CommCore Blog and News

The Trouble with Lines and Lips

A year ago President Obama stated publicly that any use of chemical weapons by Syria’s President Assad was “a red line” that could not be crossed. It was a strong, visual metaphor. In using it he crossed a line that communicators always caution about – be careful when you frame a strong statement with an indelible image or metaphor because you may have difficulty re-calibrating your message later on.

Regardless of the public’s, the pundits’ and the media’s current views on his Syria policy, President Obama is now also being taken to task by some of his critics specifically for his choice of words a year ago August. Headlines like “War of Words” and “Obama Blurs Red Line” only serve to turn his choice of imagery against him.

That’s the nature of “visual” messages. Think of former President George H. W. Bush’s infamous quote, “Read my lips; no new taxes,” during the 1988 Republican convention that came back to haunt him in the 1992 election.

At CommCore we regularly remind our clients that important points are all the more effective when illustrated by memorable images or metaphors that imprint themselves in the public’s mind.  But we also counsel our clients to be careful and think ahead when they choose to do so because those images may stick when you suddenly don’t want them to, even on Teflon.

The lesson? Pick your spots for memorable “visual” one-liners and sound bites very carefully. The good news is that no one will forget them. The bad news is that depending on the subject you may wish they had.