Any New Yorker will recognize this dreaded symbol of low hygiene in the restaurant window – here’s some guys who are getting out ahead of the story:
We share insights and reflections around the world of communications.
Any New Yorker will recognize this dreaded symbol of low hygiene in the restaurant window – here’s some guys who are getting out ahead of the story:
Companies are constantly trying to reach their audience. But in today’s increasingly fragmented media environment, it’s tough to stand out from the crowd. We’ll occasionally be taking a quick look at print and media ads and letting you know whether we think they can break through … or if they’re off the mark. First up: Budweiser’s new ad campaign.
Audience: Craft beer drinkers; those who want to feel a connection to their beer, and see Budweiser as mass-produced, mass-market swill.
Message: Budweiser is made here too, by people who live in your communities. In fact, it may be made closer to home than you think.
Success or failure: Does anyone really drink Budweiser because it tastes or feels like a craft beer? We think not. This one fails the plausibility test.
Why: Aside from the obvious problem with a company like Budweiser trying to look small and local, the images in this commercial only increase the errors. No craft beer drinker wants to see images of industrial-size vats and massive factories when they think about how their beer was made.
Most ridiculous line: “America’s largest local brewer”
I guess they’ll be getting a lot of butt dials…
According to the Times, someone has been copy-editing the placards in the Pratt Institute sculpture garden.
The new “Hey Babe” addition to Lego’s hard-hatted sticker collection begs a number of questions that Lego clearly didn’t see the need to ask:
But the single biggest question that Lego seems to have forgotten stems from the very nature of their intended audience. No, not the mothers responsible for lassoing their children through the toy aisles of super stores. Not the bloggers looking for yet another reason to debate flawed gender norms.
But the children who will use these Legos, build with these Legos, share these Legos with their Lego-playing friends. Children who repeat everything they hear.
How is this going to affect them?
Taken by m+p Partner, Larry Moscow, on the road today. Thank god we got that whole airport sequester thing worked out!
By Thayer Fox
While the candor and directness in this spot is refreshing, it is easy to question if it will work. JC Penney says, essentially, that they’ve screwed up, they hear us, and they’d like us to come back. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve said that to an ex-girlfriend I’d have close to a dollar.
And it rarely works.
You don’t take back the person who is simply sorry. You don’t respect the person who grovels. You want to be with the person who has personality. The person who not only rights a wrong but who takes a stand. In this ad JC Penney errs too far on the side of being contrite and in doing so fails to tell us who they are now. This is even more critical given the significant changes they’ve made to their business and brand in the last year. So a store with a personality disorder is asking us to love them again because they’re sorry they can be so weird sometimes. That is a heavy lift to say the least.
A New York Times headline today reads “Drug Agency Lowers Age for Next-Day Birth Control,” and contraception advocates probably smiled when they read it—not only because of the new, less restrictive law, but because of the specific wording chosen by the Times. What the headline is referring to is known more commonly as “the morning-after pill.” It’s an ambiguous term, and advocates for its availability work hard to make sure the conversation around this medication clearly defines it as contraception, not a pill that induces abortions.
The confusion around “the morning-after pill” exists for a few reasons. Not only do some confuse it with a different medication, mifepristone, which is an option for terminating an early-stage pregnancy with pills rather than surgery, but conflicting definitions of conception muddle the conversation as well. Some religious organizations, including the Catholic Church, define the moment of conception differently than medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists do. That means that, based on their definition, some believe the morning-after pill actually has the potential to terminate a pregnancy, not just to prevent one.
By describing the pill as “birth control,” and not just “the morning-after pill,” the Times is not only being precise in its language, but is also implicitly endorsing the ACOG’s stance. That means that anyone who reads the Times headline likely interprets the issue as one revolving around the availability of “birth control” to minors—a much less politically and emotionally charged issue than the availability of an “abortion pill” (although it can still spark plenty of controversy in its own right.)
This blog post isn’t about whether the wording chosen by the Times is right or wrong (although, let’s face it—most in the medical community would probably agree with them). Rather, this is an example of how the words we choose to use are powerful and laden with more meaning than we may even realize. It may seem like a question of semantics to argue about when, exactly, we should call a woman “pregnant.” But how we define something, and the words we use to talk about it, can have a very real impact on how we understand and make decisions about these issues—and how institutions like mass media, government agencies, and church authorities influence these decisions for us. Whether we’re talking about “climate change” vs. “global warming;” “illegal aliens” vs. “undocumented workers;” or “emergency contraception” vs. “abortion pill,” our words matter.
Somehow, we were less-than-reassured when we saw this drugstore sign yesterday…
Two thumbs up for telling it how it is:
Many companies and non-profits take Earth Day as an opportunity to remind us all to take stock of our environmental impact. And while these efforts are commendable, they can become “white noise” to an audience that has heard the same messages over and over again. But truly effective messages cut through the clutter by making actions personal. Here’s how:
1) Demonstrate why being environmentally conscious consumers is not only our responsibility, but something that can benefit us. For example, the Energy Department and the Ad Council recently released ads highlighting the benefits the consumer reaps from becoming environmentally conscious. By conserving energy, they will have more money to spend on luxuries such as vacations or spa days.
2) Making the conversation personal doesn’t just mean saving money. Consumers also find it rewarding when they can see how their efforts can actually make a difference to the larger environmental effort. Based on research we’ve done in this space over the past several years, here are 3 top tips for effective messaging around environmental issues:
By Sara Cott
The newly released song “Accidental Racist” by country singer Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J certainly lives up to its name. Its controversial lyrics about race relations in the South have led critics to deem it “the worst song ever.” Still, Paisley defended the song on the Tonight Show, saying “I thought maybe it would be an interesting conversation between country music and rap music to deal with this subject between two individuals, in a loving and understanding way.”
Paisley’s goal of inspiring a “loving and understanding” dialogue on racism in America is a positive one. Why, then, was the message received so poorly?
Let’s talk take a closer look at the lyrics:
It’s not that the public misunderstands what Paisley and LL Cool J’s lyrics mean, or that they necessarily disagree with the singers’ intent. Rather, they interpret the symbols of racism in entirely different ways than the singers do. In effect, Paisley’s good intentions are lost because the audience does not relate to the lyrics, and the artists come off as “accidentally ignorant.”
A North Carolina hospital recently announced a new slogan as part of a rebrand:
The hospital says they hope to create a community health movement, shifting the conversation from curative to preventative care. The slogan certainly packs cut-through among a sea of generic healthcare focused messaging, but it isn’t the first time it’s been used in a health context. The advert for pomegranate drink POM Wonderful, below, was banned for over-promising on the ability to cheat death with its antioxidant powers:
It’s obviously hard to make a case that this latest example is any different in terms of misleading claims, but it’s still attention-grabbing, and funny right? The strategic reasons behind the change are also sound—preventative health means money, time and energy saved rather than spent on fixing issues in later life. It falls down, though, when it comes to the additional baggage that comes along with that phrase. “Cheat Death” suggests “getting away with” bad behavior, or some kind of magical elixir to nullify a debauched life—a little self-defeating when attempting to build preventative care habits around eating and exercise. With a hospital that’s going to help you “Cheat Death”, what’s to stop you reaching for that 7th piece of pumpkin pie?
We like a slogan from Pfizer that has a similar strategy beyond it much more: “Get Old”. It’s about accepting that we get old, and trying to do it with confidence, and the help of products that will get you there. It’s positive, it’s an incentive, and it carries no negative connotations. Oh, and it avoids using the word “Death”. Best to steer clear of that if possible.
by Sara Cott
Money talks in Washington – this time literally. The Washington Post recently reported that Organizing for Action, a nonprofit organization established to raise funds for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, is now responsible for Obama’s personal Twitter feed. While the President will continue to tweet occasionally (he signs his personal tweets “-bo”), Organizing for Action now runs @BarackObama on a daily basis. The account, which once functioned as Obama’s personal and campaign account, has nearly 29 million followers.
People are expressing concern that the account is becoming a mouthpiece for wealthy donors. Organizing for Action, as a “social welfare group,” is tax-exempt and can accept unlimited monetary contributions with limited transparency. Its fundraising efforts are targeted at wealthy individuals and corporations, with perks for top donors like quarterly OFA board meetings with the President, and now control over the most followed Twitter account among world leaders.
Ultra-wealthy donors have always had more access to the politically powerful. The real problem here is that it makes the presidential Twitter account look deceptive. Twitter is understood to represent a direct voice from the author to the audience. Now the President’s mouthpiece is actually run by an independent organization. The account is under the President’s name, uses his photo and links to his personal website. While most people probably never assumed that Obama was on his Blackberry tweeting all day, they at least assumed the tweets matched his viewpoints and were written by White House staff. Now, Organizing for Action gets to speak for the President even though its tweets may not align with the President’s thoughts or positions.
People follow @BarackObama because they want a direct link to the President and his viewpoints. If Obama doesn’t want to lose followers, he should be careful about putting his donors’ money where his mouth is.
Leaving the politics aside – never easy on this topic – we saw it as a noteworthy address for the approach the President and his speechwriters took.
Coming into this speech it was clear many Israelis didn’t trust the President. Here’s a rundown of the numbers. Obama’s team knew this. They also knew that in order to have anything the President said matter to the Israeli public they’d have to work to chip away at some of that mistrust.
We know from our work that one of the most effective ways of doing this is establishing common ground, which is exactly what this speech tried to do.
Here’s what it looked like.
‘I understand your circumstances’
A lot of the knock on Obama vis-à-vis Israel was that he was naïve about the circumstances – and threats – Israelis face. His speech had to change that view. He used the circumstances of individual Israelis to try to make clear that he does “get it.”
When I consider Israel’s security, I think about children like Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot – children, the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live… I think about five Israelis who boarded a bus in Bulgaria, who were blown up because of where they came from.
‘We’re not so different’
Obama spent a lot of his speech building to a point of personal, emotional empathy. From his own family’s Seder dinners, to his personal history, he showed that he was culturally and emotionally capable of seeing the world through the Israeli people’s eyes:
For me personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, it spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home.
‘There’s a narrative that binds us’
By framing the U.S./Israeli relationship in the context of a broader, universal narrative of freedom in a homeland, he also strengthened the idea of a bond, a familial connection, a shared destiny between the two nations:
It is a story about finding freedom in your own land. For the Jewish people, this story is central to who you have become. But it is also a story that holds within it the universal human experience…In the United States – a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew – we are naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land.
‘These bonds are unbreakable’
Not only did Obama express empathy and connection, he hardened the strength of these sentiments with an iron-clad promise of solidarity and support:
Today, I want to tell you – particularly the young people – that so long as there is a United States of America, Ah-tem lo lah-vahd [you are not alone].
It was only after establishing his understanding of the Israeli people, and the strength of the bond the two nations share, that he was able to attempt to deliver hard truths on the change required to build peace in the region.
More importantly, leading by example, he was credibly able to ask for understanding from his audience:
But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes.
Full Video and Transcript of Obama’s speech can be found here
This is just a quick reminder that language matters to EVERYONE… even to people who don’t know the difference between its and it’s.
Late yesterday yogis everywhere collectively gasped as Lululemon Athletica announced a recall of their famous black Luon yoga pants. It seems product that hit the shelves starting on March 1st has been showing a bit more of their customers than they’d like.
