The Fallacy of a Strong Defense

“The lady doth protest too much, me thinks.” Hamlet, Act III, scene II

Defensive Dice
Image by M Hillier

When you engage in questionable acts, sometimes you or your organization have to set the facts straight to protect brand reputation. Many individuals and some brands tend to want to over-defend themselves. Instead of removing the tarnish, strong defenses can do the opposite, keeping an issue alive, and in most cases suggest a complicit nature in the brands’ actions.

Questionable is defined as when the community starts publicly doubting your approach or acts. Note this is the public’s perception, not when you think you are right.

A recent example is the White House protest of Standard & Poor’s well broadcasted credit rating downgrade. The Obama Administration looked powerless, and again at fault for not successfully leading the country into a better and less contentious resolution of the debt ceiling. The sudden and ensuing Justice Department investigation into Standard & Poor’s 2008 mortgage actions also looks like a smeer job (Why not all three credit agencies?).

The right thing to do would have been to follow standard reputation management protocols, and issue the White House’s differing opinions with the $2 trillion error clearly pointed out, and leave it at that. The White House would have been well served to simply acknowledge the political issues at play. While Obama has publicized the political divide in recent weeks, it has been in a negative attacking manner. The overarching series of reactions have in turn validated Standard & Poor’s criticsm.

Defending Personal Reputation

Cullen Burnett, 14, of Culpeper (left) and Master Deputy Chad McKnight, (right) practice defensive tactics. Sgt. Owen Bullard, who leads a team of school resource officers for the Sheriff’s Office, looks on (center).
Image by Culpepper County Sheriff’s Office

While brands make this mistake, more often it is the terrain of individuals who take personal issue with criticism. We see this everyday in the blogosphere, but because well known bloggers are prone to drama when criticized, let’s use some celebrity examples.

Mel Gibson is the classic example of the questionable person who over defends himself. His angry tirades on public TV and in embarrassing off-air recordings don’t counter the behavior in his alcohol related arrests (and incidents of fascism), rather they signal complicity and confirm characterizations!

Instead say you’re sorry, change, make some amends and let it go. Or simply acknowledge the mistake and move on. Or disagree about characterizations in a public statement, and move on. Any of these would be better than the strong retaliations Gibson has made. He is now unbookable by most accounts in Hollywood.

Conversely, when Michelle Bachman was dubbed the Queen of Rage in a cover story on Newsweek, she completely ignored the story. Many Tea Party loyalists came to her defense, and Bachman sidestepped character issues by simply refusing to acknowledge the criticism, in turn making it look like an attack. It is doubtful that the Newsweek cover changed many people’s minds about Bachman (but it may have sold a few magazines).

The Newsweek article is analogous to a troll. Most critics are not trolls, rather they have strong differing beliefs, and as such they should not be ignored even if they will never agree with you. Just as President Obama has to acknowledge Tea Party criticism, it is wise to address issues raised by the opposition.

Just like engagement with a negative commenter, state the facts, and if you believe you are in the right, simply let your statement and actions represent you. In marketing a brand, an overtly strong defense can signal complicity. Address questions, be right, be confident, and move on.

What do you think of strong defenses in questionable matters?

11 Replies to “The Fallacy of a Strong Defense”

    1. Yes, especially with questions of ethics. Lance Armstrong’s defensiveness fits this mold, too (another example that popped in my mind). I think if something is wrong, you clarify it, but also the community arises to defend you (without your inciting them). It just seems that people tend to smell the BS…

  1. I think you got it right with the Shakesphere quote.

    But right now, I’m cracking up about this:

    “We see this everyday in the blogosphere, but because well known bloggers
    are prone to drama when criticized, let’s use some celebrity examples.” So I’ll have to come back and comment again.

  2. In my experience, when you are sure of yourself, you don’t need to go on the defensive. Even so, a lot of us do go on the defensive, especially when it concerns our integrity. Have someone question our good motives and integrity and I think most of us will lose it-at least a little bit.

    1. Mmm, I think that’s why bloggers flip out. They are not prepared for the trials of a public persona.

  3. Geoff, 

    Most bloggers, especially those who hit some sort of critical mass (whatever that is) become very defensive because they feel like they have something to lose. It’s the surest sign that they never had what they are trying to protect in the first place. 

    Nice piece. I’m growing wary of the preemptive “if you don’t like this for any reason, you’re a jealous hater” argument. That’s diatribe. And it has no business in social media or life in general, for that matter. 


    1. Juvenile is the word I think of… But you know what, I think these public train wrecks are entertaining to their community, but also serve as bug spray to people that hold line item budgets.

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