It was an iconic moment in history when then President Nixon declared, “I am not a crook”. I remember this moment, even though I was…a relatively young child. I can still see his face and hear the urgency in his voice as he said these fateful words.
Some researchers believe that Nixon’s big mistake with this statement was the use of the word crook. This word seemed to stop people in their place and upon hearing it, people immediately envisioned…well…a crook. From that moment on he was never very far away from the word. It clung to him and followed him wherever he went for the rest of his life.
According to George Lakoff, author of Don’t Even Think Of An Elephant, associations like this are due to something he refers to as ‘framing’. By using the word crook, Nixon summoned the image of a crook to the American people, each creating their personal ‘frame’ and, according to Lakoff, once a frame is developed it is nearly impossible to dispel.
So, could history have been different with the selection of a different word? Likely not, but it does serve to warn us that words that strongly evoke images can pack quite a punch. In marketing we often use impactful and powerful words to evoke images that will work to our advantage. However, it’s important is to remember to use caution when using provocative words and consider how others may ‘frame’ them. The wrong word might inadvertently call out a negative connotation that could cling to a product or a company or tank a campaign.