The effects of the New Year’s Eve “fiscal cliff” compromise were first felt by most people last week when their paycheck took a hit from the year-end expiration of a 2% two-year payroll tax cut that had been tied to earlier stimulus legislation. As a result, nearly everyone saw a bigger tax bill (and smaller take-home pay).
The reason most folks were caught unawares when their second paycheck fell short of their first (prepared before the “compromise”) was that the media had focused all its frenzied attention on the dire potential impact of going over the fiscal cliff. While much was written and said about whether taxes would rise for those making $1 million, virtually no attention was paid to a 2% increase for those making $10,000 to $110,000.
The fact that there has been so little subsequent clamor about the loss of this tax cut seems to affirm the efficacy of the time-honored “worse news makes bad news look good” strategy.
This variation on the “bait-and-switch” technique was raised to a fine art by the New York Transit Authority which, for years, would threaten a rate increase of $1 or more for a subway or bus ride, but at the last minute somehow manage to hold the increase to just 50 cents. So elated at not having to pay the threatened $1, New Yorkers did not complain about the additional half dollar.
This approach underscores the key role of perspective in communications. Fifty cents is not so bad if you had been worried about paying an extra $1. A 2% payroll tax increase is not so bad if you were terrified that the nation’s entire fiscal system was headed over the brink into chaos.
It’s all in the public relations “spin” put on a message so that you come to see it from a desired perspective―usually someone else’s. Spin and perspective are two sides of the same coin; in fact, all spin really means is presenting information in a way that will get someone to see it from your point of view.
Although most people have a negative view of spin, it can be used to drive noble, as well as crasser objectives. Charities, for example, produce vignettes of life seen from the perspective of suffering children in third-world countries to convince you that your money would be put to far better use with them than spending it on yourself. Political candidates show you how much better the nation would be if you looked at it from their point of view; how much worse if you adopted their opponent’s. Public service ads show how much greener, cleanier, healther, safer the world would be if you viewed in ways their advocates do.
The genius of public relations is to spin a message so expertly that it will not only reflect your own point of view, but also get others to see it from your perspective. The genius of marketing (or advertising), on the other hand, is to spin a message so that it reflects your customer’s point of view and gets him to believe that you view something from his perspective.
More about how this works next time.