Lululemon, known for being a customer-centric brand, released a lengthy FAQ about the oh-so-sheer yoga gear on their site. This tome walks us through not just the details of the recall, but also the timeline, the company’s decision-making process, and next steps. It is, on the whole an incredibly informative and transparent piece of communication. But could it be better?
What follows is a message analysis we call LOFT, breaking down their communication into its key parts: Lexicon (the words they use), Order (the way they tell the story), Frame (the lens they communicate through), and Tone (the emotion they evoke through their message).
Lexicon: 4 out of 5. Lululemon does a good job of using words that work. Product was removed because it “falls short of our very high standards” and they “are committed to providing the highest quality of products”. They tell us they will not resume production and shipment of the product until the problem is “addressed and corrected.” They also refer to customers as “guests” throughout, invoking a feeling of hospitality.
Order: 2 out of 5. Here we lose a lot of momentum. They start strong with a clear description of the issue and which items are affected, but then they start building their internal story (when they knew about the issue, what they did first, what caused the problem, etc.) before addressing the real concern: what the heck do I do with my see-through pants? They walk through irrelevant information—such as the component materials in Luon fabric—before relevant information—like how to return affected merchandise. Much skimming and scrolling is required before consumers’ questions are answered. As a recent Lululemon shopper myself, I had to read the entire FAQ before I was confident I did not, in fact, own any see-through yoga gear.
Frame: 5 out of 5. This framing hits the mark because it addresses the majority of concerned customers. The FAQ headline says it all:
This creative framing (spin, anyone?) avoids calling this what it is: a recall. So why is this the right frame? Given that the pants in question were only on the shelves for about two weeks, very few customers will actually be affected by this manufacturing snafu. But because fully 17% of the women’s bottoms sold by Lululemon have been pulled from the stores and online, many more people searching for these yoga staples will be affected in the weeks and months to come.
Tone: 3 out of 5. For the most part, their tone is dead-on. Serious, concerned, and dedicated to fixing the problem. What they gain in straightforwardness, however, they lose in warmth and empathy. After all, finding out you had unknowingly worn see-through yoga pants would be a pretty emotional discovery. An actually apology worked into the FAQ would have gone a long way.
While Lululemon’s quick response to the recall was well worded, they confused the story by telling it in the wrong order, and missed an opportunity to strike an empathetic tone. And although their FAQ was incredibly comprehensive, the sheer length (no pun intended) watered down their message.
But all that said, framing a product recall as a pant shortage was smart. Now Lululemon fans everywhere just want to know when they can get their hands on these exclusive and limited black yoga pants.
Tomorrow, the long-awaited (or, some might say, long-dreaded) soda ban was supposed to go into effect across New York City. At the last minute, a judge has invalidated the ban, which would limit the sizes of sugary beverages sold in New York City. Time will tell whether a legal battle ensues and whether the law will ultimately be enforced. But if Mayor Bloomberg intends to continue pushing for the ban, he should consider making some changes to his language strategy to garner more public support.
When the law was first proposed last summer, opponents of the ban created a campaign that positions “Nanny Bloomberg” as a Big Brother who wants to take away consumers’ right to consume what they please. A typical ad, frequently glimpsed on the back of beverage delivery trucks, reads “Don’t let bureaucrats tell you what size beverage to buy.” This language strikes a nerve, and effectively creates an “us against them” mentality that allows beverage providers to position themselves as the consumers’ ally.
In light of this opposition, Mayor Bloomberg and his supporters have been forced to repeatedly defend the ban. Frequently, they cite statistics about the rising prevalence of obesity and its accompanying health problems, and argue the need to combat it with public health policy. But the fact is that Bloomberg’s defense tries to take a logical approach—while, thanks in part to the opposition campaign, many New Yorkers view the issue through an emotional lens.
If Mayor Bloomberg wants his message to break through, he needs to stop throwing around empty statistics, and meet his critics where they’re coming from. If their fear is that the ban infringes on their personal freedom, the mayor and his allies must address that fear head-on. A consistent message that this law regulates businesses, not consumers could be more effective in building public support—or at least minimizing opposition. Consumers won’t even consider listening to the facts and figures until the Mayor can address their gut-level, emotional concerns.
It may be too late for a new messaging strategy to make a difference in court, but Mayor Bloomberg may still have a chance to win in the court of public opinion.
By Jenn Dahm
“There have to be compromises. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
Compromise is dead. Not just the concept. The articulation of the word “compromise” no longer resonates with the American public. No matter where people stand on the issue of sequestration (love it, leave it, don’t really know what the heck even happened), the process has left people with the sense that if you have to reach an agreement wherein all parties are satisfied, nothing will get done.
I saw this consistently talking to the general population of good ole ‘Mericans in four cities across the country just this week. People’s perceptions, and as a result how they hear your message, change fast. This is a friendly reminder to refresh your language strategy folks.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, utilities are already facing huge pressure to create smarter energy delivery and stronger infrastructure, all while keeping prices down.
But as Rahm Emmanuel famously said four years ago in the wake of the financial superstorm, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” It’s important for utilities to understand that the extreme weather last fall not only underscores the need for operational improvements, it also introduces profound implications for how utilities communicate.
This goes way beyond the concept that utilities must communicate better during storms. This is about changing the way they communicate long after power is restored and the visible work ends. It’s about a new language – a comprehensive shift in how and when utilities reach customers, the words they use, and the way they frame the conversation. It’s an opportunity that utilities should embrace.
The need for this shift stems from the fact that customers don’t value the work utilities do each day. They take it for granted because energy is by nature a behind-the-scenes business. This is an industry of engineers who solve problems and don’t boast.
When everything is running smoothly most utilities see no need to communicate. The lights go on, and customers don’t think much about how or why. But that’s changing with violent weather. Everyone thinks about their electricity when a major storm knocks it out. Everyone asks questions. And in response utilities are playing catch-up to rebuild a positive dialogue with customers.
These same customers who ask the tough questions when their power is out don’t think of all the proactive work the industry does to keep homes, schools and hospitals up and running during normal weather. This is because no one is telling them about it. Utilities need to tell that story to regain public support and boost their perceived value. And they need a new language to tell it.
So how should utilities define this new language? While each utility is unique, the new language should embrace three principals: it should be active, consistent and positive.
Active means establishing a deeper dialogue. Many utilities have started doing this through efficiency tips and tools. This type of proactive outreach must extend to the actual work utilities do every day. It must signal to customers that for utilities, the work never stops. As an example, utilities should highlight the role they’re taking in researching innovative ways to improve a community’s power supply.
In times of crisis, active means anticipating instead of responding. After a storm the papers flood with stories of customer complaints and angry mayors. And utilities mostly react. This dynamic must change to one where utilities actively push solutions and engage communities before their leaders come calling. An active position tells customers that their utility doesn’t just pop up each time a power line goes down or rates need adjustment. If nothing else, customers should know this: their utility is dedicated to helping protect the people of the towns and cities in its territory.
Consistent means a steady drumbeat. It also means a lexicon that’s understood and embraced by the entire organization.
This is critical for utilities that hope to break through the clutter. Because most regulated utilities have tight marketing budgets, they’ll never be able to reach consumers like a major marketer. So they must build a positive foundation. They must prime the conversation because when disaster strikes, customers will search the Internet for information about it, talk to their friends and family, and vent on social networks. And if a utility hasn’t laid the groundwork, the conversation will be entirely defined on customers’ terms.
To lay the foundation, all utility personnel must deliver the same message – from linemen, to customer service reps, to the CEO. It’s not easy, but it gives utilities a fighting chance.
Finally, it’s about staying positive. In the context of violent weather, positive really means focusing on the future. Utilities can’t rest on their laurels. Customers want to hear visions for the future and what a utility is doing every day to make it happen. This is tough because many times the natural gaze of a utility is backwards. Rate cases are almost always about recovery costs, based on earlier test periods. Regardless, utilities have to find future-focused messages that people can get behind and deliver.
When customers ask “what happened?” utilities must remember that they’re actually asking “what will you do about it?” And only when customers feel their utility is charting a better, more positive path to the future will they believe that utility is a competent manager of the energy they need to run their lives.
Changing utility communication habits won’t be easy. Utility executives are a heads-down, hard-working crew. But if utilities are going to continue to operate as is, change needs to occur on many fronts. One of the most essential changes, and possibly the easiest one to make, is how they communicate.
We laugh. We cry. We ridicule… Academy Award acceptance speeches can become the stuff of legend. These are the real, unscripted performances that we love to watch soar… or crumble.
How did this year’s big winners do? We looked to our team of language strategists and communication professionals to rate Sunday night’s speeches using instant response dial technology. Our experts reacted to the language and tone of each “performance” on a second-by-second basis. Now watch the good, the bad and the ugly…Pop-Up Video Style!
By Thayer Fox
US Airways and American Airlines produced a full-page ad in both the New York Times and Washington Post last Friday to help tell their story about their intent to merge. The challenge is the story that they tell in each paper is wildly different, and is meant to conjure very different reactions. In a time where consumers have more access to information than ever before and are looking for reasons to distrust companies, this divided strategy should make us stop and think. Do the benefits of a customized message outweigh the risks of appearing duplicitous? Consider the following five key differences, noted in the actual ads below:
1. The DC ad tries harder to make its case. The DC ad on the right doesn’t want you to take its word for it. It’s much more of a lobbying piece. It employs third-party validation through a series of quotes, while the NYC ad is only copy. They must think the DC audience will be more skeptical of what the airlines have to say and so they’d rather someone else tell the story for them. The fact that the quotes come BEFORE any copy in the ad only reinforces this.
2. In DC this merger is about choice somehow. The DC ad communicates the explicit benefit of “choice” while the NYC ad vaguely states that the merger “will create something greater”. They must believe that DC is difficult enough to warrant fishing for and communicating a tangible benefit instead of leaving it vague like they did in New York. And choice is certainly a benefit consumers value. But is it credible to communicate choice? The merger by definition will take one airline away, resulting in less choice.
Perhaps they believe they are speaking directly to AA frequent flyers in the DC ad, who will now have more AA choices out of a hub that was dominated by US Air. And frequent flyers of both airlines will have a larger network. But this will not create more choice for all flyers. And consumers are skeptical of mergers to begin with, because mergers take away choice. So by focusing on this benefit they at best appeal to a core audience of frequent flyers and at worst come across as phonies to everyone else.
3. The DC ad is about the lawmaker. The copy in the NYC ad communicates to the consumer. It’s about customer service, experience, and access. But the DC copy communicates to the lawmaker. It’s about more competition, jobs, and communities – all areas that are of significant concern to legislators and regulators.
The DC ad also implies that if the merger does not go through then jobs could be lost. This is a difficult message to deliver. Most audiences usually reject it as too negative. They’d rather hear how people will gain rather than be threatened by what they could lose. Yet AA handles it well, letting the reader only infer the negative. First, they deliver the positive message that the merger will deliver “a path to improved compensation and benefits and greater long-term opportunities to our employees”. And second, they offer the quote from the President of the US Airline Pilots Association that supports the merger as one that will help keep AA “financially strong”. The ad leaves us to infer that the opposite outcomes – no path to long-term employee opportunities and a financially weak American Airlines – may threaten pilot job security.
