What the GEICO Gecko Could Teach Our Politicians

Author: Linda J. Popky

As we hit October, we’re in that stage where most people have had more than enough of presidential politics. Yet amidst all the TV ads, news stories, phone calls and those incessant polls, there’s one thing we haven’t seen enough of. It’s something I call the Gecko Factor.

For the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve been subjected to an ever increasing volume of messages about the candidates’ views, their proposals and platforms. The goal, obviously, is to make us choose one candidate over the other.

What we haven’t seen much of, however, is a strong message that makes us identify in a powerful, positive way with either candidate. Instead, we hear more about what’s wrong with the other side and what we have to fear if that candidates wins.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt have been part of the traditional tools used to sell products and services. Insurance, for example, was traditionally sold by making people worry what would happen if they die, were in a car accident or got seriously ill. This is a product that most of us hope never to use but we’re convinced to buy it anyway.

Today, however, even insurance is promoted with a positive, fun message. The GEICO Gecko tells us in 15 minutes we’ll save big on car insurance. Flo from Progressive is so chipper about her sleek ultra-modern insurance store it makes us wonder what she’s indulging in off camera.

In fact, the entire industry, from the State Farm “Good Neighbor” agents to the Nationwide super spokesman to that annoying AFLAC duck, are spinning a positive message to consumers. And while many of these ads talk about saving money, no one tells you the horrible misfortunes you’ll suffer if you forego buying insurance or, just importantly, what terrible things will happen if you mistakenly choose the competition.

Compare this to political advertising. We hear all about what’s wrong with the other guy. We learn about what terrible calamities could befall our economic system, Medicare, and even the American way of life if we make the wrong decision. Mitt Romney has recently grabbed headlines with his comment about 47% of the population not paying their fair share of income taxes. Not the best way to win friends and influence votes, some of which will need to come from this same group of people.

Four years ago, the Obama campaign rode the theme “Change We Can Believe In” to the White House. The McCain campaign, on the other hand, changed messages regularly throughout the campaign, without focusing on one consistent theme.

This year, neither side has developed a powerful, positive message that resonates with the voters. Obama’s slogan is simply “Forward.” Huh? That doesn’t have the same positive ring as “Change We Can Believe In.” Romney, though, doesn’t seem to have a slogan, at least not one I could find. From both sides we have negative images, mudslinging and too much fear, uncertainty and doubt.

It’s unlikely we’ll change politics but there are clear lessons for us in business:

  • Don’t knock the competition: Focus on the value you bring with your product or service.
  • Consistency wins: Find your position and stick with it.
  • Stand for something: Make sure your audience knows what you stand for.
  • Repetition, repetition, repetition: It takes multiple exposures for any message to sink in, so tell your story again and again.

It’s really quite straightforward. Think positive. If you don’t believe me, take 15 minutes and ask the gecko.

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