofia is known around the office for her cameo in front of the camera as a boxer with a mean right hook.

April 18th, 2010 team, Uncategorized No Comments

Dresser After Dark – Interview with Michael Maslansky

Michael Maslansky interviews with Dresser After Dark. Listen now.

America Reacts: Dem Ads Outperform GOP Ads on Economy and Jobs

Part Two of a series, read Part One here.

Another week and another round of commercials with candidates trying to make their case. This week, maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research tested head-to-head match-ups in four close races: senate races in California, Nevada and Wisconsin and the California gubernatorial races. Every one of the eight ads we tested is focused on the candidate’s message on jobs and the economy

As we noted last week, we used The Reactor, a technology that allows us to tap into voters’ emotional responses to understand exactly how voters feel when they see these ads and hear these messages. This week’s test was conducted with over 500 Democrats, Independents and Republicans from around the country to get voters’ second-to-second, gut reactions.

What did we learn?

Last week’s ads focused on attitudes toward government. The results clearly showed that many of the anti-government messages from the Republicans (and Tea Party candidates) were working with Democrats and Independents as well.

On jobs and the economy, the picture looks different — and surprisingly so. We see some Democrats scoring well with positive economic messages about balanced budgets and green jobs. We also saw Democrats focus their attacks on outsourcing and even NAFTA, to mixed success. Overall, in these races, the Democrats’ messages do better expected given the economic environment, while ads from their Republican opponents had a tougher time hitting the mark.

Our conclusions are below, but we invite you to judge yourself — take a look at the second-by-second reactions of voters (separated by Democrat, Republican and Independent) as they watched 8 campaign ads.


“I am not a politician, I am an accountant and a manufacturer.” Not exactly the most romantic or eloquent political statement, but it was the most effective line in the eight ads we tested. In fact, it was the only line that worked across party lines. Johnson manages to thread the needle — emphasizing his outsider status without tainting himself as connected to big business (note that he doesn’t call himself a businessman at all). Unfortunately for Johnson, the ad takes way too long to pay off the line, so its power is somewhat limited.

“End the bailouts.” It is unclear why any Republican in this election cycle would ignore this phrase. At worst it has limited impact with Independents and Republicans. At best it energizes the right and brings much of the rest of the country along with it. Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle used it in this week’s ad. Overall her this ad was much less effective with Dems and Independents than the ad we tested last week, but it still popped with Republicans.

“He’s powering a new clean energy industry.” On the other side of the Nevada race stands Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He starts his ad by hammering home detailed facts about green jobs he has created, generating strong positives from Democrats, and mild positives from Independents Republicans. The use of specific numbers on job creation has a strong impact in this ad. Though the ad then shifts to attack Angle, the positive message about green jobs was a relative winner, even though we haven’t heard much about the green revolution during this election cycle.

“Independence” vs. “Accountability.” We tested ads from the California gubernatorial race that pitted Democrat Jerry Brown against Republican Meg Whitman. Brown’s ad noted that, “at this stage in his life, he has the independence to make the tough decisions.” Whitman, on the other hand, said that Sacramento could benefit from the “accountability and focus” of a business. Ironically, Brown is the positioning himself as a fiscal conservative, while Whitman tries to put power in the hands of the people. Though both ads played well within their parties, Brown’s emphasis on specifics, especially “no taxes without voter approval,” played better than Whitman’s fairly trite “mission” to create jobs, cut waste and improve schools. Advantage: Brown.

“Outsourcing.” This word hasn’t gotten a lot of play in the larger narrative about the campaign but it is popping up in a surprising number of attack ads from Democrats. We also may have thought that the days of attacking NAFTA disappeared with H. Ross Perot, but NAFTA-bashing is alive and well, at least in Wisconsin. Three out of four Dem ads we tested included attacks on Republicans for outsourcing jobs. Carly Fiorina, Republican Senate candidate in California is attacked for outsourcing jobs while CEO of HP. Sharron Angle is attacked for supporting “tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas.” And Ron Johnson is attacked by Russ Feingold for supporting NAFTA and CAFTA — two deals Feingold says are “responsible for lost jobs.”

The reaction to each of these ads was negative (as is typically the case for negative ads). What is telling is the intensity of response. If we had to pick a winner, it would be Senator Barbara Boxer’s attack on Carly Fiorina. This attack, full of lots of support points that directly relate to Fiorina’s tenure at HP, generated the greatest negative intensity. Though this ad isn’t going to persuade anyone to vote for Boxer, it is powerful enough to support a negative narrative about Fiorina and have an impact on the race.

Black-and-white and Boring. Speaking of attack ads, the rule should definitely be “go big or go home.” We know that negative ads almost always generate negative reactions across the board. We also know the ones that end up working are the ones that generate the high intensity responses. The worst thing a candidate can do is launch an attack that simply doesn’t generate a reaction from the voters. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Carly Fiorina did in her attack on Barbara Boxer in California. This hyperdramatic black-and-white ad actually had very little punch. It sought to blame Barbara Boxer for “trillions in reckless, wasteful spending” and “crushing hopes.” It failed to connect these results with any votes or actions Boxer has taken. The disconnect between effect and cause led to one painful result: boredom and minimal impact from Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike.


This research is part of an ongoing collaboration between maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research to monitor Americans’ reactions to a range of political ads during the run-up to the Mid Term Elections. The Reactor is Roy Morgan Research’s proprietary online research tool designed to continuously measure respondents’ reactions to these ads.

More to come…We expect the next update to be out next week. If you would like to see the results of these and similar research studies, just sign up on our site.

Michael Maslansky (@m_mas) is CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, a language strategy and research firm, and author of The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics


Follow Michael Maslansky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/m_mas

October 22nd, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

America Reacts: Obama Still Wins vs. Clinton (Bill); O’Donnell Scores by Not Being a Witch; “Independent” is the New Hope and Change

Part III of a series.

While several Democratic candidates are working to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular administration, Democratic voters nationwide still respond better to an endorsement from President Obama than one from former President Bill Clinton, according to just-released research from maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research


Additionally, Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch” ad scores well not only with Republicans but with independents and even some Democrats. And the strongest line of the week comes from Democratic Congressional candidate Bobby Bright of Alabama whose claim of being “the most independent member of congress” resonated with voters from all parties nationwide.


We tested eight political TV ads using The Reactor, a technology that taps into voters’ emotional responses to understand exactly how voters feel when they view ads and hear political messages. This week’s test was conducted with 532 Democrats, Independents and Republicans from around the country to gauge voters’ second-to-second, gut reactions.


Note: while the ads tested were for local Congressional and Senate races, they were tested with voters across the country and thus reflect national political sentiment.

Obama vs. (Bill) Clinton – (Obama still wins). Though there are plenty of people who would probably love to see this electoral match-up so we chose to compare the impact of their endorsements on voter attitudes.


  • We found that Bill Clinton was not as polarizing as he once was, but his endorsement of Democrat Arkansas Senate candidate Blanche Lincoln wasn’t all that effective either.
  • On the other hand, reactions to Obama’s endorsement of Democrat Louisiana House candidate Cedric Richmond were slightly more negative than to Clinton from Republicans, but were much more positive from Democrats.


