Lisa Merriam

A Political Manuever by Any Other Name Would Smell as Rotten

Creating a great brand name means finding names that fit with products and that generate true and motivating associations. In politics, the opposite is more often true. Politicians of both parties seems particularly attracted to doublespeak. Take note of the new Democratic strategy of replacing the word “Reconciliation” with “Simple Majority”. What is behind the renaming of this tactic?

Reconciliation Seems a Strategically Fitting Name

On the face of it, calling the processes of passing the healthcare bill with 51 votes “Reconciliation” seems like a good naming choice. For a country hungry purportedly hungry for bi-partisanship, the meanings of that name are a strong strategic fit. Reconciliation means bringing differences into harmony, settling disputes, becoming friends again. But in Congress, Reconciliation is just another way to fight.

Dictionary Definitions Don’t Matter in Naming

But marketers know that the actual definition of a name doesn’t mean a thing. It is the associations that matter. Over the course of the last several months, the parliamentary process called “Reconciliation” has become associated with strong-arm tactics, a my-way-or-the-highway arrogance, shutting out the opposition, even “Rahm-ming It Through” or the “Nuclear Option.” The real world meaning Reconciliation has come to mean the opposite of the dictionary meaning. Hence the strategic need to rename.

Rhetorical Benefits of the New Name “Simple Majority”.

The rhetorical benefits of the new name for passing healthcare through parliamentary maneuver are many. “Simple” means:

  • Easy to understand
  • Not artificial
  • Modest
  • Uncomplicated
  • Free of deceit

These are great associations for a complex, contentious bill topping 2000 pages that few have read and ever fewer understand. Even better, these meanings try to free the strategy from the complexity and cynicism of back room deals and the intricate rules of Congress. Add the basic playground fairness of “majority rules” to the idea of “Simple Majority”, and it looks like you’ve got a winning name.

Genuine Name or Doublespeak

Naming works when it is genuine. Marketers—and politicians are marketers as much as they are anything—do long-term irreparable damage to their reputations and their ability to earn profits (or votes) when they fail to be truthful. When naming descends to doublespeak, the brand suffers. Just ask Richard Nixon, King of Doublespeak, who will be forever known as Tricky Dick and worse.

In his groundbreaking book Doublespeak, author William Lutz defines doublespeak as language that misleads rather than leads, that pretends to communicate, but really doesn’t, that tries to avoid or shift responsibility, and communication that conceals, limits and prevents thought. Not a wise strategy for brand building.

People are cynical, connected, informed and empowered to broadcast their opinions far and wide. Companies are rapidly learning there is no place to hide and that doublespeak hurts. People will find your missteps and “misspeaks” quickly and will spread the news at warp speed. Just ask Toyota suffering from their mishandled approach to recalls, and Apple on new information of underage workers at their manufacturing plants in China.

Brands that lie can lose market share. Politicians can lose elections. Rather than being smart strategy, healthcare strategists might just be underestimating voters and outsmarting themselves.