4. In DC it’s about the benefit to American. AA is emerging from bankruptcy. The benefits of this merger are clear and tangible to AA and its many employees. This is a powerful story to tell, and may be why the DC version focuses more on AA than on US Air. And notably when you read from left to right at the bottom of the ad, the AA logo comes first and the US Air logo comes second.
But the logos are in the opposite order in the NYC ad.
Perhaps they gave US Air the left side in the New York outlet because they gave AA the left in the DC outlet and they simply wanted to be fair. Perhaps they think US Airways has a better story to tell in New York. Regardless of the reason, it only hardens the appearance that these companies want readers to walk away with different interpretations of the merger depending on which outlet they are reading, and presumably which type of reader they are.
5. The NYC ad focuses on both companies equally whereas the DC ad focuses on AA. The photos help bring this to light well. The DC ad prominently features an AA jet, and leads readers to only one website: newamericanarriving.com. The NYC ad shows a ramp service operator with his two wands pointing directly at EACH company’s logo. And each company has their OWN URL dedicated to the merger.
These URLs deliver on the strategies outlined above: the American and US Air URLs on the NYC ad focus on the benefits to the consumer (like the ad copy) while the URL for the combined companies that is on the DC ad focuses on the benefits that appeal to lawmakers.
Perhaps they banked on the readership: the New York Times is liberal and the Washington Post is conservative. But this doesn’t fully account for the challenge of looking two-faced. It’s not just that consumers have more information and can spot this stuff more quickly. It’s the actual people who fly. Consider the amount of decision-makers – those who could very well have influence over this merger – who frequently take the shuttle between La Guardia and Reagan. They pick up both the New York Times and the Washington Post to read while taxiing. It’s easy to believe that seeing these two ads side by side will only raise eyebrows higher among an audience these companies are clearly hoping to appease.
It’s finally upon us. That fluffy pink and red holiday, decorated with hearts, cupids, and teddy bears. That most symbolic of days for couples everywhere. And the day that strikes fear into the hearts of those who have to face the inevitable question: what do I get my Valentine?
If you were considering a stop at Duane Reade or Target on the way home from work on Thursday, think again. Valentine’s Day shopping should not be taken lightly. That’s because each gift you give tells a story. It’s a symbol of something more. It has a hidden message and meaning which—until now—was only known to your recipient. We’re here to help. To uncover the secrets of these symbols. To decode the hidden meaning behind your gift and help you understand why some will fail, and others will soar. Because it’s not what you gift… it’s what your gift says that matters.
Step One: Identify your audience. Are you in: (a) a brand new relationship, (b) a mature, happy relationship, or (c) a rocky relationship—one that might need some extra work this Valentine’s day?
Step Two: Use the Gift Decoder to match your gift options with your target audience.
Step Three: Choose the gift option that produces the desired result.
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.
By Chris Manley
Here’s one for the face-palm archives: Subway customer Matt Crosby posts a photo of an 11-inch footlong sandwich to Subway’s facebook page. The internet does what it does: turn anything quick, easy, and funny into a worldwide meme, spurring sandwich eaters the world over to take their tape measures to Subway and post similar pictures dressed up with cartoonish internet faux-outrage. It gets picked up by some relatively well-known sites, such as HuffPo, Gawker, and Buzzfeed.
The fast food industry may get a lot of customers, but it gets no love from the media. If they’re not making America’s kids fat, they’re speaking out against gay marriage. So in the grand scheme of things, you’d hope Subway would recognize this for some pretty merciful fun at their expense and respond with something equally fun—“Free One-Inch Piece of Bread with Every Footlong! Now through February!”… etc.
Unfortunately, it looks like the fun people were out for drinks, or cupcakes and the lawyers took the call. Subway’s response (which they have since taken down, but it hardly matters):
“With regards to the size of the bread and calling it a footlong, ‘SUBWAY FOOTLONG’ is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway® Restaurants and not intended to be a measurement of length. The length of the bread baked in the restaurant cannot be assured each time as the proofing process may vary slightly each time in the restaurant.”
We see this kind of knee-jerk response from companies all the time. “They have a problem with us! They’re making FUN of us! Quick, get the law guns!” It’s usually the absolutely wrong thing to do, and it was here, for Subway. By calling out “footlong” as a trademarked phrase they’re giving it more weight and importance, not less. Hell, they even capitalized it—the typographical equivalent of neon lights. The next sentence goes on to focus on what they can’t do: assure length of something that has a name that references specific length.
Here, for free, out of the goodness of my heart, are three alternate responses. Would the lawyers like them? Probably not. But they respond in a tone that fits the problem, and focus on the things people like about Subway, instead of on what Subway can’t do.
“It’s not the size of the sandwich that counts, it’s how you use it.”
“Given the choice between bread that’s baked fresh in our restaurants every day, and bread that’s all mechanically accurate, we opt for the former.”
“We promise to cram 2 feet of flavor into a foot of bread. Sometimes we do even better. You’re welcome.”
You’re welcome, Subway.
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.
Michael Maslansky joins FOX Business, Money with Melissa Francis, to discuss the effectiveness of Coca-Cola’s recent health campaign targeting obesity.
What’s in a name? Sometimes everything.
Take the so-called “fiscal cliff.” The name attached to the issue is conjuring the wrong kind of discussion. Each day, as we move closer to the January 1 deadline, the headlines and sound bites continue to signal catastrophe. From cataclysmic spending cuts to massive tax increases to nightmarish economic scenarios, the language couldn’t be more fatalistic.
And now that President Obama is back in town and Speaker Boehner lies in wait in Ohio, the fear is that Washington will become captive to its own language. Some commentators have pointed out the term “fiscal cliff,” popularized by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, might be obscuring what’s at stake. Very few, however, have noted that the name itself actually makes reaching a deal more difficult. The fact is this extreme rhetoric makes it nearly impossible to take a sober assessment of the situation and only serves to turn off an already disillusioned public.
Advocates of compromise on both sides of the aisle can do better. In fact, they would do well to re-brand the current debate in a way that opens dialogue and public engagement, not shuts it down. We recommend talking about the country facing a “fiscal reset” if compromise isn’t reached.
First, this term is more accurate. While failing to reach compromise will have a negative impact on credit ratings and the economic strength of public programs, the impact would neither be as catastrophic or permanent as the cliff imagery suggestions. With a reset, there are serious, negative consequences: You have to start over. But there are also opportunities: You get to start over. See what a difference one word makes?
But this goes beyond accuracy. Labeling the current debate a “fiscal reset” could actually be productive. It would set up the issues facing lawmakers in a way that acknowledges the need for change and starts us on the road to compromise. Instead of focusing on what’s as stake if we fail to come to some agreement on what to do, we could focus on the positive – the reset – that is in order to strengthen the country’s economic position.
Changing the language around the issue wouldn’t alter the automatic cuts or tax increases that would kick in if a compromise isn’t reached. But it would rewrite the usual Washington script in a way that’s far more amenable to actual conversation. And, by making the issues at hand less fatal it would help draw in the public.
By positioning the situation as a reset, we could now look at the three main policy areas through a very different lens.
1) Taxes. Many Americans believe it’s time for Congress and the administration to hit the reset button when it comes to the US tax code. But lawmakers seem firmly locked into their positions. And the idea that we’re running off a cliff hasn’t changed that. Now imagine if we were talking about the terms of a reset. No doubt there’d continue to be widely divergent views and the desire to dig in heels, but both sides would be entering the discussion having first acknowledged the need to reset things.
2) Entitlements. Whatever you may think of entitlement programs for the old and poor the math no longer works out. There are simply too few workers to support the growing number of retirees, let alone the rest of the government benefits. So what to do about it? While the principals are embroiled in negations on the particulars, average Americans have their voices reduced to a yes or no: do you support entitlements that are going to drive us over the edge or not? Switching an entitlement cliff for an entitlement reset changes the conversation.
3) Defense spending. As many defense analysts have pointed out, our current military is structured based on plans and decisions made decades ago in a wildly different world. It may now be time to have a debate about whether the structure—let along that level—of spending makes sense. we’re trying to avoid the need for the discussion. A reset implies an opportunity to have it. By changing the way we talk about the automatic spending cuts we could setup a situation where those conversations could more readily take place.
As the New Year approaches, a legitimate worry is that policy makers will now produce a “least of” short-term plan that narrowly averts the “crisis.” By reframing this whole debate around the need to “readjust” and “recalibrate,” we can get rid of the finger pointing and childish games. Rather than jumping off a cliff, our leaders would be forced to reset our national agenda and finally attend to the people’s business.
…..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?
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.
I was headed out to the Apple Store last weekend to buy a new iPhone 5 when I heard a big box electronics retailer was offering $50 off on all smartphones. I decided to change course. Big mistake.
Unfortunately, a deceptively long line combined with rude customer service reps left me vowing to never shop there again.
I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will share with you some of what our work – and personal experience – has taught us about how NOT to treat your customers.
Basically, don’t be rude. But also keep in mind that just directing a customer to a line can sound dismissive and condescending. No one likes to wait, but I will appreciate if you let me know you sympathize and give me an estimate of how long it will be, especially if the line appears shorter than it really is.
Not surprisingly, turning customers away isn’t a great business decision. When a customer walks into your store, you should do whatever you can to help them. If you can’t pull more resources to shorten the line and a customer isn’t interested in waiting, point them to specific, alternative options.
No matter how dumb a customer might seem, don’t belittle them to a fellow employee or another customer. It just looks bad. In fact, never let a customer hear you talking about another customer.
Don’t shoo the customer away while he or she is packing up, even if there’s a line of people waiting. It may sound cliché, but if everyone else says “thank you” and you don’t, the message you’re sending to customers is “we don’t appreciate your business.”
The bottom line: with stores more crowded than ever holiday season, consumers can choose to make their purchases at any number of retailers. You can have a winning marketing campaign and great prices… but if your employee’s don’t communicate in a way that demonstrates they value your customers, you better believe they’ll take their business elsewhere.
It’s that time of year, and after last year’s Language Moments of 2011, the bar has been raised again. From “Malarkey” to “Binders full of women” – this has been a great year for golden language moments.
Here is our take on the good, the bad, and the ugly language used in 2012 – with highly non-scientific reactions from the right and the left. Positive scores are good. Negative scores are bad.
Let us know which words you liked, which you didn’t, and if there were any we missed. Enjoy!
By Katie Cronen
While attempting to sort out a hotel reservation over the phone, I recently spent a fair amount of time on hold, that special brand of waiting room. As the first robot operator I “spoke to” funneled me into a new holding pattern, somewhere amidst the din of soft rock that began playing I realized many companies could probably benefit from a little language strategy in this department.
Even if your lines are swamped and your customer is destined to wait upwards of 10 minutes to speak to a “live representative,” I think there are a few language dos and don’ts that can make the difference between a customer who’s annoyed, but patient and one who hangs up in a huff before dialing your competitor.
When I first call…
When I’m on hold…
When someone finally does pick up…
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:
“Just issue an official sounding and completely nonsensical statement and stun your audience into confused silence…” – Communications Advisor
“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*
It recently emerged that PSY, the South Korean pop-star of Gangnam Style-fame, took part in an anti-American rally in Korea in 2004 where he sang some downright awful things about killing “Yankees.”
Leaving aside our personal feelings on these odious comments, PSY and his handlers faced a serious reputational hurdle. How’d they respond? In short, very well. The below statement seems genuinely personal and apologetic. It also put the statements in context without seeming to try to downplay the response.