“I didn’t go to Yale.” Neither did you, according to Republican Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. In her second ad speaking into camera, O’Donnell positions herself against her Yale educated, wealthy opponent and succeeds with voters across the political spectrum.


  • Though she isn’t likely to win this race, history is likely to look positively on her two backlit campaign ads. Aside from her opening line in the first ad, disclaiming her connections to the dark arts, both ads tested strongly with conservatives and independents, and even broke into positive territory with Dems.
  • “I know how to make and keep a dollar.” Consistent with reactions to other ads we have tested, references to real-world business experience, like this one from O’Donnell test well across party lines.



Dems overshoot the mark in attacking their own party. We tested four ads from Democratic candidates trying to distance themselves from their own party. Though each was effective in driving positive reactions from Conservatives, these ads did nothing to move the middle. Here’s what worked and what didn’t.


  • Anti-Pelosi is better than Pro-Boehner. Georgia house candidate Jim Marshall mentioned Nancy Pelosi or San Francisco 5 times in 30 seconds. Only one of the ads failed to include her by name. At the same time three of the ads mentioned Republican leaders or conservative voting records. Overall, references to Pelosi were much more effective in driving up Republican responses than references to Republican leadership. (these mentions were also extremely polarizing for Dems).
  • Guns and Money. References to the NRA had limited incremental impact with any party in either of the two ads that mentioned them. Support or agreement with Chambers of Commerce also did little to move the needles, even with Independents.
  • Few care about health care. Perhaps it is because people still don’t understand the health care bill. Or because these candidates weren’t spending enough time to explain their position. What is clear, however, is that messages about voting against or repealing the health care bill had little impact on reactions from voters.
  • “Independent” is in. The single most effective line in the anti-dem ads from Democrats was from Bobby Bright of Kentucky. Though it is no surprise that saying “I am the most independent member of Congress” would work with Independents, this line also got positive marks from Democrats and Republicans – virtually the only one in the ads we tested.


This research is part of an ongoing collaboration between maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research to monitor Americans’ reactions to a range of political ads during the run-up to the midterm elections. The Reactor is Roy Morgan Research’s proprietary online research tool designed to measure respondents’ continuous reactions to ads.


More to come. We expect the next update to be out next week. If you would like to see the results of these and similar research studies, just sign up on our site.

Michael Maslansky (@m_mas) is CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, a language strategy and research firm, and author of The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics.

Follow Michael Maslansky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/m_mas

October 22nd, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

Factsheets are not your friend

The proverb “the truth will set you free” is as tired a cliché as any.  It’s also completely, totally, and utterly wrong.  If headlines from today’s news are any indication, the 21st century version of that Biblical nugget should read “the truth is what my editor says it is.” (more…)

November 28th, 2011 blog, insights, Uncategorized No Comments

SOPA Protests: Viral or Vacuous?

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate companion, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), are losing momentum by the hour.  Congressmen and Senators seem to be scrambling to announce their opposition to the bills as currently written, and there’s a significant grassroots movement dedicated to defeating these bills.

As a language and messaging consultant, I’m especially fascinated by the way online firms such as Google and Wikipedia have taken up this issue.  From their perspective, opposing the legislation is virtually a no-brainer.  They argue that SOPA could restrict free speech and even force some web sites to shut down – not exactly good for business or the ideals they stand for.  But how they choose to dramatize that opposition can reveal much about how these companies think about the people they’re trying to reach. (more…)

January 19th, 2012 blog, news, Uncategorized No Comments

“Captain America” – Michael Maslansky on the State of the Union

As if the Republicans didn’t have enough problems, President Obama’s State of the Union address gave them more reason to worry.

On Tuesday night, Obama defined a potentially powerful new narrative for himself and his campaign. Gone was the candidate of hope and change. Gone was the president who often came off as more disinterested observer than passionate patriot. There, instead, addressing a Congress girding for the upcoming election, was Captain America — an unabashedly bullish protector and promoter of America and Americans. (more…)

January 26th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

We know there’s a problem. Let’s focus on the future.

by Thayer Fox

You’ve heard me say it — Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. That’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense at a time when we’ve got to pull together to get the country moving. – President Barack Obama, Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale, Va., Feb. 13, 2012

President Obama introduced his 2013 budget proposal today, and during a speech given at NOVA the President seemed to communicate the language of tough choices, action, and improvement. In short, the language we need to hear from him during these tough times. (more…)

February 14th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized 1 Comment

Yelp is on the way

yelp real people, real reviews - stock trades higher than expected

by Jennifer Gilbert

On March 2nd, Yelp went public.  They set their price at $15 a share, listened to the bell ring, and then watched and waited to see just how much a bunch of online reviews written by the average Joe and Jane are really worth.


Apparently, they’re worth about $1.5 billion.  When trading ended that Friday, Yelp’s stock was valued at $24.58.  Just a teensy bit more than expected.


Now, this is interesting not just because it was a bit of a financial shock—was the IPO mispriced?  Is this the sign of another tech bubble?  Has the company been profitable… ever??  Maybe not.  But there is value in something else.  Companies are feeling it.  Just ask the CEO of Netflix.  Time magazine recognized it.  Take a look at the Person of the Year for 2011.  And investors recognized it last Friday.  It’s The Rise of the Consumer.


Yelp is popular.  So popular in fact that it’s a verb—a $1.5 billion verb—because it gives the customers of every brick and mortar company a voice loud enough to be heard by millions.  Sometimes it’s a pleasant, satisfied voice.  Sometimes it’s an irate, critical voice.  But whatever the tone, raising that voice is one of the many reasons that so much power has shifted from businesses to consumers.  Companies can no longer let a customer leave their establishment angry without a risk of reprisal online.  And all of us Yelpers know that one negative review can overshadow 10 positive ones.


Yelp’s IPO was interesting.  Exciting.  Newsworthy.  But most importantly, it was a symbol of something bigger:  a power shift that will ultimately cause small business owners and CEOs alike to rethink their company’s communication with customers. The Rise of the Consumer has already brought about the Year of the Protester, a series of corporate apologies, and now a soaring IPO from a review site that was clever enough to harness the power of YOU.


What’s next?

March 12th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Michael Maslansky on FOX Business’ The Willis Report

Michael Maslansky joined Monica Crowley and Tina Korbe for a panel discussion of current events on FOX Business’ The Willis Report with host Gerri Willis.  Michael shared his insights on State Senator Nina Turner’s proposed Viagra Bill, Rick Santorum’s suggestion to ban teleprompters for politicians, President Obama’s March Madness challenge, Occupy Wall Street’s financial woes and Britney Spears listing her house at half the original asking price.



The O’Reilly Factor: Are boycotts unamerican?

O’Reilly asks Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz + partners, and public relations consultant Peter Mirijanian to weigh in on the recent controversy over unions and their involvement in social issues. After Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke, unions to threatened sponsors who advertise on certain programs. O’Reilly’s question: Are boycotts un-American?


