“There is No Reality Beyond Perception”

Photo by cliff106, via Flicker/CC

Politics offers interesting lessons for brand marketers in how to  create reality.  For example, check out an opinion piece in the WSJ today by Thomas Frank… It’s called  “Joe the Plumber and Republican ‘Authenticity'”.

Frank writes about an upcoming book called Invisible Hands that tracks the development of the conservative movement in the U.S.

In commenting on Ronald Reagan’s original strategy of bringing blue-collar workers into the Republican fold, Frank quotes a 1980s strategy document from Reagan’s pollster, Richard
Wirthlin: “People act on the basis of their perception of reality; there
is, in fact, no political reality beyond what is perceived by the

Frank then goes on to say: “Reality is a terrible impediment when you’re
reaching out to workers while simultaneously cracking down on unions
and scheming to privatize Social Security.”

Do corporate marketers and communicators have this much leeway with “reality?”

Certainly the answer is yes when it comes to “issues” advertising/branding/communications. This is a lot like political communications anyway.  One example would be renaming British Petroleum (BP) to Beyond Petroleum and running ads that focus on the how green the company is — when in reality they are still a petroleum company by a wide, wide margin. Putting the focus on BEYOND, though, reframes the debate in the company’s favor.

It’s also true in high-level brand image campaign when you are shaping an idea, a brand, an image. Think Budweiser or Chanel.

“Reality” does rear it’s head a bit more forcefully in more concrete product marketing, like say for software. Your customers get to play with your product, form their own “reality”-based perception, and then talk about it with others.

But taking a look at Microsoft’s new “I’m a PC” ads and you can see that image/perception can have a strong impact on how one feels about something as concrete as an operating system.

BTW, here’s an audio interview of Richard Wirthlin (who also wrote The Greatest Communicator about Reagan) from Feb. of last year. The button to listen is towards the bottom of the page. An interesting listen — once you get the through the first minute or two of throat-clearing.

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