We (reluctantly) tip our hat.
“As a proud South Korean who was educated in the United States and lived there for a very significant part of my life, I understand the sacrifices American servicemen and women have made to protect freedom and democracy in my country and around the world. The song I featured on in question from eight years ago—was part of a deeply emotional reaction to the war in Iraq and the killing of two Korean schoolgirls that was part of the overall antiwar sentiment shared by others around the world at that time. While I’m grateful for the freedom to express one’s self, I’ve learned there are limits to what language is appropriate and I’m deeply sorry for how these lyrics could be interpreted. I will forever be sorry for any pain I have caused by those words.
I have been honored to perform in front of American soldiers in recent months—including an appearance on the Jay Leno show specifically for them—and I hope they and all Americans can accept my apology. While it’s important that we express our opinions, I deeply regret the inflammatory and inappropriate language I used to do so. In my music, I try to give people a release, a reason to smile. I have learned that thru music, our universal language we can all come together as a culture of humanity and I hope that you will accept my apology.”
The holiday season is upon us, and that often means an inundation of invitations to holiday parties. In the case of some, you may just not have the time in your schedule to attend. You may just need a night off to put your feet up and work on your online Christmas shopping. You may have seen that the invitation list comes replete with those guys who sidle up to you every year with a grin and a sprig of mistletoe.
As professional language strategists, we decided to share our recommendations for politely declining an invitation, based on our four principles of credible communication:
Be Personal: Pick up the phone if you can, or at least send a brief explanatory message instead of just checking “no” on an e-vite RSVP. The personal touch goes a long way to making the host feel that their invitation was carefully considered and regretfully declined.
Be Plainspoken: As soon as you know you’re going to decline the invitation, get to the point and make a clean break of it. “I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make it…” is always a good start. Don’t leave the host with a wishy-washy “maybe.” That means you’re waiting for a better offer, and they know it.
Be Plausible: Honesty is always the best policy. If you have a prior commitment, just say so. But if you have to make up an excuse, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t say you’re bedridden with pneumonia when “I’m getting over a cold” will do. That way, when incriminating Facebook photos emerge of you knocking back eggnog at another bash, you can at least be somewhat convincing when you claim you suddenly felt better.
Be Positive: Find a way to end on an upbeat note. Maybe suggest another time that you and the party’s host could meet up – but only if you genuinely want to, lest you find yourself consulting these invitation-declining tips again a few weeks down the line. Otherwise, you can say something complimentary about how much fun you’re sure you’ll be missing out on, or how you wish you could be there to sample their famous fruitcake.
By Jenni Gilbert Adjali, resident ml+p shopaholic
Ah, Cyber Monday. The online shopping event of the year. It’s the Superbowl. The Oscars. The World Series. It’s what we’ve all been training…err… saving for.
This year more companies tried to get in on the cyber sales game, jostling for position in our inboxes with more outrageous offers than ever before. Many used the tried and tested language of sales, while others branched out into new, unexplored territory. But when all was said and done, who won the Cyber Monday Messaging battle? We broke down our picks and pans into three categories: the Challengers, the Marketing Gamers, and the Left Fielders.
The Challengers. The companies who encouraged the shopaholic in all of us. Those who pushed us to our shopping limits, demanding that we be available at all hours for “flash sales” and “lightning deals”. These are the communicators that instilled a true sense of urgency, bringing to life what Cyber Monday is all about: being one of the lucky few to get the best darn deal on the internet. Some of our favorites:
Marketing Gamers. These companies had a sale on Cyber Monday, but they didn’t have a Cyber Monday sale. They walked the walk—sales and deals galore—but they didn’t talk the talk. They played marketing games but didn’t use language that appealed to the urgent essence of Cyber Monday. They appealed to us, but they didn’t stand out from the crowd because their communication was underwhelming or caused Expectation Gap (created when language overpromises and a product—or sale, in this case—underdelivers). Some disappointments:
Although the main event is over, the deals keep rolling in. Companies continue to ply us with “Cyber Week” offers and extensions of Monday’s promotions. But those of us that play the game aren’t deterred. After all, this is just practice… and next Cyber Monday is only 362 days away.
By Jenn Dahm
Patagonia certainly managed to stand out from other Cyber Monday ads by asking customers NOT to buy their top selling jacket. Their email manifesto reads as follows:
As a professional language strategist with years of market research experience, I would give Patagonia one simple piece of communication advice: cut the crap. If you’re serious about saving the earth, don’t rely on self-righteous, reverse psychology. Do something. Pull the jacket off virtual shelves for Cyber Monday. Sell it, but for a higher price and use the money to offset the environmental costs. Donate a portion of profits to an environmental charity.
Your mother was right, “actions speak louder than words.” Patagonia’s lofty rhetoric denouncing “our culture of consumption” doesn’t match the reality that it’s still cashing in on Cyber Monday.
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.
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.
Michael Maslansky presented to Oticon’s 5th International Conference in Copenhagen earlier this year.
Michael laid out a practical approach to using the Language of Trust to effectively address some of the toughest questions hearing care patients face, and manage some of the hearing care industry’s most common and difficult communication challenges.
The video of Michael’s address can be seen here.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, email inboxes all over the East Coast have been overwhelmed by businesses, organizations, and local authorities looking to “get it right” with their disaster communication. Customers are having fees waived and getting their commutes strategized. Businesses are reaching out to help the communities where they operate. All in all, there’s a lot of care and concern coming from all directions.
But that begs the question: What do customers want to hear in the wake of a disaster like this?
When it comes to the businesses and organizations they interact with every day, some play a bigger part in people’s lives than others. Those affected expect one thing from their favorite online clothing retailers, and something else from companies that provide cold, hard necessities like transit authorities or the power company. It stands to reason that for the former, customers want a little more compassion and love in the way they frame their communication ….from the latter: a few more answers.
Who needed to communicate with facts
With city services, customers want to hear accurate information in a timely manner. There is no relationship to be nurtured, no personalized notes—just straightforward information for the commuter who wanted to know if he’d be able to get to work on Monday, and maybe have a hot shower on the way.
MTA: They concentrated on letting commuters know exactly when they would be able to travel on various lines. Their communications were to the point. Just the facts. No fluff.
“It’s my goal that every day, we’re going to bring back more and more service. We will be having service into Penn Station on the Main Line, the Ronkonkoma Line, we also have service continuing from Brooklyn to Jamaica as well. And finally, on the Port Washington Line, we’re going to have service from Great Neck into Penn Station” – MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota
How did they do: They gave the customers exactly what they wanted: the facts, in bucket-loads, leading the media to describe their efforts as “heroic”. The MTA message reads as a checklist of improving services. Where vague assertions were made, such as “It’s my goal…to bring back more and more service”, these were followed by evidence that made them seem credible.
ConEd: Assured customers they were working tirelessly, tried to manage expectations, and attempted to give accurate timing on when power would be restored.
“Con Edison today will begin the process of restoring power to mid- and Lower Manhattan following repairs to its East 14th Street substation. We will continue working through the weekend reinforcing our underground systems and repowering critical transmission lines needed for reliability.” – Con Edison Statement
How did they do: No matter how much information you give, when it comes to one of the necessities of modern life it is never enough. Framing doesn’t help either. Customers really don’t care that you are “working through the weekend” when they are sitting in darkness. Even though Con Ed tried to limit expectations as early as possible, telling customers in areas with overhead lines that restoration of power “could take at least a week”, this didn’t stop them being roundly slammed by the media for their tardiness. NY Governor Cuomo summed these towering expectations up on Monday, saying that “people should be getting information… I think that utility companies have not performed adequately”.
Who needed to communicate with compassion
Retailers and service providers play a much bigger role in the personal side of people’s lives. People chose to have a relationship with these companies—to buy their shoes from them or to insure their homes and cars through them. Now, they’re in this together. Customers expect a more personalized approach to what is, at its core, a very personal situation.
Birchbox: A subscription based grooming products company gave customers more than the very standard “our shipping will be delayed” email.
“We are so thankful to have you as a customer and look forward to getting back up and running so we can deliver on our service promise to you.” – Birchbox Customer Team
How did they do: Birchbox, might have pushed the envelope of credibility by writing to every one of their customers telling them how thankful they were to have them, but this was balanced by a strong and successful human tone to their messaging. When they went on to say that staffers who were able were “working from home” to continue to provide service throughout the blackout, they made their business personal.
Geico: Many feel like insurance companies are always looking for ways to avoid payouts, or drag out claims. Geico got an early jump on this natural disaster.
“We realize our most important responsibility to our policyholders following a loss is to ensure the claim settlement process is quick and easy. We are busy preparing to do just that; teams of GEICO claim adjusters have deployed along the projected storm path, and they will remain in affected areas until they have resolved every hurricane-related claim.” – Tony Nicely, Geico Chairman
How did they do: By letting customers know they were ready and waiting to go above and beyond in helping submit their claims, they positioned themselves as a company to rely on. They had already taken actions to make the lives of those affected easier—even before the storm hit. While all insurance companies could have been taking similar actions, talking about it made all the difference. They had every customers’ back, and they let them know it.
JetBlue: Not only did the airline assure customers how much they personally felt for those affected, they brought the message back home by letting them know JetBlue was caring for their employees first.
“Our hearts go out to the millions affected by this far-reaching devastation…Within JetBlue, we are supporting the crewmembers who have lost everything through our own internal fund first, in order to keep the public funds dedicated to our communities at large.” – Dave Barger, JetBlue President and CEO
How did they do: JetBlue opened with a line so emotive it might have made customers’ skeptic nerve twitch–and in any other situation it would likely be seen as “too much”. But here, it works. When they say they will divert funds to look after their own team members, people hear, “We’re a responsible and caring company doing the right thing.”
In a Natural Disaster like Hurricane Sandy, the kind of service you deliver and the types of products you provide help dictate how you should communicate. Retailers and businesses in crowded marketplaces—those who must actively compete for customer loyalty—need to reinforce their relationships with those customers. On the other hand, companies and organizations providing commodities are expected to provide answers and information quickly, efficiently, and frequently, because there’s nothing worse than being left in the dark.
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.
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.
The words we use matter. They can help re-frame issues and change debates. Whether it’s changing discussions about global warming to those about climate change. Talking about a death tax instead of an estate tax. Or promoting stronger environmental standards instead of increased government regulation. Language plays a critical role in how we all perceive issues and form opinions.
Given this, we’ve been watching with particular interest the efforts of immigrant rights groups to get the Associated Press and others to end the use of the term “illegal immigrants” in their reporting.
The activists behind the “Drop the I-Word” campaign argue the phrase is “legally inaccurate,” “politically loaded” and “dehumanizing [to] the people it is used to describe. Perhaps more to the point, they claim its use has helped deny the country a “truthful, respectful debate on immigration.”
The AP, the New York Times and others have been, to date, unmoved. They explain that the term just calls these immigrants what they are: people who are here illegally. (As the Times’ Public Editor Margaret Sullivan explained, the term “gets its job done.”) They’ve also pointed out that the proposed alternatives, such as “undocumented immigrants” or “unauthorized immigrants,” confuse rather than clarify the issue. They’re trying to cast themselves in a role we often ask the media to play: that of neutral observer.