March 19th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Lee Carter on FOX Business’s The Willis Report

ml+p Partner Lee Carter appeared on FOX Business’s The Willis Report with Andrea Tantaros and Gretchen Hamel to discuss if Republicans are waging a war on women:

When the best apology is none at all

by Jenn Dahm

Message always matters, but it REALLY matters when you’ve made a mistake. Just ask Jamie Dimon.  He’s the CEO of JP Morgan, and his company messed up big, losing 2 billion dollars on risky investments this quarter.  On NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday, Dimon dealt with the mistake saying the bank was “dead wrong,” “sloppy,” and “stupid.” What he has not said is “I’m sorry.”

We know from our work helping dozens of companies message their mess ups that there’s a subtle, but important, difference between admitting you made a mistake and actually apologizing for it. We’ve found that the public wants to see leaders own their decisions—both the good and the bad. They want them to take responsibility for their actions or mistakes. They want them to be humble and be human. But they often respond negatively to the words “I’m sorry.” Why?  For some, it’s because  they see  “I’m sorry” as sign of weakness. Others just don’t believe them.  And still others want to know what they are doing to address it.  Simply put, the words I’m sorry doesn’t come across as the language of a leader.

So when is apologizing appropriate? People want explicit apologies when someone has been harmed, gotten sick, been hurt or died as a result of a mistake (I’m talking to you Toyota, Tylenol, and Costa Concordia).  But those examples are few.

Are people angry at JP Morgan’s mistake? Yes. Does it erode confidence in financial industry? You betcha. Should the CEO apologize? No. For Dimon (and other CEO’s messaging their mistakes), the best apology is often none at all.

Does MSNBC Hate America?

By Mike Phifer

Over the weekend, would-be public intellectual and MSNBC host Chris Hayes slipped his Gucci loafers neatly into his mouth.  While discussing the language used to talk about wars, Hayes took issue with the word “hero” being used for fallen soldiers.  In doing so, the horn-rimmed Hayes served himself to ideological foes on a silver platter (fair trade silver, naturally).  He explained:


“I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Why do I feel so [uncomfortable] about the word “hero”? I feel comfortable — uncomfortable — about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.”

Regardless of what you think about MSNBC’s politics generally or Chris Hayes specifically, it seems he wasn’t willfully trying to disrespect or denigrate those who’ve died for our country.  In fact, he took special care to say just that.  So why the fuss?  Weren’t Hayes and his guests simply having a candid, honest conversation about the rhetoric of war we so often use (or misuse) in the back and forth that is American democracy?

The short answer is yes.  (more…)

Embrace Your Enemy’s Truth

by Thayer Fox

President Obama’s environmental agenda kills American jobs, creates higher energy prices and weakens our nation’s security… America is the Saudi Arabia of coal, and we could create our own energy if the government would let us.” – Rick Santorum (March 2012)

This week the U.S. Court of Appeals voted unanimously to uphold the EPA’s determination that heat-trapping gases from industry and vehicles endanger public health. The coal industry, select utilities, the National Association of Manufacturers, and 14 states had vigorously fought the EPA’s policy and the court’s ruling was seen by many as a major setback.

In the ongoing PR battle surrounding this issue industry groups framed the EPA as responsible for killing jobs and keeping us dependent on foreign oil. These frames pivoted the conversation away from pollutants and on to the benefits coal to American policy. And based on what we’ve seen while testing messages, they are the best two that the coal industry has.

But unfortunately for them these approaches alone didn’t work. And as long as they’re fighting the EPA they likely never will.

That’s because these frames don’t directly address the core issue: the environment. The EPA talks about environmental impact to exclusion of all other issues. And with good reason. Focusing squarely on pollutants and their impact has made coal public enemy #1.

To win these debates, industry groups don’t have to ditch their current talking points, but they need to acknowledge the primary concerns of their enemies. In this instance those opposed to the EPA’s policy should:

•        Start by acknowledging the EPA’s concerns

•        Show that they take these concerns seriously by highlighting the continued advancements in clean

   coal technology

•        Pivot away from bashing the EPA’s narrative and focus on creating a more holistic one of their own

Santorum’s quote above nicely captures the industry’s current position. (more…)

June 28th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Blog Post

June 29th, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments

The Derecho Dialogues, Volume 2:

Now with more dialogue!

The following is a conversation between Chris Manley and Justin Altum in ml+p’s DC office..

DerechoChris:    Hey Justin, did you see this letter that Dominion wrote to you in the Washington Post?

Justin:    You mean the open letter to customers that made us all sound like heroes?  I did see it, and as a Dominion customer, I’m glad they think really highly of my ability to survive without electricity for a few days.  I do have to say, it was a little over-the-top.

Chris:     I agree that it’s a little bit melodramatic.  But we’re often advising utilities to do everything they can to demonstrate to customers that they understand what they’re going through.  You can see them trying to sympathize with how difficult it is for people to live without power.

Justin:    Yes, I agree with you on that.  I think they key words are right in the center of the page: thank you.  There aren’t enough companies today who acknowledge the role and importance of the customer today.  The nice thing about the intent of this letter is that it comes not after they did what they said they were going to do – restore power – and not after they failed miserably.  It seems like open letters to customers today revolve around a company making a huge mistake.

Chris:    I think the idea here is a good one, but the wording sounds a little more like what you’d say during a war and not after a storm.  I’m sure they’re trying to take this as seriously as possible since there were some deaths as a result of the power outages.

Justin:    I couldn’t agree more, Chris.  (more…)

July 17th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Jesse Jackson Jr. American Horror Story

by Thayer Fox

As anyone following the news knows Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is on a leave of absence. The question is why?

To date Rep. Jackson’s office has refused to fully explain what’s going on, and the public response is unfolding like a classic horror story:


  • Act 1: The monster is born. The monster starts off small and unassuming – it’s a simple question. Where has Rep. Jackson gone? (more…)
July 18th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Political ad wars 2012: is bipartisanship dead on arrival?

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

In 2008 Barack Obama’s ability to sell the nation on a new, more bipartisan brand of leadership was central to his electoral victory.  In the 2010 midterm battles the opposite was true.  Tea Partiers and others rode to Washington not by promising bipartisanship, but its opposite: fierce and principled partisanship.

What can we expect from 2012?  Will it once again be a banner year for candidates promising to reach across the aisle?  Or has that dream been sufficiently dashed?  We wanted to find out.

Following what Politico called “fake week” in Washington – a week characterized by a series of supposedly bipartisan photo ops with no real substance – we wanted to understand who, if anyone, was successfully delivering a message of bipartisanship on the campaign trail.  And we wanted to understand what, if anything, candidates could say to make these appeals resonate with voters.

For our second installment in the Political Ad Wars 2012 project we tested a series of ads promoting bipartisan leadership from both Republican and Democratic congressional candidates.  The testing was conducted with 150 Americans of various political stripes.

The results were telling. (more…)

July 18th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

They Approve This Message, But Does it Matter?

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

Since the passage of McCain-Feingold in 2002 candidates have been required to indicate their support for the content of their television and radio advertisements.

