Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Political DNT Parable: The Final Part or …

we finally get to The Moral of the Story.

What happened to George H. W. Bush and Al Gore in the previous posts is an example of Cokie’s Law, named for the D.C. pundicrat Cokie Roberts. It states that it really doesn’t matter if a story is true, as long as people believe it, it will be incorporated into the narrative as if it were. Journalists and everybody else will incorporate it in their consideration of everything that comes after.

In these two cases, even though the anecdotes were distorted – either intentionally or by misunderstanding – they fit into dominant narratives about politics. More important, they fit into dominant narratives about politicians.

The truth – perhaps not fact but who cares? – is that politicians will lie, will exaggerate, are out of touch and have no idea what the rest of us go through on a regular basis. Both of these campaigns failed to realize that they had stepped into a torrent. It may have been only an inch deep, but it was a mile wide and moving fast.

It took them, and their candidate’s careers, with it.

The lesson is that most people will believe what already aligns with their previously held opinions. If it fits with what they think they know, it gets added to the library of “truth.” If it conflicts with what they already "know," most people tend to reject it without much consideration.

Both of these campaigns failed to pre-empt. Brands, particularly those owned (whatever that means anymore) by big corporations, need to understand the relevant dominant narratives and decide which ones they want to fit into.

And which ones they don’t.

In these cases, the brand managers failed to respond. They never even attempted to neutralize the rumors until they had become the fodder of Letterman monologues.

That’s too late.

You don’t have to fight fire with fire. There’s no need to hold a presser every time your brand – or your candidate – is maligned. But you absolutely MUST correct the record. Reach out to the journo. Post a note on your blog. Find surrogates to go after the veracity of the accusation. Get your truth on the record.

Unless you’re veryvery lucky, it will not go away.

Short version: No matter what business you’re in, there’s a version of that Letterman monologue. It may be Mr. Letterman, himself. It may be floor talk at the trade show. It may be the bar around the corner from your biggest client’s office. Or gossip in the break room.

What are you doing to drive your preferred narrative in that conversation?

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