The trouble is, this isn’t honest. When it comes to such a politically charged issue, there are no neutral terms. The way we talk about a contentious issue implies a choice. To make editorial decisions about words is to agree to focus the debate here instead of there.
Determining what words to use requires balancing multiple factors. One of those factors is most certainly accuracy, but another has to be considering the associations and triggers that a particular word or phrase carries. Because all words are emotional triggers. In a debate like this, even words chosen to carefully avoid the legal question would anger those who want this to be a legal issue.
Rightfully or wrongly the term “illegal immigrant” carries considerable rhetorical baggage. It’s closely connected to coarser terms like “illegals” and “illegal aliens,” both of which the AP and the New York Times have stressed they will not use. It focuses the debate on individuals’ status as lawbreakers. Using the term “undocumented workers” would focus the debate on their status as having not completed paperwork. “Unauthorized workers” would frame this as a government allowance issue. All carry very specific implications, which organizations and individuals must choose among.
None of this means the term shouldn’t be used – the baggage it carries is only one factor that has to be weighed against others. But it does mean that these publications have an obligation to consider and explain, fully, why they decided to keep using it. Accuracy alone dodges the central question.
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.
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?
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.
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.
by Chris Manley
I like commerce as much as the next guy. Big fan of the economy. I’ve even been known to stop some poor kid from embarrassing his future self by lecturing his friends and relatives on the 5 pages of Marx or Nietzsche he just discovered in his freshman survey class (“The thing is, Scooter, a lot of people have actually thought about this before…”). But even I have never contemplated the kind of brass-balls free-market defense the Association of National Advertisers did on October 1st, when they declared that tracking your browsing history so they can better sell you cars, soda, and insurance was a form of – wait for it – consumer protection.
Somewhere in a cell, Bernie Madoff is slapping his thigh, saying, “Damn, that’s bold.”
The ANA’s open letter to Microsoft comes in response to Microsoft’s plans to make a “Do Not Track” option the default setting on their upcoming Internet Explorer 10 browser. The “DNT” option would tell web sites that your computer does not want to be tracked by cookies—and so, theoretically, you shouldn’t receive targeted ads. (In reality, almost no web sites actually care about the DNT request. They just track you anyway.)
That an advertising association would fight efforts to handicap marketers is hardly surprising. What is surprising, to me at least, is their preposterous argument that tracking people’s every online move is somehow a principled stand for what consumers want.
“We believe that if Microsoft moves forward with this default setting, it will undercut the effectiveness of our members’ advertising and, as a result, drastically damage the online experience by reducing the Internet content and offerings that such advertising supports. This result will harm consumers, hurt competition, and undermine American innovation and leadership in the Internet economy.”
Working at a firm that specializes in using language that resonates with people, I guess I can see what they’re going for here. People like Internet, they don’t want to be harmed, they like competition, and everyone goes bananas for innovation.
The trouble is, stringing all these positive words together kind of ignores that consumers see tracking their online activity as something that’s good for marketers at their own expense. At best they think of it as creepy or annoying to see the Ford whose gas mileage numbers you checked to win a bet follow you around the internet like the Jim Carey character in The Cable Guy. At worst they think it’s a total violation of privacy.
Telling consumers that it’s for their benefit is sort of like breaking up with someone while patting him on the head, telling him it’s for his own good. Even if you really, really seriously mean it, it’s just not believable. Ever.
Microsoft, for its part, called the move “an important step in the process of establishing privacy by default, putting consumers in control and building trust online.” This shows a much better effort to listen to what consumers are saying about the issue. And it has a far greater likelihood of being believable.
The ANA, of course, has every right to argue its case in the court of public opinion. But framing what consumers view as an invasion of privacy as consumer protection is unlikely to win anyone over.
a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff
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.
by Thayer Fox
As most people have heard by now a video recently surfaced showing Mitt Romney giving his pitch to donors. In it he talked about the 47% of Americans that he says are “dependent upon government… [and] believe that they are victims.” Of this group he said, “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
This statement was insensitive. It was insulting. And it was tailored to appeal to his immediate audience.
If this is indeed the message wealthy Republican donors want to hear from him – and that’s up for debate – then he achieved an important goal – he delivered a relevant and appealing message to an important constituency.
But in the process Mr. Romney also turned off a much larger, and arguably more important audience: average Americans.
As marketers there are lessons in Romney’s missteps beyond just, don’t say stupid things. His error provides real insight into the ways candidates, and companies, should approach message segmentation.
The first lesson is the most obvious: don’t deliver a message to one customer segment that will insult another, no matter how relevant or appealing it may be. It will invariably come back to bite you.
The second is more complex and points to the need for more nuanced strategies for message segmentation. Segmentation is not just about delivering your audience what they want to hear. The various segments in your audience are going to want to hear different things – sometimes wildly different. That doesn’t mean you should simply give them those messages. Instead, effective message segmentation is about marrying what your audience wants to hear with who you are as a brand and what you are willing and want to say.
So pretend for a moment that, for simplicity’s sake, your brand has three key messages you want to deliver. Romney’s gaff suggests that each segment should NOT get its own unique message. Instead each segment should get some variation of all three messages, where each message is amplified or dampened based on the segment’s preference.
Think of your messages as levers on dashboards, and each segment gets its own dashboard:
In this approach each segment gets one message and not the other two, which can lead you in to trouble. Instead consider a more nuanced approach:
This approach is more intricate and involves deeper thought about how to pack three messages in the space where one once lived. But doing so will help drive consistent messaging that achieves your objectives while safeguarding you from contradiction.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once quipped that while we’re all entitled to our own opinions, we are not all entitled to our own facts. Well, things have changed.
“Facts” and “the truth” have gotten a lot of media exercise of late, as a slew of political ads and speeches have been outed as inaccurate. Jon Stewart and Tom Brokaw mused last night on whether it was the internet’s fault, or the press’ for not policing things. The New Yorker’s John Cassidy took a longer view, calling dickeying with political factoids “as American as baseball.” Marathoners nationwide are up in arms.
But that this rhetoric should contain falsehoods is nothing new. What has changed is our relationship to facts—how we receive and process and weigh them against what we already know.
For all its democratization of information, the digital age has created fact-inflation. We’re more likely to demand facts, and far more likely to feel empowered to discount the ones we don’t like in favor of those we do. We’ve entered an era where facts are discussed more than ever, but somehow carry less weight than at any time since the dark ages.
The growth of the Web and the democratization of all the devices on which we use it have triggered a vast, sprawling universe of voices that we read and listen to constantly. The ability of “the Media” to filter and mediate the best points of view is gone. We simultaneously love and loathe this, and it’s given us a strange two-sided problem: because information is so readily available, we feel more compelled than ever to demand facts.
But like any valuable resource, the sudden commodification of facts has also devalued them. Anyone with a computer can find competing facts in seconds. Facts are, in a word, cheap. So while we’re more likely—and more able—to cry foul when we don’t like what we’re seeing, we’re also comfortable ignoring facts we don’t agree with and discounting the importance of our preferred side being caught lying.
We see this all the time in our work researching the effectiveness of corporate, policy, and political rhetoric. An agricultural client comes to us wondering why they’re losing market share to organics. They have reams of research showing their products are just as good. They have a recent Stanford study saying organic meat and produce is no more nutritious and no less likely to contain e. coli than regular produce. But all their facts don’t seem to matter.
When they present their side of things to customers, here’s what people say:
“This doesn’t matter.”
“Your data was bought in corrupt studies.”
“Next week another study will say something else.”
“Ok, well, I’ve read different.”
And so on.
We’ve always been more likely to make decisions based on our existing worldview than the facts. But the digital age and fact-commodification have just brought this problem into uncomfortably bright light. Which is why this election seems to be the lie-iest ever. And the most frustrating for the fact-cultists among us.
a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff
In a world capable of facebook targeting, sophisticated segmentation studies, and something called “narrowcasting,” communicators and marketers are starting to wear out a lot of carpet pacing back and forth, wondering how exactly they’re supposed to use all this new data they’re collecting. A client recently wondered aloud, “Ok, but do we need a different message for rural moms in the Plains states?” She was not kidding. Much sleep being lost over those Kansas agri-moms, apparently.
Though it plays out in more finely-cut demographics today, the idea that we need to craft different messages for different audiences isn’t a new one. For example, we have a rich history of advertising stupidly—I mean, um, differently—to women. The theory being (kind of reductive here, but it’s a blog, so) “if men and women are different, they must want different kinds of appeals.” The trouble is, attempts to make ads more appealing to women often default to some, well, let’s say assumptions that may or may not be grounded in reality. So we decided to take a look at six campaign ads with a range of appeals traditionally viewed as more appealing to men and women, and see how women’s gut-level, moment-to-moment responses differed from men’s.
What we found will…
…(If you’re a man) really surprise you!
…(If you’re a woman) be frustratingly obvious, but at least someone is writing it down! read more
a maslansky luntz + partners initiative in collaboration with the Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group and SquareOff
This was supposed to be an election about the economy, but Paul Ryan’s entrance into the race changed all that. When Mitt Romney named his running mate, new issues shifted to the forefront of the national debate, most notably Medicare.
In recent weeks Democrats have been taking to the airwaves to attack Republicans for their plans to turn it into a voucher system, while Republicans have continued fighting back claiming Obamacare has taken away Medicare’s funding. And for Republicans, it’s clear they want to make this issue a focus of the campaign: so far, Medicare’s been mentioned 18 times in speeches at the Convention in Tampa, most notably by Ryan, who, to great booing, related how Obamacare “needed hundreds of billions more. So they just took it all away from Medicare.”
As candidates scramble to paint their opponents as the bigger threat to Medicare’s future our firm, maslansky luntz + partners, researched whose arguments are resonating with voters and whose are falling flat.
To do this we tested six 30-second campaign ads on the subject with over 226 Republican, Democrat, and Independent voters from across the country. What we found might be sobering for the campaigns.
Republicans: The bottom line is don’t take it too far. They can get credit for trying to protect Medicare in something like its current state – which is pretty impressive considering their current proposals – but arguing too long and hard about this may erase those gains quickly.
Democrats; The takeaway is that opposition ads shouldn’t be laughed off. Voters don’t understand the issue well enough. And with an emotionally charged issue like Medicare, any perceived change will evoke negative reaction. As for their ads, narrow and straightforward attacks on the Republican’s proposed plans for Medicare, as laid out in the Ryan budget, seems to be the best approach.
Everyone wants to save Medicare.
They don’t call it one of the ‘third rails of American politics’ for nothing. Voters see it as a vital program and react positively to any language that promises to protect or secure it. Regardless of party affiliation, people want Medicare protected for today’s seniors, and for future generations.
In one of the ads we tested Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) focused narrowly on the need to save the program to help people like his father, a veteran. Rigell made no mention of Obama, or any political party, instead laying out his own position on protecting Medicare. It was simple, straightforward and to the point. Not surprisingly voters from across the political spectrum reacted positively.
‘We’ve earned it.’
The most powerful articulation about why Medicare should be protected was also popular across party lines. Whether uttered by a Republican or a Democrat, everyone reacted well to the idea that we need to save Medicare and Social Security “because people have earned it.”
Connecting this so-called entitlement program, something liberals have traditionally supported, to the idea that individuals should be rewarded for their hard work and sacrifice, a more traditionally conservative line of argument, makes the message appeal to a wide swath of voters. As many conservative respondents said in reaction to this line of argument, “These are not entitlements, people pay into these and should get back what they paid into.”