The provision responsible for this change is known as the “Stand By Your Ad” and its passage has led to the words “I approve this message” being heard countless times by millions of Americans.  But while this phrase has become a familiar staple of American politics, to date there hasn’t been much work done to understand what impact the message – and the way it’s delivered – has on voters.  We wanted to change that.

To that end we tested a series of current ads by the Obama and Romney campaigns.  The testing was done in person with 30 registered voters in New York and online with over 150 voters from across the country.

We wanted to see what, if any, impact these so-called “sponsor messages” have when delivered in different ways.

What we found was surprising.

1      For a segment of voters, sponsor messages DO matter.

These messages don’t matter to a lot of voters.  Many tune them out.  And across the board their importance pales in comparison to the other content in ads.  But for a segment of the electorate, sponsor messages do have an impact.

One of the most important reasons for this is that in many ads the sponsor message is only the time voters hear directly from the candidate themselves.  As a result, some voters actually take cues from the way a candidate’s approval is conveyed to determine how sincere they were about the ad’s content and whether the candidate truly stands by it.  As a result these “canned” phrases can disproportionately affect how persuaded voters are by an advertisement.

“When you actually see them saying it you can tell they agree with what the ad is saying.”- Democratic voter


August 8th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Don’t Take it From Me: The Constituent Testimonial

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff


With political contributions at all-time highs campaigns have more money than ever to spend on advertising.  Despite this, many are having a harder time than ever getting their message across.  The reason?  Voters have lost faith in the candidates.

Regardless of party affiliation most voters have come to view politicians with suspicion.  They’re skeptical of their claims, their character and their ability to deliver positive change.

So what’s a communications director to do?  Well, many have resorted to a tried and true approach to getting their message out: using testimonials from regular people in their advertisements.  The thinking goes that while voters may not believe politicians, they’re still willing to take the word of the “average people” who are their supports.

In this edition of Political Ad Wars we wanted to find out if this thinking still held true.  In the face of record distrust – and even disgust – could constituent and supporter testimonials still break through and resonate with voters?  Or does the distrust extend to the Average Joes, making testimonials a lost cause?

To find out we tested six recent television ads – five from congressional candidates and one from a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney – with 150 Americans of various political stripes.

Here’s what we heard.

They’re (still) effective.  Campaigns rely on testimonials for a good reason: they work.  More than facts, figures and policy proposals, hearing how a candidate helped an individual or family has real emotional resonance with voters.  Why?  Well, there are a couple of reasons.

1  They don’t question the motives.

You might think voters would question who exactly was appearing in these ads and what their motivations areas.  Well, you’d be wrong.  To a person they found the supporters featured in these ads to be credible and sincere in their convictions. (more…)

August 8th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Political Ads: America’s not really listening anymore

a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff

By Chris Manley and Patrick Buckley

A September 19th Politico story suggests that Governor Romney’s “47 percent” remarks will have a small but negative effect on who will vote for him in November.  While that may reflect the results of a Gallup poll, our own research on the nature of public opinion this election season suggests his remarks won’t make much difference.  Americans aren’t really listening to what the candidates are saying anymore.  Instead, they’re just waiting to hear something that confirms their defense or hatred of the party speaking.


We tested 42 presidential and congressional advertisements with more than a thousand people nationwide.  They identify as Republicans, Democrats, Independents.  Conservatives, liberals and moderates.  Our objective was to identify which arguments allow candidates to transcend party lines.  What could a Democrat say to win over a moderate Republican, and vice versa?  Turns out we’re asking the wrong question. We should’ve asked, “what will it take to even listen?”


We did, of course, identify some things that work and don’t work with the different audiences—and those are covered in other posts.  But by and large, findings suggest ad dollars spent to win over “the other side” is money wasted.  Tracking the moment-to-moment reactions of 200-400 people a week, we can pinpoint the exact moment in any ad where Republican and Democratic voters start to disagree with each other.  It’s not the moment a position or policy revealed, but the revelation of whom the ad supports.

Reds and Blues have identical positive reactions to this doctor, until the moment she says the new healthcare law “isn’t fixing things.” After that, Democrats hate everything she says, as much as Republicans love it.


The substance of an argument makes little difference.  Democrats reject ads from Republicans the moment it’s clear they’re watching a Republican ad.  Same on the other side.  And by “completely reject,” we don’t mean “disagree with.” We mean they tune it out. Hundreds of people say of opposing advertisements, “It’s all lies.”


“Nothing persuaded me…To declare the new system will [hurt the] doctor-patient relationship is an irresponsible lie…I hate it.” –Participant


[NOTE: The “Independent” line in the attached dial clips represents the average of those who identify as conservative and liberal.  Our sample of Independents skewed conservative, as does the line.  But while the average of all Independents is more moderated, we found the comments of individual independents to be just as dismissive of the party they identified with less.]


The vitriol and dismissiveness should give us all pause. Negative reactions on both sides share one thing: they have little or nothing to do with the contents of a given ad.  These responses are preprocessed, automatic.

Republicans approve of this absurd rhetoric from Chuck Norris. The more extreme it gets, the better. Democrats, to their credit, seem willing to concede there’s something to the “get out to vote” message.
As for the few truly open-minded voters, they’re more likely to be equally disenchanted with both sides. Worst of all, there’s evidence voters CAN like a message from the other party—but only as long as they don’t KNOW where the message comes from (yet).


If it’s not clear what party the speaker in an ad supports, then substance matters—Democrats can like a Republican message and vice versa.  The moment it becomes clear, one party reflexively loves the message, and the other party hates it.

Unless you’re from coastal Virginia, you probably don’t know what party Scott Rigell is from.  This ad takes a policy stand without using langauge that shows party afilliation, and everyone likes it.


Political advertising is a medium long associated with dishonesty and cheap shots—not the most persuasive stuff.  But today’s ad wars are wasting ad dollars.  The skyrocketing sums would be better spent on talking policy without mentioning any party or any hot-button political words. Or perhaps the best ROI of all is to simply use social media to try to target your faithful to vote in greater numbers.  Because from what we’ve seen, that “moveable middle” is becoming smaller and a lot less movable.

September 24th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

What would it be like if advisors knew what their clients were really thinking?

Inside Information

By Bob Clark, in Investment Advisor - August 2012

I’ve never been a big fan of focus groups. My skepticism dates back to the early ‘90s, when I was an editor on the team that launched Worth magazine. Like many consumer publications, we used focus groups to test everything from cover designs to potential story ideas. Our marketing team asked people to tell us what they thought they would like to see in a future issue. It seems to me that most people are woefully bad at predicting what they will like, which is why magazines need editors.

Then one day, I was trying to stay awake while watching yet another focus group from behind the one-way glass, as the participants were thumbing through the latest issue and sharing their “wisdom” about the table of contents, feature layouts and what fonts we should use. Suddenly, one of them piped up with: “It would be great if you had a section in here that gave us advice about personal finance.” All the other participants started nodding their heads in agreement. That got my attention, as I was the editor of the section that gave advice on personal finance, and apparently, not one reader out of those 15 could find it.

