F-bomb in type symbols.

Words and Their Power to Persuade or Repel

I’ve been known to drop the F-bomb and, from experience, can attest to its abysmal failure to produce any positive results, unless you count the sympathy of a like-minded audience. The past few days, I’ve seen Trump backers citing Robert Di Nero’s f*ck Trump tirade as an illustration of how liberals look down on conservatives.

Maybe you wouldn’t interpret the actor’s Tony Awards speech that way at all. Perhaps you applauded. But, the fact remains that it failed to persuade anyone who doesn’t already dislike Trump to consider that the president might be ineffectual, corrupt, inept, … fill in the negative blank. I live in Texas and a Republican congressional candidate I am voting for (and already did in the primary and primary runoff) put it this way:

“If the far left doubles down on this type of stuff, then they will continue to lose. Make your argument using facts and reason, not anger and vulgarity.” – Dan Crenshaw, Republican candidate for U.S. Congress, 2nd District of Texas (Houston area).

I wholeheartedly agree. Yet, ironically, the notion that civility is required to advance a political position has one striking exception: Donald Trump. That doesn’t mean anyone of any political stripe should strive to emulate him. Years ago, I attended a session at a journalism conference about how to deal with recalcitrant subjects. A reporter in the audience related to the speaker, a retired FBI agent, how a town official was belligerent with the press and anyone who questioned him, whether a constituent or another official. The advice was sage: never yell back at a shouter; they’ve been doing it their whole life and will be better at it.

This morning, I watched a video clip of Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who currently is a congressman serving the 16th District of Texas. He is running for Senate against Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. The video was posted by Save the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge. As a backer of wildlife conservation, I do have questions about how an expanded border wall will harm wildlife. So, I watched the video, as a Texas voter. He lost me at the F-word.

He started with his point of view about immigration, which was completely sympathetic toward people who have crossed the border on an illegal basis. He also noted Mexico is one of our closest trading partners. I pondered what he was saying. I am pro-free trade, but do not think that gives Mexico a free pass on what appears to be allowing unfettered access to the U.S. border via The Beast, etc., or on its drug wars and trade. And while I do not believe that the policy of separating children and parents is working as a deterrent to international trade, the continual flow of illegal immigrants needs to slow down.

O’Rourke seemed to contradict himself, on one hand citing record-low apprehensions of illegal immigrants and then saying as the number of people trying to cross increases, the number of people who are dying in their effort increases. Nonetheless, I continued to listen because this issue is important in Texas and the U.S. at large, and I like to hear different perspectives.

Then he spoke of families detained and separated from children in McAllen and elsewhere on the border. He recalled, in 1939, a ship of German Jews seeking refuge in the United States was sent back to Europe. Coming back to current events and concerns, he said the reason people serve and seek action is “because we want to f*cking do something and if there was ever a moment for us do something, it is at this moment right now.” Errr, OK. People have likened this politician to John F. Kennedy. Well, JFK did not talk about “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can f*cking do for your country.”

Needlessly dropping the F-bomb into a serious policy discussion cheapens whatever point you wanted to convey. It’s just not an effective word to deploy when trying to persuade anyone who isn’t already in complete agreement with you. It’s the crude equivalent to “can I get an amen” and the crowd roaring back with “f*ck yeah!” How does that really advance a cause beyond its existing adherents?

The F-bomb falls flat in any effort to persuade a broader audience or compel others to your side. O’Rourke, who is behind Cruz in the polls, would need to win votes from independents and Republicans who aren’t fans of Cruz. I submit he drop the salty language in his quest for a Senate seat. If the Senate is to remain “the greatest deliberative body in the world,” we will need continued discernment, fact-finding, oversight and good policymaking. That won’t happen with a barrage of f-bombs.

Always strive to find the best words for the job at hand, especially if you are selling a position in the great marketplace of ideas.

Man with head in his hands

Twitter, Epithets and the End of Civil Discourse?

Ah, Roseanne, thank you for creating a national convulsion. I mean a delightful exercise in debate and an exhibition of the free marketplace of ideas in action, all on Twitter and Facebook. And, of course, we have cable news parroting social media commentaries on the subject while also trying to cover presidential politics.

And amazingly, all of these activities are intertwined with the president of the United States complaining about a TV network firing a star for making a racist comment about a former president’s adviser and another comedian apologizing for vile remarks about the president’s daughter. But wait, there’s more: yet another comedian getting into a Twitter spat with a CNN reporter.

This has got to be the worst reality show ever

As for the notion that Roseanne Barr’s dismissal from her eponymous show is some liberal media payback against conservatives, let’s start unpacking that by noting conservative does not equal racist. And, let’s recall how Kathy Griffin was tossed from CNN’s New Year’s Eve hosting gig for posing with an effigy of a decapitated President Trump. There are still lines people cannot cross without losing work.

