So what communication lessons have we learned half way through 2016? This isn’t the year that the political rule book was torn up. It’s the year that the rulebook was dropped in gutter, reversed over by a bin lorry and then put to spectacularly unsavoury use by a street drinker.
The US primaries and the Brexit referendum have taken place in a mature digital environment. Social media is now over a decade old and smartphones have become ubiquitous. And all this has returned us to the raucous democracy of the classical world; insults, half-truths and total lies are now slung across the digital agora* as candidates for the consulship struggle to be heard over the din.
It's not an environment where nuance and subtly thrives. Instead, it’s a Petri dish for the growth of larger-than-life characters like Farage, Johnson and Trump. None of these men are simple-minded. But they know that stripping a message down to its barest bones is the only way to cut through. It’s terrible to acknowledge the truth of what was said by another master propagandist Joseph Goebbels in 1941 “If you tell a lie big enough - and keep repeating it - people will eventually come to believe it.” Or how about “arguments must… be crude, clear and forcible, and appeal to emotions and instincts, not the intellect.”
Known as the ‘Big Lie’ (Der große Lüge), this technique as potent now as it ever was. Maybe it’s even more powerful since simplistic lies can be shared, echoed and amplified through comment treads, Facebook posts and dozens of other channels. This may sound pessimistic. But let’s look on the bright side; there’s a ying to the Big Lie’s yang.
Let’s call it the Big Truth. It simply means finding a simple, powerful, positive truth. Then shouting it, sharing it, repeating it and making it stick.
2016 has proved that while technology evolves fast, people don’t. You’d be forgiven for think that the following describes Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign strategy:
His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
But it wasn’t written by a political analyst in 2016. It was written 70 years ago by the Office of Strategic Services, the US wartime intelligence agency about someone even scarier.
*The gathering place in ancient Greek city states.
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