The problem was that most people flip through magazines looking at the right-hand pages, and in an effort to keep the advertisers happy, our publisher had put my section on the left-hand pages—rendering it virtually invisible. Based on that feedback, I was able to convince the publisher that the personal finance section warranted a more prominent position in the magazine.

I was reminded of that focus group while watching the streaming video of Michael Maslansky’s session at the Loring Ward National Education Conference in Monterey in June. The CEO of Maslansky Luntz and Partners uses his expertise in language and messaging to help litigators, non-profits and many Fortune 500 companies—including Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and UBS—to communicate more effectively about products, brands and issues. He is the author of “The Language of Trust,” and you probably saw his firm’s trademarked polling and focus group methodology during the 2010 elections, where it enabled CNN to show live audiences’ real-time reactions to speeches as they were being given.

If you’re anything like me, you probably have reservations about today’s high-tech quantifying of human behavior, but Maslansky appears to use his knowledge and expertise to help people better understand, and therefore better help, the people they are trying to serve. Still, to fully grasp the power of Maslansky’s process—garnered from over 100 research projects—you really have to see it. It’s like a focus group on steroids. For independent advisors, who have many ideas about what their clients are thinking but very little data to back them up, it’s obviously an eye-opening, mind-bending experience.

At Loring Ward, Maslansky’s program started with a panel consisting of 13 local investors between the ages of 55 and 70 with at least $500,000 in investable assets. Half of the panelists were retired and all had financial advisors. The panelists were seated across a broad stage with a handheld device about the size of a cell phone, with a circular dial. Each panelist could indicate a favorable or unfavorable reaction by twisting the dial. The panelists’ reactions were electronically aggregated to show a composite real-time reaction on a large screen on the stage.

The panelists were shown videos of advisors answering six questions that prospective clients would be likely to ask. The 13 panelists were asked to indicate whether they felt more likely or less likely to engage the advisor who was speaking, second by second, as he was giving his answer.

Altogether, this provided the advisors in the audience with an unparalleled insight into how investors truly feel about the various phrases that advisors use to explain their services, their market outlook, what differentiates them, their process, how they get paid and their request for referrals.

“Yet, even though you talk to clients every day, it’s very difficult to get into their heads: to know what it is that they are really thinking,” Maslansky told the advisors in the audience. “Humans, by nature, don’t always tell people the whole story.”

Maslansky explained that the results would appear on the big screen as a flat line that either trended up or down: “The middle of the graph is 50. That’s neutral; not good and not bad. A response of 70 or above means what’s being said is really working. Between 50 and 70 you’re not hurting yourself, but you could probably be doing a better job of engaging your client or prospect. If you’re below 50, you really should just shut up because every time you open your mouth, you’re really doing damage to you credibility and to your ability to sell your client.”

The answers that advisors gave (which were the normal answers they used in their practices, I’m told) did, indeed, show some dramatically different investor responses. For instance, when one advisor answered the question, “Why should I work with your firm?” by saying he had a “great investment method, based on a disciplined, scientific strategy that won a Nobel prize and has been tested for 40 years,” the responses were negative, negative and negative. In fact, not one panelist felt positive about this pitch. “He came across as a salesman,” said one investor, capturing the sentiment of the panel.

In answer to the same question, another advisor talked about being independent and working for the client rather than a large company, which enabled him to look out for his clients’ best interests, all of which tested well into the very positive range. “He said what he would do for me,” said one panelist, “rather than giving me a pitch.”

The investors also liked presentations that included financial plans, setting realistic expectations, financial goals, considering their values and people who are important to them, and especially, a team approach, which indicated to them expertise beyond one person. They didn’t like any words they didn’t understand, such as volatility, outsourcing and particularly counseling. “It’s a negative word,” said one panelist. “Nobody wants to go to ‘counseling.’ I’d rather go to the dentist.”

The panel of investors gave the highest positive scores of the session to the advisors talking about how they got paid. All were direct, clearly stating they had a 1% of assets fee up front. They then talked about what they would do for that fee, including keeping their clients from making mistakes, especially when the markets were down; keeping clients from blowing up their financial plans; making less when clients’ assets were down; and working even harder when the markets were down and they got paid less. Maslansky summed up the effectiveness of these answers this way: “We see a lot of advisors try to avoid giving out the number,” he said.


“The best answer to a fee question is a fee. If you don’t have the number in the first two sentences, you’re toast. Then they think that you’re hiding it. Say you charge a 1% fee, and then tell them what you do to earn it; it’s much more effective.”

These, and the responses to the other questions that the advisors answered, illustrated a surprisingly small number of communication mistakes that advisors make—yet, according to Maslansky, they make them with great regularity. A big one is talking about themselves rather than about the clients and what the advisor will do for them. “Most advisor/client conversations quickly become more about the advisor and less about the client,” he said. Then there’s overselling: “You can’t offer a perfect solution, and investors know this. Tempered promises have more credibility.”

The most prevalent mistake is the use of industry jargon, which the vast majority of investors don’t even begin to understand, and which consistently tested negatively: Volatility, asset allocation, accumulation, distribution, longevity risk, investment policy statements, CFP, the list is nearly endless. “This is where the industry falls down every day,” he said. “There is so much jargon that you don’t even recognize it. Advisors need to constantly remind themselves that investors don’t know what you think they know.”

The Takeaway

  • Advisors don’t make a lot of mistakes, but they make them regularly
  • The most common mistake is using industry jargon
  • Be up-front about fees and give clients a hard number

(#74136) Reprinted with permission from Investment Advisor magazine. Copyright 2012 by The National Underwriter Company doing business as Summit Business Media. All Rights Reserved. For more information about reprints from Investment Advisor, contact PARS International Corp. at 212-221-9595.

October 15th, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments

Messaging Lessons from the VP Debate

By Patrick Buckley and Chris Manley

As the country readies itself for tonight’s second presidential debate, we wanted to understand what approaches and arguments are likely to sway voters.  To do this we tested key segments of last week’s vice presidential debate with hundreds of voters from across the country.  Using our web-based Instant Response Dial technology we found what worked, what didn’t, and why.  What follows is a quick rundown of what we learned.

1. Not much rattles the base.  Democrats reacted positively to Biden and Republicans to Ryan.  Independents were split.  This isn’t surprising.  It’s important to remember most answers are unlikely to sway most people.  They’ve made up their minds and view events through their own lenses.  So watch for those brief moments when you feel yourself momentarily nodding your head for “the other guy.”  And we watch for that in the dial lines.

2. Libya’s a problem.  No one—Republicans, Independents, or Democrats—was having any of Biden’s claims of knowing nothing about threats or attacks in Libya.  And everyone, regardless of party, reacted positively to Ryan’s rejoinder.  Obama noticed, since Secretary Clinton (who says she’s retiring after the election) fell on her sword yesterday and accepted full responsibility—just in time for tonight’s debate.

 3. Nobody likes a hypocrite.  One of Biden’s strongest moments came when he revealed Ryan requested federal funds for his constituents, despite having attacked those funds as wasteful federal spending just seconds earlier.  Even some of our Republicans had to admit this undermined Ryan’s Thrift Crusader image.