If any employee of a good company walked into the office advocating presidential assassination or calling black people apes, they would be shown the door. And not because the employer wants to be politically correct. It’s because places of business maintain community standards and no one wants to be offended, scared or horrified while conducting business. Entertainers are in business too. If a media company doesn’t want them around, so be it. A business needs revenues and if advertisers balk or walk, revenues are lost.

Add to the lovely mix Samantha Bee’s comments about Ivanka Trump and the Trump administration strategy to dissuade illegal immigrants by separating them from their children upon crossing the border. Bee used a foul epithet for the female sex organ and suggested the president’s daughter flirt with her father to change his mind on policy matters. If, in response, Bee loses work because her show loses advertisers, so be it.

But, a distinction must be drawn. Griffin, who revolted many (including myself) by posing with a mockup of a bloody Trump head, piped up on Twitter today to argue with a CNN reporter that the White House press secretary should not have asserted, on behalf of the president, that Bee’s remarks are unfit for broadcast. I’ll give Griffin this: the government should not tell anyone what speech is allowed in this country. Granted, Sarah Sanders did not say Bee should be completely silenced or punished by the government. She just said the comments were unfit for broadcast. Oh, wait, Bee’s show is on cable, not broadcast over public airwaves! Nonetheless, I’ll agree with Griffin that Sanders’ remarks skirt a little too close to appearing as if the government seeks to shut down free speech. That doesn’t mean that Bee’s use of the c-word is not an affront to women or that Griffin’s assassination depiction is not insulting to our democracy (he was elected and no one should want to see a president of the United States killed).

Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech

The government cannot regulate speech in the U.S. But the marketplace can decide it doesn’t want to pay for speech it doesn’t like.

As for government’s duty to the citizens, I’m still waiting for Trump to apologize for bragging he likes to assault women by the p-word, for mocking McCain’s heroism, for a White House staffer mocking McCain’s terminal illness, for questioning a judge’s legal impartiality in a fraud case against Trump because of his Mexican heritage, for mocking a reporter’s disability, for encouraging rally attendees to menace the working press, for calling all Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, for falsely accusing Special Counsel Mueller of trying to meddle in the midterm elections while actually investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, for twisting a call for racial justice into unpatriotic actions, and for changing his positions like a weathervane in a hurricane. He also owes us all an apology for butchering the English language.

The tone is indeed set at the top and he is, in effect, forcing all citizens to watch his reality show, in which the president lurches from one policy position to an opposing one and back to the original one; calls himself pro-law and order despite disparaging our criminal justice system (while it investigates his campaign); arbitrarily threatens or imposes tariffs on trade partners, and, each day, scorches more earth (see presidential pardons), etc. Unfortunately, that list of incompetency and antipathy is growing too.

Next blog: Will government social media accounts be forced to retain dissenting posts or other negative comments?

Banner for brands being free to take sides.

Should Brands Take Sides in Political Battles?

We’ve reached a new political realm in which a shoe company and a spice peddler are pitting their brands against the President of the United States. How did this happen?

Brands have always sought to persuade consumers that a particular product or service will solve their problems. Think of the “wring around the collar” commercials, brought to you by Wisk detergent.

In the social media age, brands seek to find their tribes and market directly to this seemingly self-selecting target market. Still, the members of this tribe may not have known to subscribe to a point of view or product until it was brought to their attention. The brand spoke to them, in their language, and voila, they are on board, liking, following and captured.

The language of social media advertising is conversational and casual, and that tenor and tone has proven so effective, the style has spread into conventional television ads.

Now, brands are taking direct stances. Take for example, Penzeys Spices, which is calling out Trump for xenophobic comments. “Last Thursday we called out the President’s racism—it turned into our biggest day ever,” Penzeys wrote in a post to its Facebook business page. The company said one-third of its email subscribers opted out of its list after it took a position against the president, but 2.5 times as many signed up after hearing about it. Moreover, it boasted, sales soared: “…last Thursday, in just one day, more orders were placed than in the first 17 days of July last year combined.”

This all was brought to my attention by the Facebook algorithm machine, which let me know a Facebook friend had like the post. Upon reading the post, which had more than 18,000 shares and 6,300 comments, I could see that the “top” comment was written by another Facebook friend. Facebook’s self-reinforcing echo chamber was in full swing, quickly pointing out what my friends are reacting to on a page I don’t follow for a brand I never heard of.

While reading news on Facebook, I found that Reebok, the tennis shoe company, was mocking President Trump for remarking that French President Emmanuel Macron’s wife appears to be in “such good shape.” Reebok, a fitness brand for sure, created an instructional chart on when it is appropriate to make such a remark. In the gym? No. In a diplomatic session, no. If you want to know when it is a OK, check out the sneaker company’s graphic.

MARKETING BRAND AS POLITICAL BRAND

Again, how did this happen? For starters, Trump is a brand, first and foremost. That changes everything. We are not talking about a political brand, such as Bush or Clinton, but a commercial brand. Trump himself equated his brand’s value with his net worth, even including some vast, ethereal unrealized value, whatever that is.