At the convention, Paul Ryan and others have continued beating this drum. “An obligation we all have to our parents and grandparents,” Ryan warned, “is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for.”
The strongest arguments are the most straightforward.
Voters want to see this program protected, and getting them to think your opponent has other ideas doesn’t take much more than saying so. In fact, more complex arguments were less successful.
For instance, several of the Democratic ads tried to connect Republicans’ supposed desire to weaken Medicare to their goal of passing tax cuts for the wealthy. But the argument didn’t land well with voters.
While both Democrats and Independents seem to agree “tax cuts for millionaires” are bad, it’s unclear exactly how that connects to entitlement programs. And given the limits of a 30-second spot, campaigns could not sufficiently explain the connection. The result is a confused audience, not what the ad makers were going for.
Republicans ran into a similar problem. Ad testing indicates the argument that Obamacare has forced cuts to Medicare does seem to have legs, especially with the base. That said, voters were again easily confused by the logic.
Two of the ads we tested took a very hard line that the Affordable Care Act “cut Medicare. Why? To pay for Obamacare.”
The message worked with the party’s base, but moderates and Independents generally didn’t identify with this message. These groups reacted negatively to the idea of cutting Medicare, but when they got to the explanation as to “why,” they started to doubt it.
For many voters it just doesn’t sound believable. Republicans have invested significant time and money trying to convince Americans that Obamacare is all about giving government healthcare away for free. Suggesting that suddenly Obamacare is the reason people are not going to be able to get Medicare didn’t make sense.
Taken together, it seems that voters want to hear two things from candidates when it comes to Medicare: you’ve earned it, and that’s why I’m going to protect it. Remember Kelly Johnson’s famous acronym KISS: keep it simple and straightforward. Well, it works. The more complicated the issue, the more simple and straightforward the message has to be.
TV ads for testing were provided by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Below are links to the ads we tested:
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. read more
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
Michael Maslansky appears on Fox Business’s Cavuto show with Liz MacDonald as the host of the day. The two discuss Apple vs. Samsung, the battle of the smartphone, and the $2.5 billion lawsuit.
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. read more
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:
Now with more dialogue!
Chris: 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. read more
In an election season set to shatter records for television advertising the ad battle is likely to play an outsized role in determining which party controls congress and occupies the White House.
Over the course of the next several months we’ll be testing some of the most talked about, most controversial, and most powerful political advertisements with hundreds of American voters. We’ll be talking to Democrats, Republicans and the all-important swing voters.
Our goal? As the campaigns seek to frame, blame and call each other names, we want to understand what messages and attacks stick and why. We want to not only understand what messages are resonating with the American people, but to help give you an inside track on who is likely to control power come November.
By using our proprietary Instant Response technology, we’ll get to hear from them what they think are the most compelling, persuasive and credible messages being delivered by the campaigns and their supporters.
What follows is a detailed breakdown of what we heard during our first week of testing.
To start things off we choose test both TV and web advertisements from both of the major presidential campaigns on an issue central to the race: the economy. What we heard was fascinating.
presidential attack ads: part 1
We tested three current ads attacking President Obama and three that attack Governor Romney. The attacks were selected from recent ad flights from around the country and each reflects a prominent theme of their opponent’s efforts to frame their campaign. read more
I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area for five years, and this past weekend was one of the worst. Even 2010’s Snowmaggedon didn’t cut our power. And when it’s 99 degrees, air conditioning feels a lot more like a necessity than a luxury.
We’ve worked with utilities facing issues just like this one over the years, and the same communication challenges keep cropping up. Customers don’t get angry at utilities because the lights went out. They get angry because they feel helpless and uninformed about when the lights are going to come back on. And that goes double in the age of social media: consumers expectinstant, clear communication – and when they don’t get it, frustration mounts.
My utility – Dominion Power in Virginia – was actively involved online and especially on social media throughout last weekend’s Derecho storm and subsequent outage. In many ways, their communication efforts were spot on. But in some cases, their tweets and Facebook messages left me scratching my head. First, the bad:
Dominion Virginia Power @DomVAPower
We also want to share with all of you some of our restoration challenges. We aren’t making excuses, just trying to provide answers to some of your questions.
Unlike a hurricane, this storm could not be forecasted well ahead of time by the National Weather Service. When we plan for hurricanes we have time to secure and position people and supplies. We couldn’t do that with this storm.
If you have to preface it with “we aren’t making excuses,” it’s an excuse. Period. Who cares if the storm wasn’t predicted ahead of time? It’s your job to be prepared. You didn’t do your job, and now my refrigerator can’t keep my food fresh.
Dominion VA Power @DomVAPower
by Larry Moscow
I am not a prude. Even if I wanted to be, as the parent of 3 spirited teens, prudishness is not really a viable option. Quite the opposite, I’m a pretty open-minded, probably overly permissive parent. I’ve been known to take the lead in facilitating some questionable family pop culture activities (think Hangover I, II and Bridesmaids). But when it comes to language usage, the line has to be drawn somewhere. At first my wife and I tried to police use of the B-word. However that particular noun is so ubiquitous in music, TV and everywhere else that most people born after 1990 are probably unaware of its slightly forbidden past. So now when my 16 year old daughter and her friends blithely refer to one another as B’s… we just grin and bear it. But the F-word. That’s another whole story and definitely where I’ve tried to assert the power of my parental line drawing, as feeble as it may be. Use it my presence, and at the very least laptops, smart phones, iPods and other can’t-possibly-live-without items are immediately confiscated.
When I’m not at home policing language— I do have a day job—message research and the very precise and strategic use of words and language. Words matter – they’re my livelihood, and so is public policy. So what to make of the reaction to the Supreme Court’s monumental ruling this week on Health Care? I’m not talking about the politics, policy or even the law; I’m talking about the coarseness of the language used by the victors.
Just take a look at the items below –one from the head of the DNC the other from the Obama Reelection Campaign — and tell me, when did official Washington adopt the lexicon of a smut-talking 16 year old? Suffice it to say that if candidates for class president in high schools around the country adopted such language, suspension, or at least detention would probably be a part of their future.
Have I evolved (devolved) from permissive parent to political prude?
(Tweet by Executive Director of the Democratic National Committee after the healthcare bill passed)
(T-shirt for sale at store.barackobama.com)
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
• 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. read more
Michael Maslansky joins Democratic strategist Basil Smikle on the Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer to discuss Obama and Romney’s reactions to the immigration policy, what policies are going to be most important for the upcoming presidential election, and actions the candidates may take in order to stay competitive.
On June 13th we tested energy policy messages from Democratic President Barack Obama and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney with an even mix of Republican and Democrat voters.
In the world of business, few leaders are held in higher esteem than JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon. As the CEO of one of the largest banks in an industry that is generally reviled Dimon has come to be seen as a white knight. Not only is he the leader of one of the only large financial institutions to not report a loss through the recent economic crisis, but his forthright communication and leadership style has been held up as a model of how leaders should both communicate and act.
Given this it was with particular interest that we turned our attention to Dimon’s testimony last week before the Senate Banking Committee to explain a recent trading loss of $2 billion dollars.
As a research-driven communication strategy firm we’ve found that Americans need to hear very specific things from leaders in Dimon’s position. We call it the Language of Leadership and we’ve seen how following or ignoring its core principals have produced radically different reactions for communicators.
His testimony was very well-received with both the media and financial pundits, but we wanted to see how Dimon delivered on the Language of Leaders with average Americans. So we tested portions of his testimony using our proprietary Instant Response dial technology with a group of Americans including both Democrats and Republicans .
How did he do? Well, the reviews were mixed. read more
by Chris Manley
The soda industry is abuzz (there’s a Simpson’s joke in there somewhere) since May 31st, when, as The Economist joked, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg “channeled his inner action hero” and announced a ban on sugary-drinks-not-made-with-milk-or-alcohol–larger-than-16oz-as-long-as-they’re-not-sold-in-grocery-stores. If the ban sounds confusingly specific, it is. Which makes Bloomberg’s action-hero explanation even more ironic: “New York is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something. I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”
You’d think this would be relatively easy for a large, well-funded union of megacorporation superfriends to fight. Especially one that has, lately, taken decent steps to improve its reputation. Before the ban was announced, the American Beverage Association (a trade group representing, visually at least, Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and, inexplicably, Sunny Delight) began running an ad that does a reasonably good job of explaining that they offer “more choices and smaller portions with fewer calories.”
Here, the message is just about all anyone wants or expects from an industry that sells carbonated sugar. Only a zealous few in the Bay Area are awaiting the release of Coke III, Now with Wheatgrass! Just put the ability to choose an 8oz can instead of a 24oz SupaChugga in people’s hands, and they’ll be satisfied.
Unfortunately, Bloomberg’s opponents seem to have chosen to hit back fast rather than smart. In the past two weeks we’ve seen two new ads, neither of which strikes what ad savants at Joe Slade White and Company would call a “responsive chord.”
The first ad is an alarmingly tasteless mash-up read more
by Thayer Fox
On Monday UnitedHealthcare announced it would honor three of healthcare reform’s mandates regardless of what the Supreme Court decides this month. How they handled this communication is a case study in strategic communication and smart messaging.
It’s not simply that they saw a PR opportunity and grabbed it. It’s not just that they curried favor with both the administration and the nation’s healthcare members in one strike. It’s in how they communicated about the mandates they wouldn’t honor that was most impressive.
To some extent, every major carrier in the country has prepared for these mandates and factored them into their operations and budgets. UnitedHealthcare saw an opportunity to celebrate the work they’ve done, and leverage it to showcase how they champion members. This is commendable, because often corporations do not turn operational initiatives into communication assets. They do not always see the opportunity to shine.
UnitedHealthcare did. But that’s not all. In communicating what they would voluntarily honor, they also announced aspects of the reform mandate that they would not honor. Namely, coverage for children with pre-existing conditions.
This is a seriously controversial issue. And how they communicated their decision was masterful. They addressed it head on:
“UnitedHealthcare recognizes the value of coverage for children up to age 19 with pre-existing conditions. One company acting alone cannot take that step, so UnitedHealthcare is committed to working with all other participants in the health care system to sustain that coverage.”
This message works not simply because it’s true. The truth rarely makes a message effective. It’s that it reframes the debate. It pivots the conversation away from United and onto the body politic. With this message, it’s no longer about what United won’t do, but about what all carriers – and the country even – should do to enact this part of healthcare reform. In short, it sparks important debate and puts UnitedHealthcare in the position of moving that debate forward.
The important takeaway is when making a proactive announcement, it’s important to realize that critics will always think what you’re announcing does not go far enough. This is true in any regulated industry from healthcare to energy to financial services, where critics will never think your oversight or environmental initiatives are strong enough. In announcing voluntary compliance you’re often inviting criticism. Prepare for that criticism. And understand how to steer the conversation when it comes. UnitedHealthcare’s approach is a powerful way to do just that.
Presidents are at their best when they project empathy. Who can forget Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” moment (whether it actually happened or not)? And nowhere was George W. Bush better than when standing on the rubble at Ground Zero, proclaiming “The world can hear you!”
Do either of this year’s candidates have such a moment in them? It can be hard to see how, with both President Obama and Mitt Romney working overtime to look more detached and more disconnected from the everyday concerns of the American people.