4. Wrong direction = right message.  Ryan hit his stride with Democrats and those who say they’re undecided when talking about the slow growth of the economy under Obama.  He hammered example after example of numbers that have gotten worse over the last months.  But instead of relying only on obscure metrics he opened in relatable terms about overall growth.  While Biden took issue with his facts, voters reacted favorably.

5. The power of “responsibility.”  For Dems, no economic message has more resonance than the idea that corporations and the rich need to take more responsibility.  But the message also did fairly well with Republicans, who seemed to see this message of more responsible businesses as much better than any message about the government’s role in that responsibility.  While “leveling the playing field” turned some voters off and smacked of government-led wealth redistribution, Democrats seem to have an opportunity to calm Republican alarms of socialism if they frame their arguments in terms of businesses.

6. 47% doesn’t move the needle.  Voters may be over it.  Or else they’ve decided how they feel.  Either way, it was clear that the voters we surveyed weren’t moved by Biden’s attacks.

7. Demeanor didn’t sway many voters.  This was surprising.  Going into the testing we assumed many voters – from both sides – would be swayed by the demeanor of the two candidates.  In reality, those who seemed to like and support Vice President Biden praised his antics.  Those who support or like Ryan applauded his subdued performance and saw Biden as a smirking bully.

October 16th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Presidential Debate: Why being right is wrong

As the dust settles on the second debate, one thing is clear. The loser in each debate was the candidate who thought it was more important to win the battle over facts than the war of ideas.   Romney won the first debate by projecting a positive confidence, while Obama got mired in wonky and long-winded explanations.   In the second debate, Obama presented positive and pithy narratives, while Romney angrily fought back with facts and statistics.


In both debates, the litigator lost; the orator, won.


This isn’t the way it is supposed to happen. In a world of fact-checkers-on-the-fly, the truth is supposed to prevail. But in debates, trying to prove you are right is just the wrong strategy.   Why?


  • You’re talking about their story not yours. Every minute spent correcting your record is time spent validating the other guy’s criticism, using his terminology and playing on his terms.  Whether you are right or not doesn’t matter.  In the heat of a debate, fighting one fact with another is like fighting fire with fire – it doesn’t put out the flames; it just makes the conflagration bigger.
  • You’re speaking in data not stories. The easiest way to lose an audience is to get into a debate over facts and figures.  It is hard enough for people who pay attention to these things to tell the difference between such things as increases in employment and decreases in unemployment. Uncommitted voters need to hear themes, narratives and personalized stories. Fact fights, like food fights, leave everyone a mess.
  • You’re being small instead of big. Romney won the first debate because rhetoric matched the size of his job. He framed every response in a larger context, while Obama played the policy wonk. In the second debate, the roles were switched. Obama spoke in big themes not small data. That was left to Romney whose angry attempts to set the record straight appeared petty. In both cases, big ideas were far more important than small details.


Facts can be great tools to attack, but they are poor shields. The candidates would do well to remember that as they prepare for their final contest.

October 17th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized 2 Comments

Our Debate Take: Romney v. Obama – October 16, 2012

We analyzed reactions to the 2nd 2012 Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from some of the top communicators in the country. Below are the key insights we took away.


October 17th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized 1 Comment

Language of Cancellations: An analysis of NYRR’s message to runners

By Thayer Fox

As many in New York City know the 2012 ING NYC marathon was cancelled.

As an avid long-distance runner and NYRR member, this topic is near to my heart (disclosure: I was not signed up to run this year’s NYC marathon – I am running the Philadelphia marathon in two weeks.  I am doing the 9+1 qualification this year to run in 2013, and trained closely with many who were planning to run this past Sunday.)

Like all NYRR members I received the email on Friday that the marathon was cancelled.


It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that the 2012 ING New York City Marathon has been canceled.

The decision was made after it became increasingly apparent that the people of our city and the surrounding tri-state area were still struggling to recover from the damage wrought by the recent extreme weather conditions. That struggle, fueled by the resulting extensive and growing media coverage antagonistic to the marathon and its participants, created conditions that raised concern for the safety of both those working to produce the event and its participants. While holding the race would not have required diverting resources from the recovery effort, it became clear that the apparent widespread perception to the contrary had become the source of controversy and division. Neither NYRR nor the City could allow a controversy over the marathon to result in a dangerous situation or to distract attention from all the critically important work that is being done to help New York City recover from the storm. 

NYRR, in partnership with the Rudin Family and the ING Foundation, has established the “Race to Recover” Marathon Fund to aid New Yorkers impacted by the storm. Over $2.6 million has been raised, including a $1 million donation by NYRR. We are asking you to join us by making a $26.20 donation, or whatever you can afford, to help bring recovery and hope to those communities and families most affected. Proceeds will go to Hurricane Sandy Relief, administered by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. You can also donate to the relief effort through NYRR’s fundraising platform, CrowdRise, which includes the American Red Cross and other charities.

NYRR will redeploy the marathon resources and materials toward the recovery effort. We will share the details of this project as they are finalized in the days ahead.

We all recognize this has been a very challenging time in New York City that has impacted so many people, including you, our runners. Please know that this is one of the toughest decisions we have ever made, and that we deeply appreciate your support.


Anecdotally, most of the runners I know begrudgingly accept NYRR’s position and this communication.  That said, I want to dig into it using a framework we call LOFT, where we analyze the Language, Order, Frame, and Tone, each on a 5-point scale. As I hope you will see, NYRR nails the framing, but misses some key opportunities.


    • Language: 4 out of 5.  The language NYRR uses credibly expresses its audience’s emotions while fostering fellowship.  The email sets the stage nicely with “heavy hearts”.  This is what every runner has.  NYRR calls the situation “very challenging”, and the last sentence “Please know that this is one of the toughest decisions we have ever made, and that we deeply appreciate your support.” engenders camaraderie and puts the reader on the side of the communicator.  This is the language of sadness.  That said, NYRR would do well to employ some other languages – most notably the language of sympathy – which is discussed below.


    • Order:  2 out of 5.  NYRR gets dinged on this attribute not because of the order in the communication itself, but because of the timing of its delivery.  The communication came out on Friday – two days before the marathon – which means many of the out-of-towners (roughly 30% of NYC marathon runners) were either already here or stuck with paying non-refundable travel expenses.  That they do not explicitly acknowledge this point is shocking. 


    • Frame: 5 out of 5.  There are two very powerful frames at work here.

        • First, it’s about the runners as much as it’s about the victims.  This communication speaks to runners and the NYC community alike.  Too often communicators overly segment their communication and end up using messages that appeal to one audience and enrage another. The email sufficiently acknowledges the victims of Sandy and states clearly that all resources will be redeployed to help them.  This is what the NYC community wants to hear.  And at the same time, they made it about their core audience.  They focus on runner safety and speak from a runner’s perspective.  This is what runners want to hear.


