There's a rule in marketing - the consumer will see what you are, not what you want them to see. In fact, I'd proffer that even in closed industries it's probably true.
For an illustration, I'll present this rather bizarre story in the WSJ about the Olympic Mascot Bing Dwen Dwen. This lovable little creature has been flying off the shelves, but the Chinese authorities hit a snafu last week: Bing Dwen Dwen was interviewed by Chinese State Media and it turns out he/she spoke like a middle aged man.
Sensing the marketing issue, i.e. they're pretty sure it creeped everyone out, the Chinese Communist Party intervened to shut down the story. The hashtag was wiped off Weibo and clips of the interview owned and shared by people were deleted off the internet. In Soprano-speak, everyone and everything got whacked.
Interviews were cancelled, because, no, that thing you saw you really didn't - officially "the mascot cannot speak." The next day, State media sent "experts" on various programs to assure "Bing Dwen Dwen could only make bubbling noises."
Clousteauing that no one was particularly happy with being gaslit, they switched to a new tactic - bringing the mascot out to show it, in fact, could not speak. Because in person, apparently the media and public would be sure to believe it.
- At a group “interaction” between foreign journalists and Bing Dwen Dwen, organized by Beijing Olympic officials on Saturday, Lin Cunzhen, Beijing 2022’s art director, brushed back questions about Bing Dwen Dwen’s genderlessness and inability to speak while a person in an inflatable panda-shaped body suit bounced around for the cameras.
That didn't seem to do much, because, well, fool me once!
Reading the story I could not help but think of the oh thousand or so times, I read that racing should stress the positive; the story about a girl and her horse or the groom who loves horses. That if only we had some sort of state media to control messaging things would be well.
Sure, positive news is fine, but the public - with stories about Derby winners who have died, positive tests, some guy named Fishman, and just about everything else - won't buy it. Just like they won't buy a stuffed mascot doesn't have a person underneath no matter how many times you tell them to.
We have problems in our sport, but one of them isn't controlling messaging. We are what we are and trying to be something else is completely futile. In the end we might just find if we meet the problems head on and are not worried about burying them, the public might be fine with it.
After all, despite the gaslighting and creepy uncle stuff, Bing Dwen Dwen products are still flying off the shelves.
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