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If only the bail-out had been called a rescue

Bailout images

The trouble with America's $700bn bail-out is the "B" word itself - bail-out, say advertising chiefs. Branding expert Jonathan Gabay considers how a little creative story-telling could have saved a whole lot of financial turmoil.

It has been, according to some of the sharpest advertising minds in America, a "failure of branding". Had President George Bush concentrated on the word "rescue" when selling the $700bn "bail-out" package, say ad chiefs, the plan might have sailed through Congress rather than first being rejected.

Paradoxically in his address to the nation on 24 September, a sombre President Bush didn't even mention the "B" word . Instead he said: "I propose that the Federal Government reduce the risk posed by [these] troubled assets and supply urgently-needed money so banks and other financial institutions can avoid collapse and resume lending.

Bail-out headline
There it is again, the 'B' word

"This rescue effort is not aimed at preserving any individual company or industry. It is aimed at preserving America's overall economy."

What he only once referred to as a "rescue" the world's press, and many members of the House of Representatives, interpreted and damned as a "bail-out". The House promptly voted down the plan on Monday.

Expressions like "bail-out" imply failure and breakdown - the utter antithesis of the home-grown virtuous American dream of success and foresight.

Arguably from a branding perspective, President Bush's advisors could have come up with a clearer message of intent. Branding experts such as Andrew Bennett, chief executive of Euro RSCG - which claims to be the "largest global ad agency as measured by total number of accounts" - have suggested that the White House should have simplified the president's message.

Others in the marketing community believe that the $700bn proposal should have been sold to the American public in terms of an act of selfless heroism.

In such a case spin doctors could have repackaged the emergency in the equivalent terms of a movie trailer, according the US National Media Group. The American people would have been presented the image of the kind yet tough New York firefighter daring to face the deadly backdraft - all to rescue the weakened economy from the roaring flames of recession.

George and dragon

Alternatively branding people could have re-pitched the crisis in terms of a David versus Goliath battle. Here, outrage is expressed against the giant "wicked warlocks of Wall Street" in need of a sharp lesson meted out by the simple community of god-fearing Americans (the "Davids") inspired by their leader George - the dragon slayer. (A subtle homage to the special UK/US relationship.)

BAIL-OUT DEFINED
Americans... will applaud and honor those who perform [an] act of heroism - there is no such thanks for those who provide a bailout. The curtain tends to fall swiftly on a drama with no heroes.
Joint statement from Euro RSCG and National Media Group

The argument goes that if the president would have realigned his national address in the kind of positive terms used at the beginning of the "war on Terror", at the very least he could avoided being demeaned by politicians on Capitol Hill who initially rejected his "rescue" plan.

Within 12 hours of the fall of the Twin Towers in in 2001 President Bush promised immediate and positive rescue tactics. His speech repeatedly affirmed his assertive leadership to rescue rather than redeem.

For example: "I implemented our government's emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it's prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington, DC to help with local rescue efforts."

Whilst no one should directly compare the human horror of 9/11 to the current financial shakedown, it is interesting to consider how sometimes a president - or any leader - is perceived not simply by what is said, but how a message is delivered and so understood.

Gotta have soul

The same is true in any branding exercise. From marketing sports to politicians, the art of branding isn't simply about catchphrases or logos - at its heart is the soul of a message. At the centre of it all is a simple meaning that is explained and detailed in full.

Ironically it was President Bush himself who once said: "In my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in."

In today's sound-bite society such an approach should be taken for granted as a "101" lesson for any politician wishing to highlight a message to the press who report meaning, along with the public who judge that meaning's merits and value.

Tony Blair understood this when he said, "Education, education, education". Martin Luther King understood it when he repeated and explained his "dream".

Whoever gets into the White House next may want to keep in mind that in terms of branding, sometimes the best way to be rescued from having to bail out of a bad situation is to take a repeat course in good old-fashioned plain talking.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Sadly, all this article prove for me is that American politics is exactly the same as American commercialism and branding... Is you can use the right words, repeated enough and with a decent amount of glamour and emotional appeal, you can sell the people anything you want to. I know it's not just present in America, but I find it leaves a very unpleasant taste in my mouth.
Heather, Willenhall

It's surprising that the Bush administration didn't do a better job since they were the architects of the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act". Because this spells out USA PATRIOT Act, it was easy to label any opponents of this draconian legislation "anti-American". They're obviously losing their touch as they count down their remaining days in office.
Daniel Ross, London

Advertising schumks make me sick! This is an outrage.. pretending to 'spin' a crisis as a rescue plan when really it's a heist. I'm glad people are waking up to the fact that they've been lied too. We should round up these advertising 'guru's' along with the crooked Wall Street mafia and have then sent to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $600 billion...
Hermes Harding, Norwich, England

Perhaps if the banks had not been hiding behind a carefully constructed marketing image (i.e. lies) all this time people would have seen what they were up to and stopped them and we would not be in this mess now. Instead of more image manipulation, spin and lies, how about telling us how it really is? Tell the truth! Who knows, it might just work, it certainly hasn't been tried yet. Publicly name and shame the people responsible for this mess, vow never to let them get their hands on our money again, and maybe we'll be a bit more sympathetic to pleas for a 'rescue'.
John Gregor, Edinburgh, UK

How can democracy work when people are unable or unwilling to look at the content of a proposal and make a judgement purely on its presentation?
Don, Brighton, England

Lipstick on a pig.
Stephen, London

The term "bail-out" is good enough - any references to "rescue" or suchlike are merely pathetic advertising spin and seek to disguise the absolute mess that so-called banking "experts" have created in the world financial sector. In fact, bail-out is probably too kind.
terry, Rhymney

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