        • Second, it’s not about resources it’s about safety.  The focus on safety is a frame in itself.  And it works because it is both personal and plausible.  They neatly reframe the debate by stating clearly that the marathon would not divert resources, and that this decision is all about runner safety.  This is a widespread concern for runners.  The media was tough on the running community – a point NYRR makes in the email – which certainly fueled the fire. In the hours before the race was cancelled a dear friend of mine was seriously considering not running because, in her words she “didn’t want to get spit on.”  The race starts on Staten Island – the borough with the most Sandy-related deaths.   That could have been a recipe for disaster.


    • Tone: 3 out of 5.  The tone is sad, which is perfectly appropriate.  But it lacks deeper sympathy.  A marathon is not a one-day event.  It is the pinnacle of six months of grueling training that many slug through alone with little fanfare.  Cancelling the marathon for many is akin to forever cancelling a Broadway show the day before it opens.  It’s all work and no pay off.  Not to mention the fact that this event costs a whopping $270.  There is no mention in this communication – and has been no mention – of a refund.  NYRR missed an opportunity to acknowledge these sacrifices.


The missed opportunities aside, in all NYRR communicated pretty well given the extraordinarily tough position they are in.  Any decision they could have made would have certainly made significant audiences very angry.  I know for a fact this one did.

Strategically though they chose to hurt the audience they are closest to.  This is smart because this is the audience they can ultimately win back.  They are in a position to directly communicate with them via email and ground mail.  In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see if they continue to communicate with the would-be marathoners, and what if any consolation they will offer to help make this right.



November 5th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Instant Response on your Smartphone

Last week we brought our Instant Response technology to PRWeek‘s Power to the People. It was billed as an interactive conference for a transparent age, with audiences using our innovative new Smartphone Web App, created by SquareOff, to register their moment-to-moment responses to speakers.



PRWeek Power to the People Instant Response












We tracked audience responses to debates on Ethical Risk in PR, and concepts pitched to an audience of PR professionals in ‘The Battle of the Big Ideas’. We analyzed how those with more or less industry experience reacted to different themes, with Michael Maslansky giving feedback to audiences on how we tracked their responses. Participants were given a new level of event interactivity, and saw the results of this displayed in real-time:


“Delegates are constantly frustrated by conferences where they are ‘talked at’ all day and can’t interact with the content. The use of dial technology at PRWeek’s Power to the People event was an extremely effective way to engage our delegates in the content and to keep them interested throughout sessions.” - Steve Barrett, Editor-in-chief, PRWeek

“The SquareOff technology let every member of the audience participate in our session by reacting in real-time to each of the speakers. By using their smartphones they could give their moment-by-moment reactions and see how everyone else in the room was reacting as well. SquareOff is a great technology to create an interactive live event.” - Dave Senay, President and CEO, Fleishman-Hillard

With this new technology, your everyday Smartphone is turned into your personal Instant Response dial. We look forward to utilizing this exciting new advancement in audience response at future events, and in other innovative ways in the future. Watch this space.

November 26th, 2012 blog, news, Uncategorized No Comments

Former NFL Commissioner Verbally Dazzles Us

Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has rescinded punishments against players in the New Orleans Saints bounty case. In issuing his decision, Tagliabue threw us a bit of a verbal riddle. Here’s how we think it played out:

The Advice:

“Just issue an official sounding and completely nonsensical statement and stun your audience into confused silence…” – Communications Advisor

The Results:

“Unlike Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects… My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell’s findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization” – Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue

If you can break through the verbiage and tell us what they meant, there’s a large cash prize in it for you*

*Not really

December 12th, 2012 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Big News from Zipcar

Earlier today, Zipcar announced it was being acquired by the Avis Budget Group.  If you’re not familiar with Zipcar, they’re the company that brought us easy, convenient, hourly car rental at a price that’s truly affordable.  Rarely do I find emails like this even worth reading, much less informative, but Zipcar’s announcement was surprisingly well done: short, concise, and focused on the most important person in the world…me!  Read my take below and let me know whether you agree.



January 2nd, 2013 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Star Wars geeks in the White House

…..pulling it off with style.

This story starts with a pledge. The White House agreed to officially respond to any petition which could gain more then 25,000 signatures in 30 days. That sounds like a challenge.


A collection of Star Wars fans responded by posting a petition to build a real-life Death Star (based on a build cost estimate laid out by Lehigh University students) by the year 2016. And they got 34,435 people to agree with them.


Now, the White House could have filed this away in the “we’ll get around to responding sometime” box. Instead, they grabbed the opportunity to charm the socks off geeks around the world with the beautifully serious, and reference-laden response below. Who says government can’t have personality?


This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For

By Paul Shawcross

The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn’t on the horizon. Here are a few reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?


However, look carefully (here’s how) and you’ll notice something already floating in the sky — that’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station! Yes, we already have a giant, football field-sized International Space Station in orbit around the Earth that’s helping us learn how humans can live and thrive in space for long durations. The Space Station has six astronauts — American, Russian, and Canadian — living in it right now, conducting research, learning how to live and work in space over long periods of time, routinely welcoming visiting spacecraft and repairing onboard garbage mashers, etc. We’ve also got two robot science labs – one wielding a laser – roving around Mars, looking at whether life ever existed on the Red Planet.

Keep in mind, space is no longer just government-only. Private American companies, through NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office (C3PO), are ferrying cargo — and soon, crew — to space for NASA, and are pursuing human missions to the Moon this decade.

Even though the United States doesn’t have anything that can do the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we’ve got two spacecraft leaving the Solar System and we’re building a probe that will fly to the exterior layers of the Sun. We are discovering hundreds of new planets in other star systems and building a much more powerful successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that will see back to the early days of the universe.

We don’t have a Death Star, but we do have floating robot assistants on the Space Station, a President who knows his way around a light saber and advanced (marshmallow) cannon, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is supporting research on building Luke’s arm, floating droids, and quadruped walkers.

We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field. The President has held the first-ever White Housescience fairs and Astronomy Night on the South Lawn because he knows these domains are critical to our country’s future, and to ensuring the United States continues leading the world in doing big things.

If you do pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field, the Force will be with us! Remember, the Death Star’s power to destroy a planet, or even a whole star system, is insignificant next to the power of the Force.


Paul Shawcross, Chief of the Science and Space Branch at the White House Office of Management and Budget, we commend you. Now where can we sign the petition for building a time-travelling DeLorean?

January 15th, 2013 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

A new American? American Airlines’ new positioning


Becoming a new American?  American Airline’s new rebrand may make it sound like they are entering the immigration debate.  But in fact that’s just their new slogan.  Somehow we doubt this kind of confusion was what they were going for.




January 17th, 2013 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Oreo’s twitter explosion and the importance of brand identity

By Clint Sievers

You may have heard that the lights went out at the Super Bowl the other day.  You may have also heard that Oreo stole the show with this tweet.  Some people are even asking whether the tweet’s wide exposure heralds a new era in social media advertising.



The fact is, twitter and other social media sites are still a niche market for advertisers.  Everyone is still trying to figure out how to use social media to complement or replace traditional media, and that leads to uneven adoption.