His brand is aspirational and hints of luxury, such as the Trump casinos. This is somewhat reminiscent of the luxury brand of Ralph Lauren, which masterfully co-opted preppy attire to evoke the aura of the landed gentry of America. Anyone could fancy themselves WASP-y, if they wore the right clothes.

The Ralph Lauren ads often portrayed beautiful people in nautical settings or posed in elegant gardens, as if they lived in Newport or the Hamptons. Remember, Ralph himself was not of that world, but certainly arrived there after crafting a powerful brand with staying power around it. That is to be applauded.

Trump’s brand is the gilded counterpart. Rather than capture the aesthetic of noblesse oblige, the Trump brand is glitz and panache. Taking a side-by-side comparison in Caddyshack terms, Trump is Rodney Dangerfield’s character crashing the party at Lauren’s Bushwood.

And while I don’t know anyone offended by the Lauren brand, the Trump brand certainly has drawn a lot of scoffs over the decades. Nonetheless, the brand was leveraged through reality TV and converted for political purposes. Whatever your politics, that is something to marvel over and analyze.

While the Clinton brand has always been polarizing and the Bush 43 brand caused havoc in the wake of the Iraq invasion, the Trump political brand’s polarization is different. It brought into hyper relief a bifurcation within the Republican Party. The Never Trump people emerged and then seemingly slunk into the woodwork.

Anyone who speaks critically of the Trump White House is marked as a Democrat or liberal snowflake. This brand is not big on policy particulars in the political discourse.

This lack of comity seems to have ripped open the policy positions of commercial brands, such as Reebok’s or Penzeys.

If you own a business and contemplate whether to take out a pro or anti-Trump position, first ask yourself if it is necessary. Is it necessary for your business or for you personally? Will it advance your business objectives? Can it wait?

A prospect once asked me what to do about negative feedback online and I joked not to respond like Trump does to his critics via Twitter. Practically speaking, most people and brands cannot be that brash and harsh. Always be true to your brand and your customers.

If you are going to take a social activism position, then stick with it. Same goes with any marketing initiative: ensure it meets and aligns with your regular business objectives.

P.S. If you have examples of retail brands going after a president in administrations past, please share by emailing me at katharine@adroitnarratives.com.

To Post or Not to Post on Social Media about Politics

There’s an old saying that politics and religion should not be discussed in a bar. Many extend that logic to LinkedIn and want to stop seeing political or religious opinion memes on this professional networking social media channel.

What if politics or religion is your job? By all means, post on trends and crucial issues in your sector. (Exception: I previously lived in Washington and the neighborhood bar always had C-SPAN or CNN on the TV because politics was the business of its patrons and that’s pretty much all they discussed. But not religion.)

What if geopolitics affects your market? For instance, if you are engaged in global shipping, then a pirate attack on a tanker matters in your business and it would not be out of place at all for you to post on pirates, whereas that would be irrelevant or off-point for many other professions. Similarly, if you work in financial and commodity markets, terrorist attacks can move market prices, so posting about terrorism news and analysis makes sense.

Be judicious. Don’t post something that a reasonable person could deem as inflammatory. Ask yourself, is this content something I would feel comfortable saying in a boardroom meeting? At the coffee machine? To a customer?

But, if you are selling something outside the political and global market realm, stop and ask yourself if all your clients, prospects and colleagues really want to know your emotional response to a political candidate. Remember, LinkedIn is for business, not personal discussions. Do you discuss your dog or cat on LinkedIn? Your favorite recipes? I didn’t think so.

Exceptions
Social media is important for business, and even if you are not a political consultant, you may have good reason for a political post.

A business news story by a major news outlet about economic policy considerations of candidates, such as trade policy, would make sense to post if your business directly involves global trade. Do you manufacture products in the United States for export? Are you in shipping, finance or otherwise exposed globally? Great, go ahead on post on trade policy concerns. There are other areas where the intersection with terrorism is inevitable: airlines, travel agencies, etc.

If you really feel compelled to vent or otherwise express your political views in a way that may be inconsistent or counterproductive to your business needs, then use Facebook with the privacy settings adjusted to your intended audience. Remember though that everything digital is captured and can be shared, so ask yourself is there anything you are saying that would embarrass you? If so, perhaps you need to be asking yourself additional questions about why you think something and whether you are correct.

The United States is a free country and as a former journalist, I am an ardent supporter of the First Amendment. Just bear in mind that there are limitations on speech in terms of consequences. Libel, hate speech, etc. are not protected from legal liabilities. If someone really doesn’t like your content, they may drop you from their sphere of operations, which is their prerogative in this free marketplace of ideas. The question is, did you want to lose them?

For more communications consulting, contact Katharine Fraser of Adroit Narratives.