Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Let's Talk About Those Eyebrows and 12 Other Notes from Last Night's Debate

Eyebrows are a very important but often overlooked part of any communication strategy. I was raised on eyebrows as I have a cosmetologist in the family. "Honey, those eyebrows are out of control!" was a common refrain. 

Watching the debate last night brought eyebrows into sharp focus for me. From a communication standpoint, both candidates have issues around them:

  • President Obama's eyebrows meet his eyes, though they do not cover them. This is not in and of itself remarkable, except that it sharpens the edge when he speaks fighting words. The eyebrow-eye combination is in stark contrast to the President's trademark wide smile, which he seems to be able to produce on demand. The communication impact is that he seems able to project any emotion desired without necessarily feeling it. 
  • Governor Romney's eyebrows cover his eyes to the point where they seem to peer out at you from underneath. It makes him seem like he is hiding something. The effect is further amplified by his trademark closed-mouthed half-smile and turned head, which he employs when listening to an opponent speak. The communication impact is that you never know exactly what the Governor is thinking, but you do get the sense that he's not telling you. 
Here is a list of other things I noticed last night. By the way I did think the President won:
  1. The debate was boring. Governor Romney was determined not to attack. The President seemed determined to attack, but didn't get a response or the Governor said he was lying and then stopped. Attacks make debates interesting. I turned it off after an hour.
  2. Governor Romney agreed with the President a lot. When you're a challenger brand this is not a way to convince people to switch to buying your product.
  3. Governor Romney kept bringing it to his safe place - the economy. He did fine there - he could talk about tires in China and all that - but when he talked foreign policy he did not seem comfortable ("we have allies all over the world...42 cities and France?"). As Jack Welch once said, if you can't be #1 or #2, you can't compete. 
  4. In contrast, the President seemed comfortable on foreign policy - saying "so you just want to do the same things we did, but say it louder" or some such. He was visibly uncomfortable on the economy. See above on Jack Welch. 
  5. On Israel, the President scored points when he mentioned visiting Yad Vashem in Israel and taking a concrete action in response to his visit as a candidate - implementing the Iron Dome. Governor Romney scored points when he mentioned the President not visiting Israel during what he called the "apology tour." In the end they both used similar words "we've got Israel's back" so ultimately it was a draw.
  6. Both of them kept referring to "workers" rather than the "workforce." We live in a knowledge economy, not a manufacturing economy - we're a "workforce" - and I kept waiting for the story on that.
  7. I wondered whether it was wise for Governor Romney to say that the teachers' union would have to get in line behind the parents and the kids. It wasn't what he said, but how he said it...there is a certain awkwardness there where the President is a very smooth talker. This after Big Bird during the other debate gave him a bit of a mean appearance. 
  8. It seemed like each was taking the opportunity to mention "women" as many times as they could. Didn't seem authentic on either side. 
  9. The President used the word "we" referring to his administration, but Governor Romney used the word "I." The word "we" is associated with teamwork and strength. 
  10. The number 5 was repeated several times in answers. My daughter remarked that she liked how Governor Romney segmented his answers that way. (The Governor also mentioned a 7 point plan for dealing with Iran.) It seemed like the President was copying the Governor on that. 
  11. Specifics are important. The President scored a point when he said to the Governor that "We've visited your website many times" and still could not find the specifics the Governor was referring to.
  12. On CNN Governor Romney's flag lapel pin was visible, but the President's was obscured by the icon on the lower right. Not a true representation of what they were wearing, but it was there nonetheless.
*Note: As always, this is a communication commentary, not a political one, not an endorsement or non-endorsement of either candidate. All opinions are my own.