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?

Winning Political Battles and Losing the Economic War

Abe Lincoln's Hand

Marketers can learn from the horrible debt debate and the resulting downgrade of U.S. credit. The pursuit of personal and partisan agendas by all parties — but most notably Tea Party extremists and to a lesser extent liberal Democrats — cost the nation and to some extent global investors alike. All parties came out looking worse for the wear. While posturing to be idealogically right, the utter loss of respect in the eyes of their customers — the American citizen local and national, as well as global investors– cannot justify hardline stances.

As a result of this gamesmanship, Congress now enjoys record low disapproval ratings. While making “We passed our bill, they won’t compromise” statements, Congress failed to enact the deep cuts envisioned by the likes of the Gang of Six or President Obama’s Grand Bargain.

And now rather than buckle down and resolve the crisis, both political parties increased the rhetoric this weekend blaming each other for the lowered credit rating. So what is the price of continuing to be right?

At risk is more than the country’s Standard & Poor rating. Moody’s and Fitch — the remaining two primary credit firms — stand ready to downgrade U.S. credit, too. A combination of all three firms downgrading U.S. credit could create shockwaves throughout the economy. Further, global investors are now putting pressure on Washington to clean up its debt.

Tarnishing your country in the name of partisanship and reelections is not an act of leadership. It is likely that 2012 will be the fourth straight Congressional election with major volatility and turnover. This time it may have little to do with platform, and everything to do with an incumbent status. The American customer is very, very unhappy.

Marketers can see short term wins at the expense of long term customer satisfaction yields poor results. It never pays to cut off your nose to spite your face.

What do you think of the PR blame game in Washington right now?