Candidate Mitt Romney found out the other day that whatever you say may be turned into a Micro-Script, whether you want it to or not. The people who hear it decide if it has that magic, repeatable quality that makes it a Micro-Script. You don’t. All of a sudden, you’re looking down the barrel of this weapon from the wrong end. Case in point: Romney says “Corporations are people, too.” His enemies couldn’t have been handed a more compact, concise little package to illustrate how they think Mr. Romney thinks if it had been written by a Hollywood scriptwriter. I not only saw it on every news channel, I started hearing my Democrat friends saying it within hours. That’s a Micro-Script all right.
I know he didn’t mean it that way. He meant corporate money is ultimately distributed to people who own it. But the hecklers in the audience heard an entire negative story in that short sentence. To them, it triggered a tale about corporate greed and the attitude of a candidate who got wealthy buying companies and down-sizing their employees to enrich a very few people–all in just four words. Once the Script is out there, it has the power to get away and to take on a power all its own. Remember when John Kerry foolishly said, “I was before it before I was against it?” He became “The flip flopper” and lost the election for that. And when George Bush I said “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Same thing.
Remember our definition: It’s a Micro-Script if it tells a story or a piece or one in a few short words that people like to repeat. The politicians who win today, understand the flip-side, flash fire danger of Micro-Scripts and do everything they can to create story bites that control of their message, and re-frame the other guy so he or she loses control of his or hers. It’s a scary game of fighting fire with fire. But there’s no other choice in today’s incendiary political game.
I remember being at the store with my mommy sometime in 1960. A wanted a toy. It was $1.99. My mother gave me two dollars to give the cashier. I was so happy that the price was only $1.99, We’d have lots and lots of money left over to buy candy!! The clerk gave me back a penny. I waited for the rest. My mother said, that’s right dear, that’s what’s left from $1.99. I knew then (I’m not kidding, I remember thinking this) I’d been hoodwinked by some slick pricing trick. The 99 cents was right in front of my eyes but all my mind let me see was the one buck.
Fast forward to 2011. I see a car priced at $49,999. Wow. It’s only in the forties. I can justify that. I’m wide awake when I rationalize this. I even know I’m doing it. But my brain won’t let me see a ‘5’ on the front of that price. No-sirree. I’ve been hypnotized. Again. My brain is in an economic partnership with the devil.
It’s the single greatest insight any marketer has had in the history of selling, maybe the greatest human intellectual achievement of all time, after Einstein’s theory. I bet this single tactic is responsible for more merchandise sold than any ad or commercial or brand positioning strategy since Noah put a for sale sign on his Ark after the flood. It worked on me when I was 7. It worked on me today.
There should be a statue in bronze erected on the front lawn of the marketing hall of fame for whichever hero of capitalism, known or unknown, came up with __ dollars ninty nine.
Think about effectiveness like this, the next time you see a $6 million Superbowl commercial with two talking dogs trying to jump-start a rabbit.
If you live in New England, especially Connecticut, you see ads everywhere: “Wachovia is now Wells Fargo!” The big tagline is, are you ready:
We’re With You.
Isn’t it marvelous that another mega-bank holding company merger is “With You.” In this case, Wachovia from North Carolina which, just 3 or 4 years ago took over First Union which I think took over Connecticut Bank and Trust, went bankrupt and had to be saved by an emergency sale to Wells during the financial crisis. Nobody in Connecticut for the past three years had a clue what Wachovia was or why they should switch their checking accounts over, other than it had a weird unpronounceable name. Now Wachovia has failed and is called the name of a cowboy show on TV–a bank named after a Stage Coach. I like westerns and stage coaches but this is New England. So I need to know a reason why I should switch to the bank on Bonanza, other than “We’re with you” and another remarkable gem of bank branding they’ve been touting: “Together we’ll go far.” That’s the line I gave my wife 33 years ago and she still thinks she got hosed.
For goodness sakes, Wells Fargo, how about giving me a reason to think you’re a better bank and I should go to the trouble of changing all my banking relationships, which is not fun. Otherwise, Wells Fargo in Connecticut might as well be First United Bank of Russia. I have no reason to trust, give a damn or walk in to you. You’re just the next sign on the old Connecticut Bank and Trust Building. And I can still see the marks on the brick where the old sign was.