Until now, it’s been a fairly one-side contest. Romney has given the Obama campaign plenty of ammunition with gems such as, “I’m not concerned about the very poor,” and “I like being able to fire people.”
Of course, many of those gaffes can be explained as out-of-context language grabs. But that makes what happened last week all the more cringe-worthy for the President. At a Friday news conference, Obama told the assembled press that “the private sector is doing fine.”
Obama’s larger point is that what’s really holding back the recovery – and what really needs help – is the public sector. But just as with Romney’s comments, the context doesn’t really matter. What matters is that these six words are exactly what the Romney campaign needed to revive concerns about the President’s own inability to connect. Unsurprisingly, they’ve already made a commercial using Obama’s comments against him.
But will Obama’s gaffe have any lasting impact on the race? Not likely – or at least, not any more likely than Romney’s own foot-in-mouth moments. And that’s largely because of the way Romney himself responded.
Instead of allowing the President to speak for himself, Romney decided to expand on the President’s comments, saying Obama is wrong to call for “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.”
Talk about a face-palm moment. Yes, it’s possible to argue that the American people want smaller government, and want to cut back on some of the benefits given to public sector workers. But what politician in their right mind opposes firefighters and police? Not even Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is willing to go that far.
The President did himself no favors this week with an uncharacteristically undisciplined remark, and he gave Mitt Romney a huge opportunity to cast himself as a more authentic voice of the American people. But by bringing firefighters and police into the argument, Romney completely failed. So who won this week’s war of words? Someone has to come out ahead, and this one goes to the President.
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. read more
For political campaigns, the message is often the only thing that matters. So when Newark Mayor and Obama supporter Cory Booker criticized the President’s new campaign ad questioning Mitt Romney’s record as head of Bain Capital, both campaigns immediately tried to turn the story into compelling talking points.
It’s no surprise that Booker’s comments – he called the ad “a distraction” and “nauseating” – didn’t sit well with the Obama team. And Booker has spent most of the week doing his best to walk back his remarks and emphasize his support for the President. But as with most campaign “controversies,” this isn’t really about the issue du jour. It’s about how Obama’s and Romney’s teams are attempting to define each other, and themselves.
In this case, the flare-up of rhetoric is ultimately about governing. What is each candidate’s governing philosophy? And in today’s environment, which candidate is most likely to spur job and economic growth?
The Obama campaign is attempting to set Romney’s business experience against Obama’s governing experience. They say that the skills needed to govern are different from the skills needed to run a company, and that Romney doesn’t understand that. On Monday, Obama himself said this: “This is what the campaign is going to be about…When you’re president, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.”
In other words, the Obama campaign is attempting to make this into a story about the difference between wealth creation and job creation. They argue that because Romney has made his business experience so central to his campaign, it’s not only fair, it’s necessary to talk about whether Romney’s business-oriented approach to governing will do more harm than good. And that means questioning whether Romney truly understands the impact his business decisions have had on workers and their families.
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.
When you think of Cosmopolitan magazine—if you ever think of Cosmopolitan magazine—you probably associate it with articles like “100 Naughty Things to do with Ice Cubes” and “Hookup Horror Stories.” But if you pick up a Cosmo on a newsstand this month, you’ll find a little language strategy hiding amid the sex tips.
A blurb in the June 2012 issue is titled “Learn to Speak His Language” and it’s all about one of our key principles here at maslansky luntz + partners: to get through to your intended audience— whether that’s your boyfriend, your clients, or your customers— you have to first understand that what you say and what they hear may be two entirely different things. And the key to connecting is to understand where they’re coming from, so you can use language that resonates with them.
When we make language recommendations to our clients, we like to illustrate that point with a chart that looks like this:
Now check out Cosmo’s version. Look familiar?
So next time you find yourself frustrated because you thought you were saying something loud and clear but you just aren’t getting through, take a step back and think about it from your audience’s perspective. Is what you say the same as what they hear? And if not, is there a different way you can try to get your message across?
The setup: John Hancock has released a series of ads showing couples and office workers discussing retirement and investing plans.
What they say: Each ad shows multiple people having individual conversations. The catch is that each conversation is exactly the same. And across ads, all of the conversations follow the same story arc – one person expresses worry or despair about today’s markets, and the other indicates that doing something is better than doing nothing.
The message: “You are not alone.” John Hancock wants investors to know that people across the country are struggling with the same issues, and that they’re equipped to provide investments and “hope” in today’s volatile markets.
What the audience hears: Our experience in the financial services industry has shown that investors look at ads like these and see a formula-based approach that creates a strategy based on what “people” want rather than what I want. Hours of dial sessions and focus groups with investors have shown us that while “you are not alone” may seem attractive to show clients that John Hancock understands what they’re going through, today’s investors want to feel unique. They’re extremely sensitive to anything that sounds like their advisor is trying to put them into a category or apply a formula to their investing plan. They want personalized financial advice based on a deep understanding of their individual needs and situation. These ads provide the exact opposite message.
Michael Maslansky joins Elisabeth Meinecke and Tamara Holder as a panelist on Fox Business’s Gerri Willis show.
by Justin Altum
Next time, Ozzie Guillen should just save himself some time and stress and tell everyone of Cuban descent their mothers are ugly. The amount of backpedaling and apologizing he’ll need to do as a result of that pales in comparison to the ditch he’s dug for himself and his organization.
For those who haven’t heard, Guillen, the Miami Marlins manager, decided that opening a new stadium for the team in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood was also a perfect time to praise Fidel Castro. Guillen’s respect for Castro stems from his perseverance: “A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last sixty years, but that son of a bitch is still here.” To Guillen’s credit, he at least called him a “son of a bitch.” But, hey Miami fans of Cuban descent – those tickets aren’t going to buy themselves!
When you’re in a role like Guillen’s – an ambassador to a community in many ways – good communication requires a balance of a number of elements. From knowing your audience to the right timing and simply (but importantly) having a good message, there is no shortage of baseball metaphors to explain how miserably Guillen failed here.
When I was a child, my mother gave me some good life advice: it takes so little to be above average. Sometimes it seems that’s even truer when it comes to corporate social responsibility. Years after Nike and other apparel companies were forced to confront sweat shop practices, tech companies are now facing a similar backlash over working conditions at their suppliers’ facilities. Have they learned nothing from the clothing industry’s experience?
Of course – as with most stories in the tech industry today – this is all about Apple. As consumers and opinion makers focus more and more on its relationship with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles many of Apple’s most popular products, Apple is scrambling to polish its image as a company that can do good at the same time it’s doing well. And after a brief effort to change the conversation to the jobs it creates in the United States, Apple is finally starting to recognize that it has to take working conditions seriously.
But instead of seeing an opportunity to take the lead and take a stand, other tech companies have tried to take the Fifth. When the New York Times recently asked companies like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, HP and Dell how they’re addressing concerns over working conditions, most of them simply refused to answer. Unfortunately for them, in today’s hyperlinked news environment the court of public opinion won’t accept that silence. When they say “no comment,” anyone who’s paying attention only hears “we’re guilty too.”
Even when there’s not much to say, it’s always better to say something than to say nothing. So while most tech companies are doing their best to ignore working conditions, Microsoft’s “regular audits” and (summarized) public reports look like total transparency.
So kudos to Microsoft. And to everyone else, you’re only hurting yourselves by not explaining what you’re doing to create and uphold higher working standards as well as why those standards matter.
ml+p CEO Michael Maslansky joins comedian Jim Norton and attorney Liz Mandarano to offer coverage of the Republican presidential race:
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:
Keith Yazmir, partner at maslansky luntz + partners, and Scott Blakeman, comedian and columist, sit down with FOX Business Network anchor and working mom Melissa Francis to debate the appropriateness of calls for boycotts and firings at media institutions in response to controversial behavior. The focus of the conversation focuses on the current contention surrounding Rush Limbaugh’s branding of female law student Sandra Fluke as “a slut” when she spoke for health insurance coverage of birth control. The incident has resulted in sponsors pulling their ads from his show and the calling on Clear Channel to fire Rush.
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?
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.
Why a now infamous resignation letter tells us more about the public than the firm
by Chris Manley
We’re all in a tizzy over an “op-ed” the New York Times ran yesterday, penned by Greg Smith, now-former-employee of Goldman Sachs. I use the term op-ed loosely. While its contents are very much worth discussion, what’s most interesting is that the paper published it at all. It’s a sign that the firm needs to do more to convince us they’re on our side. Or it will stay fair game for any other Greg Smith that might come along.
To call the piece an “op-ed” is not very accurate. It’s worth noting that Smith found his moral compass shortly after bonuses were announced—the sizes of which are unofficially an index of how much money you’ve made for the company. read more
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.
by Keith Yazmir
It is a truism in politics that he who frames the debate generally wins the debate.
Exhibit A: the battle over whether religious-affiliated institutions should be required to cover birth control in their private health plans. It’s about women’s rights! It’s about freedom of religion! It’s about sexual morality!
But while the Limbaugh-ian fireworks and morality battles have been attracting most of the media attention, the thing that has most stood out to me is how quick the Obama administration and its allies have been to cede the frame of religious freedom.
In politics, as in all forms of communication, the question is not how many total people your message works with, but whether it works with the RIGHT people. And in this case, that means the all-important swing voters who will not only choose our next president but also the congress he must work with. It is with this group of independents that questions of religion can – and do – play a more important role. read more
by Katie Cronen
Last week, the Senate killed the Blunt Amendment, a bill that would have allowed any employer—not just religious organizations—to opt out of covering any mandated health services in President Obama’s health care legislation on the grounds of a “moral objection.” The debates surrounding the law and its proposed amendment have almost exclusively focused on coverage for oral contraceptives, often carrying emotionally charged language from both sides of the issue. Yet as advocates and opponents for the health law aim to sway voters and public opinion, they’re using language that frames their arguments in completely different contexts. And the language that’s resonating most powerfully is determining who’s asserting control and calling the shots.
Take, for example, the advocates for birth control coverage. They first introduced the topic as a women’s health issue that concerns fair and equal access to a drug that women depend on for reasons beyond contraception. Highlighting additional benefits of the pill, like the prevention of ovarian cysts, they sought to use facts to fight the otherwise loaded implications of forcing religious institutions to provide birth control. But as we’ve seen over and over again, the facts won’t set you free, especially without any context or emotional appeal. On the other hand, their argument is rooted in a plea for equality and preventative health which, on the surface, is far from a hard sell. read more
by Patrick Buckley
Coming off last week’s GOP debate in Arizona much of the coverage has centered on Rick Santorum’s more than adequate job fending off his challengers’ attacks.
But as many observers have pointed out, the real question surrounding his candidacy remains his ability to effectively communicate the reasonableness of his views on social issues to voters in a general election.
For insight into how he might do this, it’s helpful to compare how he’s talked about social issues with how he’s talking about the economy.
Santorum’s been able to establish common ground when talking economics because he’s been willing to concede a few points to audiences that disagree with him. In defending his opposition to auto-industry bailouts to Michigan voters he focused mainly on the consistency of his position. He also said the following:
“If we had just stayed out of it completely, and let the market work, I believe the market would have worked… Would the auto industry look different than it does today? Yes it would. Would it still be alive and well? I think it would be alive and equally well if not better.”
