The Best Marketing Changes Perception, But So Does The Worst

I’m writing this article with the assumption that you (the reader) agree that marketing works, and works in very strong ways. We are confronted with marketing and advertising messages all day, every day. From the minute our clock radio alarm goes off and your local morning show DJ is endorsing his favorite product, to the moment we fall asleep with the TV on an infomercial, businesses and organizations are all promoting what they do. And we eat it up. But the thought that struck me this week was about how marketing – and the media reporting it can generate – skews perception, and moves it far from reality.
On Tuesday I attended The 56th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. If you live on the East Coast, and indeed anywhere within driving distance of the Capitol, you were bombarded with news stories and messages about the crush of people expected, and the extreme difficulties those attending the events would face. So everyone that planned to be there in person planned to arrive well ahead of the start of the ceremony. Our bus loaded in suburban Maryland at 4:00am and we arrived at Union Station by 5:00am. We were on the Mall by 6:30am and stood in that same place until almost 1:00pm. Each of our decisions was affected by the news reports, the marketing of the event, and the perception that we had formed based on that information. Our decision to start early and be extremely cautious, our decision to plan for three hours of traffic each way, our decision to leave many items at the hotel, and even our decision to avoid the portable bathrooms.
After the Inauguration was over, and we returned to our hotel, we began to see and hear and read the post-event reports. Once again, they focused solely on the crush of people that actually showed up and the extreme difficulties those that attended the event had experienced. I’m writing this to tell you that the perception formed by anyone that consumed that information is skewed. The perception of the event was not reality for me and my group. Traffic was minimal, security was tight but not inconvenient, movement was easy, the Mall was well-marked, and the bathrooms were easily accessible and perfectly usable.
Normally, I would just attribute the differences to the hype of this historic Inauguration and move on. But I vividly remember a very similar scenario 10 years ago when I attended the Woodstock concert in 1999. Anyone familiar with that event will remember that the news stories all reported severe and dangerous fires and some rioting on the last day. Let me tell you, being on the ground, those stories were nowhere close to reality. Yes, some fires were started and a few people strayed from the peaceful identity of the event. But at no time did I – or anyone I was with – feel like we were in danger or that we should flee to safety. In case you weren’t aware, Woodstock will celebrate its 40th anniversary this year, and two concerts are planned to mark that milestone; one will take place in Berlin and one will be held in New York again. I guarantee the pre-event reporting will create a decidedly negative perception. I plan to be in New York and assume the experience will be both safe and pleasant again (come back in August for my full report).
In both cases, the marketing of the events and the messages that were reported caused the general public perception to move away from the reality that we all experienced. And in both cases, very little credit was given to the organizers of the events for their impeccable planning. Things were nearly perfect and could have been much, much, much worse.
As for the Inauguration, some people believe that the perception that was created actually caused people to stay away, and helped ease any potential issues. If that’s the case, everyone that was responsible for skewing perception should feel ashamed. Not because there weren’t issues, but because people felt like they couldn’t participate in the peaceful transfer of power in the most powerful country in the world. That’s the worst kind of marketing.

One thought on “The Best Marketing Changes Perception, But So Does The Worst

  1. While I am glad you had a positive experience at the inauguration, there is more truth here. Security was so tight and access so controlled that thousands of people with high-level tickets did not get onto the Mall, even after arriving at dawn. Silver ticket holders broke down barriers and stormed the Mall at about 11:15 a.m. so as not to miss the President’s speech. Maybe you missed the empty bleachers near the White House grandstand. Those of us who lived in the area and attended other inaugurations were amazed that the coveted bleacher seats were empty this time. Those ticket holders, and they were very restricted, were not allowed access to their seats. PR is everything, especially when journalists were ignoring the empty bleachers and those poor souls who travelled from across the country to stand hours in the freezing cold to spend the morning watching a security fence. Glad your experience was positive, and limited. Spin on, my man.

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