Wednesday April 1, 2020
 

Word Of Mouth

Rumor and word of mouth can be deadly.  It is in this case where people are drinking methanol to ward off COVID-19.  Methanol is poison, but some Iranians seem to think it is a cure-all.  The government is warning its citizens of the mistake but so far, some are not complying and they are ending up in hospitals.  The rumor apparently pairs alcohol and honey as a curative medicine, and Iranians who are not supposed to drink liquor haven’t distinguished between whiskey and methanol.  The error makes for a study of the origin and spread of rumor.  Who started it?  To whom did they talk?  Were they open about what they were doing?  How come so many believed them in spite of governmental warnings?  What persuasive messages are needed to counteract such error?  How should they be transmitted to individual citizens?  Iran’s marketers and PR practitioners should consider researching the mistake.

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Blunt But Credible

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is known as a bully.  He talks and acts the tough guy, and he picks fights with fellow politicians.  That is why this is so remarkable.  He has emerged as a leading voice in the fight against COVID-19 with his no-nonsense daily press conferences.  He gives the numbers of affected in the state.  He discusses the demand for more respirators and ventilators.  He lights into the Federal Government for failing to assist to the degree that the state needs.  There is no sweet talk or bloviating, the politicians’ disease.  He scores points for honesty and telling it like it is.  When this crisis is over, he will be in a stronger position than ever before.  Citizens trust him in a time of need.  At some point, he will need to moderate his remarks as the virus subsides, and medical professionals gain control.  But, that time isn’t yet.  So, he remains front and center to the benefit of all.

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Mixed Messages

It is no secret that President Trump and Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert, don’t see eye-to-eye.  Trump will make an optimistic statement and Fauci will roll it back.  The rumor is that Trump is frustrated with Fauci and would like to get rid of him.  That would eliminate the mixed messages coming from the White House, but it also would subvert facts in political spin, something American’s don’t want now.  Citizens crave straight talk from the President.  They aren’t getting it.  Rather, it is coming from Fauci whose credibility is higher than Trump’s.  As long as the two of them share a podium, there will be tension.  Trump would be better off letting Fauci take command of communications, but that is not the President’s way of working.  So they remain at loggerheads and the nation is worse off for it.

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New Norm

Great events can shift popular opinion and habits almost instantaneously.  That is the case with COVID-19.  There is now “quarantine shaming” directed at those who are not taking care to stay away from gatherings.  Two weeks ago, no one would have thought much about it, if at all.  To have such an overwhelming change of public opinion in such a short time usually happens only when the US is attacked, such as on 9/11.  To have the nation turn on a dime because of a disease probably hasn’t happened since the 1918 flu when millions were affected and hundreds of thousands died.  To those who have worked in the grinding process of PR where years are needed to change minds (think of smoking), experiencing such a sudden shift is remarkable.  People do pay attention when a serious issue directly affects them.  

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Punishment

If a CEO is thinking of bending or breaking regulatory rules, he should think about this.  Volkswagen has already paid out $34.69 billion as a result of its diesel cheating.  That’s billions that didn’t go to R&D, to maintenance , to shareholders, to development of new models.  The company won’t soon forget what it had done, and it will continue paying out cash until 2021 as if to remind its executives of the mistake they made.  Volkswagen is a big company but not so large that billions fail to dent its armor and competitiveness.  The company is now moving away from diesels and toward electrical powertrains.  This is the exact opposite of what it had done, which was “bet-the-farm” on diesel technology.  It will take decades for people to forget what the company had done. It should take much longer than that for its managers to move past the scandal.

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Shafted

What happens when your engineering team is shafted by the President?  Google is finding out.  President Trump announced nationally that Google’s subsidiary, Verily, had built a web site through which COVID-19 patients could find out where to get tested.  There is only one problem.  There is no public web site — not yet anyway — and the small test site that Verily was shaking down was quickly overwhelmed by concerned citizens.  Fortunately for Google, the bad PR from this cock-up was quickly focused on the President rather than on Google.  It was a typical shoot-from-the-lip Trump announcement — unchecked, gratuitous, designed to look like he was in control.  It was a sadly typical outcome — a disaster.  One wonders when President Trump will learn to check facts before speaking.  It might be too late for him in this election year.

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Hunkering Down

Today is the first day of working from home with no end in sight — not yet anyway.  Dozens of new cases of COVID-19 have been reported and schools, restaurants, theaters and other places where crowds gather have been shut down.  Major cities have seen their central districts abandoned.  People are afraid.  As one medical authority said, now is the time for straight, factual communications to the nation that explains what is happening and steps being taken to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.  This is to counteract rumors, misinformation and outright lies spreading from mouth-to-mouth and on social media.  It is also necessary to stop panic buying of food, paper products and sanitizers.  Especially for those now working at improvised desks in apartments and houses, it is needed to know when it is safe to return to work.  We will learn during this time the practicality of mass telecommuting and whether it works as well as being in an office.  It’s a difficult time to experiment, but there isn’t much choice.

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Old But New

Hormel, the maker of Spam, has had an 80-year challenge marketing its product.  It seems that troops in World War II were fed spiced canned meat that they mistook for Spam, and they hated it.  They brought the distaste home with them.  Hormel, meanwhile, recognizing the problem created a national publicity stunt with 80 World War II female veterans who toured the country promoting Spam.  That worked until a famous Monte Python sketch used the word, “Spam” endlessly, and it became the denominator of trash online messaging.  Spam went into the world computer language and stayed.  Hormel tried to sue tech companies using Spam in their names but eventually gave up.  It accepted the misuse of its name and learned to market with it.  Today, Spam is a growing food product and has universal name recognition.  What could be better than that?

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Ad Hominem, Cont.

I’ve written here before about President Trump’s use of ad hominem invective against opponents.  He gives derogatory nicknames to them and implies or says outright that they aren’t effective. He’s at it again with the suggestion that Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden is senile.  There is just enough possible truth to the charge to make it effective.  Bien hasn’t helped himself by being a life-long gaffe-o-matic who can’t seem to keep from misstating things or making dubious claims.  Trump with his feral sense of survival is boring in on that fault.  Is it civil?  No.  Is it fair?  Hardly.  Will Trump use the charge to turn concern about his own intelligence against his likely opponent? Yes.  It’s “I might be bad but he is worse.”  Biden has no choice.  He needs to get out ahead of such charges and defeat them by being a good candidate. To the extent he can, he will do well.  If he can’t, Trump is looking at a second term.

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Marketing Fraud

Cell phone carriers are engaged in marketing fraud as an industry.  Every company says it offers 5G speeds when they clearly don’t or are barely adequate.  Regulators so far are letting them get away with it.  Is it any wonder that consumers are wary of the claims?  It is caveat emptor for the next few years while the infrastructure is being built out.  And,.there is little question why the buyer should beware.  The 5G technology requires many more antennas spaced closely together to work.  This means many more buildings to park them on, many more towers to build, many more dead spots to reduce. Carriers are working flat out, but they are nowhere near reaching national coverage.  Still, they are making raucous claims and confusing consumers.  It’s bad marketing and lousy PR.  The government should step in.

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