By conceding that the industry is now doing well and would in fact look different had the government not intervened he bought credibility with his audience, while still maintaining that he believes his position was the correct one. Many on the other side of the issue came away seeing his stance as well-considered and in-line with his long-held positions on government intervention. read more
by Margaret Files
When aspiring actors rehearse their hypothetical Academy Award acceptance speeches in their bathroom mirrors, which phrase do they hear echoing in their ears? Is it “And the winner is…?” or “And the Oscar goes to…?”
Over the years, the producers of the Academy Awards have experimented with both. For much of the history of the ceremony, the award winner was introduced with the straightforward phrase: “And the winner is…” But in the politically correct era of the late 1980′s, at the 61st annual Academy Awards the original phrase was replaced with the more neutral “And the Oscar goes to…”
Both expressions are, of course, technically accurate: the Oscar goes to the winner. But with the new phrase, the producers were apparently employing a little language strategy to try to make the presentation of the award a kinder and gentler experience for the nominees whose names aren’t called. After all, to position one person as “the winner” is to, by implication, position the others as “losers.” Every good language strategist knows that sometimes, it’s as much about what we don’t say as it is about what we do say.
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. read more
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. read more
Rick Perry’s “strategic retreat” out of the 2012 Republican primaries leaves us once again scratching our heads. Does that mean he’s pretty much out? Mostly out? Out but waiting to sneak back in when nobody’s looking?
The suggestion he’s left the door just ever-so-slightly open – that he’s left (never say “lost”!) the battle, but not the war – shows Perry once again injecting a little suspense into the reality show of this year’s Republican primaries. (We’re STILL waiting to hear that other government agency he wants to cut.)
Perry’s co-retreaters have stayed equally true to form in their supposed farewells. Huntsman (remember Huntsman?) went out with a fittingly unexciting yet straightforward ending: “today I am suspending my campaign.”
Cain played the blame game - not to mention the run-on sentence game – as we might have expected: read more
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. read more
Michael Maslansky appears on Fox’s Gerri Willis show with Majorie Clifton and Clint David to discuss Bernanke and the underestimated risks of the economy, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker taking down a billboard advertising himself as a job creator with unfortunate placement in front of a closed down factory, and the public’s loss of interest in the Kardashians.
From entertainers Charlie Sheen and Hank Williams to President Obama and the always-entertaining GOP presidential field, here are our choices for the most memorable language moments of 2011.
Let us know your pick – especially if it’s one we didn’t include.
Your Friends at maslansky luntz + partners
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.” read more
Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz + partners stops by CNN American Morning to weigh in on The American Jobs Act, the 2012 Presidential elections and President Obama’s new “yes we can”: “Pass this bill!”
Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz & partners and author of “The Language of Trust,” appears on CNN “American Morning” to weigh in on President Obama and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s “language of leadership.”
Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz & partners, appears on FOX Business September 14th, 2011, to share his take on several topics: planned overhauls to the corporate tax code, rising healthcare denial rates, and the “Watson” supercomputer—once featured on Jeopardy—being used by health insurer WellPoint to help diagnose medical problems.
It didn’t seem possible. Expectations for the President’s speech were too high and his team was already tamping them down. It was preceded by a huge logistical misstep and was being rejected by many Republicans before it even took place. And in the end it offered very few new ideas. read more
Michael Maslansky, CEO of maslansky luntz & partners, sits down with former U.S. Labor Secretary Nominee Linda Chavez and democratic pollster Doug Schoen on FOX NEWS show FOX & Friends to discuss President Obama’s upcoming speech on jobs to a joint session of congress amidst a sinking approval rating.
Michael Maslansky appeared on FOX and Friends to discuss the Iowa straw poll and to offer insight on how class warfare will be an issue in the upcoming election.
Michael Maslansky appeared on FOX and Friends to discuss the debt ceiling deal and Newsweek cover showing a rather unflattering photo choice for Michelle Bachmann.
Check out the reactions from our real-time dial testing of the the Republican response to the President Obama’s State of the Union address:
(Click “read more” on the lower right for reactions to President Obama’s full speech, the Republican Response, as well as the Tea Party Response)
As a salesperson, you need credibility to succeed. If you can successfully establish credibility and build rapport with customers, your chances of closing a sale are much higher.
On Tuesday President Obama and Republican congressional leaders both emerged from the White House’s long-awaited “Slurpee Summit” sounding, perhaps surprisingly, a similar tune. read more
The morning after the mid-term elections it seemed anyone considering a run for office wouldn’t need to hire a campaign manager. Every news site, every cable news channel, and your favorite blog told us the myriad “lessons” we supposedly learned from an event less than 24 hours old. A simple Internet search would turn up everything you need to know about the political environment for your pending candidacy. The analysis runs the gamut from silly to sophisticated.
But the election also yielded important lessons for companies. By studying the political conversation we’ve gained four key insights into the current national mood. Apologies to eye backers, but language is the real window to the soul. read more
On Mondays we have staff calls. We all have hectic schedules, so it’s important we set aside some time each week to keep each other abreast of everything that’s happening with ongoing and upcoming projects. Also, there is lunch.
Everyone has suggestions, but as Management, I’ll often narrow it down to the two most popular choices. If seven of the thirteen of us opt for Thai, and the other six would rather try that new barbecue place, unfortunately, some tough choices must be made. “A close call,” I might say, “but we’ll try to do the barbecue place next week.” read more
“There is something happening when people vote not just for the party they belong to but the hopes they hold in common …we are ready to take this country in a fundamentally new direction.”
“We’ve gotten tired now of looking backward. We want to look forward and, from here, my friends, the future, it looks really good. It looks really good.”
I remember when the movement started. It took the press by surprise. It took the political establishment by surprise. It was driven by the people – people from around the country who had a new or renewed interest in politics. They were fed up with the status quo and wanted something different–something that felt a lot like a revolution. They took to the streets and the web. They came out in numbers much greater than expected. The establishment tried to marginalize them, to silence them, to make them irrelevant.
“I’ve spent my whole life chasing the American dream,” John Boehner said, just before tearing up and getting verklempt. Everyone knows that’s the international symbol for having finally, against overwhelming odds, made it.
On the other side of the country, Harry Reid gave his own victory speech. He promised struggling Nevada families that “the bell that just rang isn’t the end of the fight; it’s the start of the next round.”
Wednesday afternoon, President Obama mumbled awkwardly to explain a car in a ditch in neutral with people pushing in opposite directions while a slurpee looks on from the shoulder or something like that, continuing his Guinness Book run for Most Bloated Metaphor.
In the days following the 2010 midterm elections, there’s been a second, unseen battle being waged across America’s airwaves and hotspots: to control the story of what this election really means for America. Regardless of who wins, the victor will benefit the most and, accordingly, control the story heading into 2012.
Part IV of a Series New York City (October 25, 2010) – It’s easy to say that this election is about the economy, from jobs to taxes to outsourcing. But a closer look at the midterm election ads that test best shows that voters don’t just want to talk about the economy. They want to talk about the future, where we are headed, and how we are going to get there, according to just-released research from maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research. read more
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
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.
PART ONE OF A SERIES
Media coverage of the midterm elections has painted a picture of two parties, irreconcilable in nearly all respects. But are they? Together maslansky luntz + partners and Roy Morgan Research selected a handful of Democratic and Republican campaign ads from across the country, and tested them for the second-to-second, gut reactions of 560 American voters.
We wanted to take these campaign ads directly to the people and read more
A college professor I know related an anecdote about a student explaining why he didn’t have his homework. His car had been broken into and his bag stolen. And also his grandmother had gotten suddenly very sick. Other students in the class giggled awkwardly, darting glances at each other. Why? Because the explanation didn’t sound true. Two unrelated, singular events offered up for one small problem. The student seemed to be giving options, as if to say, “And if you don’t believe that, how about this?”
In the grand scheme of things, read more
For several companies right now, selling more of their products isn’t the main goal. It’s earning back the right to sell their products at all that’s keeping senior management, corporate communicators, and advertising executives up at night.
Following their global recall, Toyota is spending millions trying to convince the public its cars are safe again. Domino’s spent the first quarter of 2010 trying to get lapsed customers to come back by denouncing the old recipe for its pizza. GM trumpeted its TARP repayment “in full, with interest, ahead of schedule” as it asked for a second look at the New GM. And Nike created a controversial ad to protect its Tiger Woods brand in which Tiger faces the camera as we listen to an old voicemail from his dad asking Tiger what he was thinking.
Toyota, BP, even Tiger. They all have in common a failure to get in front of the news cycle, a failure to take decisive action immediately and a failure to apply the necessary resources to resolve the crisis or demonstrate an unequivocal commitment to its resolution.
According to the Powell Doctrine, the most effective way to maximize the potential for success and minimize casualties in battle is to use overwhelming force. The same must be said to be true when it comes to crises — large or small.
Instead of bringing decisive force many companies read more
How do you communicate in a world filled with skeptics?
When your intentions are good, you are doubted. When your products are good, people assume there is a catch. When you tell a positive story, people assume you are hiding something. There is no benefit of the doubt, only a higher degree of skepticism than ever before.
It is not just “bad” companies that suffer. Being a good company, selling a good product, or supporting good policy is no longer enough to get people to listen to your message. In this environment, PR pros need to read more
In an age of mistrust, even the smallest slipup can destroy a well-cultivated corporate image.
So it’s no wonder that Toyota is scrambling to control the fallout from their latest recalls. The acceleration problems that have led to a recall of more than two million cars aren’t simply a quality-control issue – they strike at the heart of the company’s value proposition: reliable cars that keep your family safe.
Much has already been written about Toyota’s response to this corporate crisis, and especially their failure to act more quickly. I want to focus on a specific event, Akio Toyoda’s February 9 Op-Ed in the Washington Post. The point is not to assess Toyota’s overall approach to this crisis or to predict its effectiveness.
“How much do you trust business to do what is right?”
That is the question posed in the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer. And the good news – if you can call it that – is that 54% of Americans believe that business will do the right thing, representing an 18% jump from last year.
But business should hardly celebrate. First, there is always the risk of mistaking a majority for a mandate. This number is barely half the population at best and means that the other half don’t trust business to do what is right. And while the numbers are not broken out, my guess is that only a very small percentage of the population feels strongly about their belief in business.
More importantly, being acknowledged as a company that will “do what is right” is not really a ringing endorsement. I might believe that a company will “do what is right,” on the big things – fraud, serious product safety issues, etc. – while also doing everything that it can to put its profits and shareholders ahead of its customers. In other words, I might trust the company’s big actions but remain skeptical of its everyday interactions with me as a customer.
In fact, that is what I see everyday. Even where companies are not perceived as inherently evil, the overwhelming majority of Americans view them with a skeptical eye. This trust, even if it is increasing, is incredibly fragile.
Who did the best? Who did the Worst? A Report Card
The list of apologies in 2009 is almost too long to recount. But who did it best – and worst – and why? We tested 15 of the most public apologies of the year to see what makes for a good apology and a bad apology and what we can learn from our A-list of apologists. read more
The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics is a book about how to use language to undo the skepticism that a world of too much spin has created.
The book is based on more than a decade’s worth of research into how consumers and the public respond emotionally to often complex, difficult and controversial topics. Whether your goals are corporate positioning, introducing a new product, or re-framing the policy debate, language carries more influence than you might fully realize. read more