Just how will President Bush's call for a troop surge impact presidential politics in 2008? TODAY invited Frank Luntz, a republican pollster and author of the new book, “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear,” to discuss the importance of words in politics. Read an excerpt:
Twenty-one Words and Phrases for the Twenty-first Century“I hope our leaders don’t feel like they have to talk to us in monosyllables or break it down to easy-to-understand things. You know, we get smarter by people treating us smarter....You want to be lifted up and told to lead.” — Aaron Sorkin
This book has examined the development and application of words that work. Now it’s time to look ahead to the twenty-one words and phrases that you will be hearing often as we move through these early years of the twenty-first century. Some apply to business, others to politics, but they all define the new American lexicon. I choose these words because I believe they will withstand the test of time.Based on hundreds of thousands of telephone interviews, hundreds of dial sessions and focus groups, and literally a million research hours, I contend that the words and concepts in this chapter will be as essential and powerful tomorrow as they are today. The words that follow are not superficial, timely, or contingent on the ephemeral circumstances of the moment. These words cut to the heart of Americans’ most fundamental beliefs and right to the core values that do not change no matter how we vote or shop, or what delivery devices we use to play music, in the year 2020.The words in this chapter have eminently practical applications. Consider the following example:
VERIZON BUSINESS: THE PERFECT AD COPY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
(key words in bold)“What if you attached an innovative wing structure to some bicycle machinery and launched it from a sand dune? (Black-and-white visuals of early airplane flights)That works.What if you created a thin piece of plastic that could easily be used just like money—anywhere in the world? (Artistically colorized visuals of money morphing into credit cards)That works.Suppose we created an IP network so far-reaching and expansive, it can make doing business more efficient around the globe. (Visuals of postmodern buildings interspersed with people working at computers)Suppose we put your global business network in the hands of world-class professionals. People who know it end-to-end. (Visuals of multi-ethnic business professionals with confident appearances)Verizon has joined with MCI to form Verizon Business, where global capability meets personal accountability — to make your business more successful — and your life a little easier. (A father showing his young daughter pictures of herself on his computer)That works!Introducing Verizon Business.In a single sixty-second spot, Verizon Business managed to incorporate three of the words in this chapter: innovative, efficient, and accountability. These are the words that will sell products and win votes. They will redefine perceptions that need changing and confirm existing ideas that need reinforcing. I have used these words to help more than two dozen Fortune 500 companies grow and thrive, and to aid more than two hundred elected officials in winning or keeping their jobs. These are words that work and that will continue to work. They are the language of America.WORDS AND PHRASES FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY1. “Imagine”“Imagine” is one of the most powerful words in the English language. It evokes something different to each person that hears it. Every person has a unique definition of the American Dream that they imagine and someday hope to achieve. The point is that “imagine” leads to 300 million different, personal definitions — and that’s just in the United States alone.No matter what your company’s product or service, the word “imagine” has the potential to create and personalize an appeal that is individualized based on the dreams and desires of the person who hears or reads it. The word “imagine” is an open, nonrestrictive command — almost an invitation. Its power is derived from the simple fact that it can conjure up anything in the mind of the one doing the imagining. What can be imagined is therefore endlessly personal and targeted in a way that no canned marketing campaign could ever hope to be. When a potential consumer imagines, she’s the one doing the most important work, investing her own mental energies to create something new where before there was nothing. You don’t have to tell people what to imagine, just encourage them to do so.The clearest illustration of this process is reading. When you read, you translate the black-and-white symbols on the page into vivid, Technicolor pictures in your mind — but everybody’s mental pictures are different. This makes each reader a collaborator with the author in the creation of his or her own entertainment.
