People in Marketing know that perception is more important than reality. Because of this phenomenon, people will prefer one brand over the others even when there is no perceptible difference between them. For example, a classic case was when a company test marketed three detergents, one in a yellow box, one in an orange box, and one in a red box. Customers reported that the detergent in the yellow box didn’t adequately clean their clothes. The red was too harsh and ruined their clothes. However, the detergent in the orange box cleaned their clothes without ruining them.
As you’ve probably guessed, all three boxes contained the same detergent.
Perception is very important. Marie Antoinette may have been clueless and lived in luxury, but she never said that if the peasants had no bread, “let them eat cake.” In fact, on the platform of the guillotine, she stepped on the executioner’s foot and apologized, saying, “I am sorry sir, I did not mean to put it there.” The real quotation does not get anywhere near the mileage of the cake story.
Politicians, celebrities, and other highly visible people who are in the spotlight try to avoid perception problems. Many have aides who try to steer them clear of statements and actions that are bad optics.
Only time will tell whether a recent event will become another “let them eat cake” legend. I’m speaking, of course, of the new White House Tennis Pavilion.
The White House, has had movie theaters, swimming pools, running tracks, bowling alleys, and–yes–tennis courts, so this is not something new. However the timing is a problem. With well over 15 million COVID-19 cases in the US, 293,931 ending in death, and 12 percent unemployment, the perception might well be a problem.
If you’re young enough, check the history books in 40 years to see how it turns out.
Steve: This post is so interesting, excellent and perhaps your best. Your marketing example was great, and the Marie Antoinette parallel powerful. And your point with reference to the White House, government and politics was meaningful.
I think the majority of assimilated Americans agree with you that perception is reality in politics. This is one of the most unfortunate things in our American polity because it means that uninformed opinions and half-truths can quickly become gospel and influence how our policy-makers legislate. It’s doubly unfortunate when the well-lubricated machine that pumps out perception almost uniformly leans to the wrong–sometimes to the right.