Battle of the Hats
Battle of the Hats
January 24, 2017
When Donald Trump ran for president he put his clear, simple message on the front of bright red hats. The message was perfect. The choice of a hat instead of a t-shirt or other garment was perfect. The color red was perfect for his message – bold, sexy, and important. The hats were a master class in branding and influence. Political historians will be referring to Trump’s hats for ages.
Compare that to the Million Woman March. They chose pink because – I assume – it is a bit of an ironic color for women who are fighting for their rights. Women are “owning” pink to rob it of its power to brand them as the so-called weaker sex. At least that’s why I assume they picked pink.
We’ve seen that kind of ownership-gambit work before. African-Americans successfully took over the N-word and robbed it of its historical power. Gays successfully turned the chant “We’re here, we’re queer. Get over it” into ownership of the Q-word.
We also saw Trump use a version of this ownership-gambit during the campaign. The media accused him of being a whiner and he responded by saying he was the loudest voice for change. Trump owned the accusation and weaponized it.
So we know this idea of embracing the insult and flipping it into a positive – or at least a neutral – is good persuasion. It works quite often. But let me tell about you one of the rare cases where you should NOT use that persuasion technique.
Don’t use it to own pink.
— Carpe Donktum (@Carpedonktum)
Colors influence people directly and irrationally. Trump’s red hats spoke of power and certainty and sex. That’s what red gives you.
Pink gives you the opposite. Pink will lower aggression and make you want to cuddle with a kitten. That’s what the studies say. So pink is not a fighting/protesting color if you want to keep the base energized.
I’m also having a hard time figuring out what the pink-hat people are protesting about that they don’t already have. I understand that abortion is in the mix. But the hats seem to have some sort of generic anti-Trump message that to my mind is conflated with an anti-alpha-male vibe. It’s a confusing message and not completely positive.
Compare that to Make America Great Again. Simple, universal, and memorable.
Now let’s talk about the shape of the hats. I understand that the hats are supposed to evoke cat ears, as in pussycat, as in female genitalia. But it also looks exactly like the sort of hat this guy would wear:
That’s not ideal.
If the movement was designed to generate sympathy, it worked. I feel sorry for the men marching in those hats. On a symbolic level, that’s as close as you can get to eunuch status. The science would say that those men did not go home and have amazing sex that night. On average.
Philosophically, I’m in close agreement with the protestors in the pink hats. I like equal rights in all its forms and I think women should have the best healthcare they can get. I also think men should sideline themselves on questions of abortion and reproductive rights. Women take the major physical burden of reproduction and I think society is most stable when women take the lead in crafting those laws. I see my best role in society as agreeing with whatever women collectively want in the reproduction health realm. (As opposed to the money realm, which is separate.) My opinion would add no intelligence and no credibility to the outcome.
I mention all of that so you know my analysis of the hats is separate from my political preferences. On a persuasion level, Trump’s hats were a base-clearing home run. But the pink hats are emasculating for men (literally and chemically) and that’s not the unifying message that I assume the organizers planned.
The choice of pink hats predicts that the movement will fizzle out in time (probably months). The color alone is powerful enough to drain the movement of energy over time.
Color matters when it comes to branding. You already knew that. What you probably didn’t know is how much it mattered. I’d put color toward the top of the persuasion stack because we are visual creatures and color is the main thing we see.
When Trump came up with his red hat idea he was operating in the persuasion and branding dimension. And he nailed it.
When the pink hat organizers decided on their branding, they appear to have been operating on what I call the word-thinking level. As I mentioned earlier, the hats are literally a pun about cats and vaginas. That’s too conceptual to persuade. Just because the words fit together in a clever way, that doesn’t make it persuasive. And if you plan to take ownership of an insult, make sure the insult is strong. The N-word was a strong insult. The Q-word was weapons-grade too. Trump turned “whiner” into the strongest voice for change, which is also strong. If your enemy has a strong weapon, it makes sense to grab that weapon and use it for defense.
But if someone associates you with a weak color, such as pink, and the science says the color influences people toward weakness, don’t take that as your brand. Run away from pink unless you are trying to persuade people to drink some herbal tea and take a nap.
If you are the new President of the United States, and you see hundreds-of-thousands of protesters marching in the streets, what do you do? Well, in most cases you would treat that as the nation’s top priority. You don’t want it to escalate to social collapse. I can think of only one scenario in which such a large and vocal movement should be ignored until they run out of steam. That rare situation is when the protesters all wear pink hats. You can pretty much ignore that movement. It will fizzle out on its own. Unless they get better hats.
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