Film, for all its wonders, is an infinitely more passive medium for just this reason — and it undermines rather than enhances imagination. Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities is one of the most read and applauded novels about business and greed ever written because of its visionary and descriptive prose, but the movie was a bust. Even good films suffer in comparison to what we imagine from the pages of a book. The Natural is considered by many to be one of the best baseball films of all time — but those same people will assert that the book was better. Same with Lord of the Rings.When an advertisement asks the audience to “imagine,” it’s inviting them to take ownership of the product or service being sold — to make it their own. But if the ad says too much or shows too much, it undermines the process of imagination that the advertiser is trying to stoke. Conversely, if you show too little, as Infiniti automobiles did when they launched the new brand in 1989, you don’t give people the tools they need to create their own images. By not showing the car, they didn’t create anticipation or imagination. They created annoyance.Similarly, AT&T Wireless wanted Americans to imagine (and get) an mLife, digital-speak for mobile life, when it launched a multimillion-dollar branding campaign just before the 2002 Super Bowl. They thought teaser ads asking “What is mLife” would “intrigue” consumers and pique interest. Like Infiniti, the mLife promotion did become a hot topic of discussion — and debate — and it generated considerable Web traffic, but in this case the product reveal did not live up to the hype, and AT&T Wireless dropped the campaign. If you ask people to imagine the best, you had better deliver the best.The boundless world of imagination has found an equally boundless partner in the Internet. Samsung, a company that makes everything from microwave ovens to MP3 players, has launched an “imagine” inspired campaign, asking its customers to “become captivated by functions and conveniences you never dreamed possible.” This challenge to consumers to push the boundaries of their own minds is accompanied by an image- and sound-laden Web site that creates an environment in which the versatility and variety of Samsung’s products are highlighted.The concept of imagination also has great salience within companies. It’s no accident that the designers and builders of the Disney theme parks took for themselves the name “Imagineers,” a combination of “imagine” and “engineer.”1 Every worker wants to feel that he or she is more than just a generic and replaceable cog in a machine. When a company asks its employees to “imagine,” it’s asking them to forget, at least for a moment, about bureaucratic organizational charts, stodgy bosses, departmental budgets, the established way of doing things, and all the other everyday restrictions that infringe on their work. Asking your employees to “imagine” is asking them to contribute a piece of themselves to the enterprise. It can do wonders for morale, of course—but it can also lead to some incredibly innovative ideas.As in the corporate sphere, “imagine” is one of the most powerful words in politics. A political idea is just an idea — but when someone captures your imagination, he or she goes from being a “politician” (negative, disreputable, boring) to being a “leader” (visionary, statesmanlike, inspiring). The most successful political leaders are those who find a way to inspire. They manifest their own imaginative powers, but, even more importantly, they stimulate the imaginations of their fellow citizens.Edmund Burke, decrying the onset of the French Revolution, described its cold rationalism this way: “The age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded.”2 Great political leaders don’t come across as human calculators. They exhibit passion, sympathy, and an unbridled belief in a better future. President Kennedy didn’t inspire thousands of young Americans to join the Peace Corps by presenting a really persuasive cost-benefit analysis. He appealed to something far greater in our hearts. Imagination, passion, even a touch of poetry — these are the qualities that speed the pulse.The use of imagination to induce imagery is particularly helpful when talking about a complex subject to a large and diverse audience. In early 2005, when President George W. Bush was attempting the seemingly impossible task of reforming Social Security, he challenged the Congress and the American people to imagine the future for the next generation if the looming threat of Social Security bankruptcy was not properly addressed. In a speech at the University of Notre Dame, Bush explicitly asked the audience to “imagine if this government of ours does nothing at this point in Social Security, and you’ve got a five-year-old child.” By doing this the President was not simply asking the audience to think about the future. He was placing every member of the audience in the role of a parent struggling to raise kids and put away enough money for retirement. Bush understood that the combination of the “imagine” framework and the intergenerational impact of Social Security would pack a powerful punch. Yet he still failed because the imagination of seniors losing their Social Security in a stock market crash was even more powerful than the dream of their grandchildren getting control of their Social Security savings. Big dreams — or horrific nightmares — are not born from facts and figures. The real emotional impact requires a real imagination—and an appeal to use it.
Excerpted from “Words That Work” Dr. Frank Luntz. Copyright 2007, Dr. Frank Luntz. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the publisher.