But what the Oreo ad really did was highlight the importance of a consistent messaging strategy.  Without a culture that encourages bold ideas and a certain tolerance for risk, this ad wouldn’t have happened, and everyone would be talking about Oreo’s $3.8 million flop of an ad.  Oreo and its ad agency were prepared to take advantage of anything unusual that happened on Sunday night, and when the blackout gave them an opportunity, they seized it.  Can anyone imagine Lincoln, sorry, the Lincoln Motor Company, pulling off a similar coup?


Companies today need to know who they are and what they stand for at all times, and in all situations.  Employees from the front lines to the boardroom need to be onboard with the brand’s strategy and identity.  It can mean the difference between putting a “me-too” hashtag on your commercial and generating real buzz and engagement.

February 5th, 2013 blog, insights, Uncategorized No Comments

Language We Like: Mom Themed Language Strategy

Look familiar?

Global Language Strategy

By Keith Yazmir


The Right Language

What’s the problem?

In today’s digitally-powered world, saying something about a brand, product or issue has never been easier. So why does it feel increasingly difficult to be heard – to have an impact, change an opinion, drive action?

I’d like to suggest it’s because WHAT marketers and communicators are saying hasn’t caught up with HOW we’re saying it.

In short, we have a language problem.


The REAL Digital Divide

While the digital revolution has radically altered how we deliver information, it has had an equally profound, yet far-less discussed impact on how customers, legislators, voters, employees – anyone we’re trying to reach – HEAR what we are trying to say.

Accordingly, while the communication industry has been quick to leverage the power of new media, the way brands develop and articulate what they are trying to say has remained essentially unchanged over the past 50 years.

Let me explain.

The traditional approach to crafting messages is to gather a bunch of subject-matter experts and leverage their knowledge and expertise to come up with what to say and how to say it.  The problem is that digitally-savvy audiences are growing ever more cynical and selective regarding what they choose to listen to and believe. While at the same time, the sophistication of modern business means that decision-makers are increasingly removed from how their audiences speak and think.

Even when communicators test what they’re looking to say, message inputs and research methodologies often err on the side of fact and reason in spite of recent neuroscientific research showing that people actually react to communication emotionally, not rationally.

The result of all this is a series of dangerous communication gaps between what communicators are trying to say and what their intended audiences are actually hearing: what brands know to be true, audiences increasingly doubt; what communicators see as relevant is often different from what really interests their stakeholders; what we believe to be clear, to them can still seem confusing; and what we want to make exciting, to them often sounds like just another company talking about itself.

It’s time for a different approach.


It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear

At the end of the day, it’s not what marketers and communicators say that matters, it’s what our audiences HEAR.

The words, language and images we use must resonate not with us but with them, on a real, emotional level. In this brave new world, what we say and how we say it must be ever more relevant, credible and finely tuned if we are to have any chance of being heard.

Which is why today maslansky + partners, is teaming up with Ketchum Europe to launch a new way for brands, industries, CEOs and political candidates to maximize the results of their marketing and communication efforts.


A New Approach

By combining our unique approach to language and messaging with Ketchum’s unmatched ability to engage audiences, we will help clients address their critical communication challenges using the right language and images, delivered in the right way and at the right time to have the biggest possible impact.

Using our research-driven approach to measuring real-world, emotional reactions to words and articulations, we will help clients maximize the effectiveness of their marketing and communication investments – so they know for a fact before they spend anything on delivering their message, speech or platform that they are doing so using the right messages in language that truly works with their audience.

By doing so, we will help bridge the widening gap between the sophistication with which communicators are leveraging the delivery potential of new media – and the outdated ways they are still talking to their audiences.

Communications Lessons from Fiction: Anaïs Nin

By David Baynham and Chris Manley


We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are” – Anaïs Nin 

We love this quote. Anaïs Nin, perhaps best known for her famously risqué storytelling, hits the nail on the head here—and when it comes to credible communication, it bears repeating.

Our clients often ask us:


Why can’t we just explain it to them truthfully? The facts are on our side.”

“It’s logical, it makes sense…why don’t they believe us?”

Years of Instant Response research with hundreds upon hundreds of audiences have taught us one important reality that’s difficult for many well-meaning clients to deal with: personal baggage always trumps the logical truth.

If the listener comes to the table convinced of unchecked greed and corporate corruption in the financial industry, a bank will have a hard time telling them the number one priority is the consumer. If your audiences’ experiences, biases, or preconceptions don’t jive with your message—it’s not a story you can credibly tell.

So how do we tackle this? One of the ways we like to describe this concept, so aptly encapsulated by Nin, is of two divergent world views—yours and your audience’s. Great communication comes in finding the sweet spot between the two.  Ignoring this dynamic is basically demanding that your customers, clients, voters, or skeptics see the world through your eyes, rather than you offering to see it through theirs. Odds of persuading an audience that has to do all the work for you are pretty low.

their truth

August 12th, 2013 blog, Uncategorized No Comments

Only 5% of Americans realize big bank bailouts have been repaid


In 2008 the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was put into place by the U.S. government to help support a staggered financial industry – what the media and the public at large referred to as a “bailout.” Since 2008, America’s larger retail banks have repaid this money – something the public is at least somewhat aware of right?

Think again. TARP’s lasting impact on people’s perception of the financial industry is clear from our latest survey data which found only 5% of the American public believes America’s large financial institutions have paid it back.


So what should the financial industry be doing?

Let’s be honest, it’s too late for an information campaign. No one wants to put TARP back on people’s radar. But the fact that the American public fundamentally believes most large banks and financial companies OWE THEM, can’t be ignored. It’s essential context for what Americans will give the financial industry permission to say and to stand for going forward. A bit of advice for members of the financial industry:


  1. Don’t make excuses.  When you do have to talk about TARP, don’t pass the buck or make excuses. Effective communications acknowledge your role and responsibility when people perceive you’ve done wrong.
  2. Focus on your audience. Because they think they bailed you out – and that you still owe them, you don’t have permission to claim that you contribute to the overall stability and wellbeing of the economy (you’re part of the problem, remember?). They want to hear about how you are contributing to fixing the problems you created—such as helping out small businesses.
  3. Be humble. It’s natural to want to talk about the good impact your organization has or how great a product is—but if you sound chest-thumping, given the context of TARP perceptions, it seems like you are just doing it all to cover up for the bad stuff.  Instead, take the tone of “we are here to serve.”
  4. Listen. Many Americans think financial institutions are tone deaf.  That they are completely out of touch with America and Americans.  As a result, it’s important to demonstrate that you are both LISTENING and HEARING what they expect from you.


Call or email us to see the full data and cross tabs or to talk about how lack of trust in the financial industry might impact a communication challenge on your plate today.  JDahm@maslansky.com at (917) 677-9100.


Survey Source: Google Consumer Surveys, Updated Feb 1st 2014 - 464 respondents weighted to be proportionally representative of the Internet population.

January 23rd, 2014 blog, Uncategorized 1 Comment

Process Step 3

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April 22nd, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

Case Study One

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April 22nd, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments