When Did Rubio Fail?

By John Yoest Published on March 14, 2016

Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food? Job 12:11

It is not fair. Trump was vulgar. Rubio was vulgar. Trump’s numbers go up. Rubio is down. Why?

The answer is in the marketing of the candidates. Trump is consistent with his branding of being brash. Rubio was inconsistent with his Altar Boy Goodness.

The sales maxim reminds us that a confused mind always says “no.” Marketing must be consistent. And if there is to be any surprise — it should delight and not complicate. The wrong combination of behavior and expectation can leave a bad taste.

Your (much younger) Business Professor learned this as a teenager cooking up trouble in a candy factory.

Mixed Messages

The salt-water taffy candy tasted terrible. It was safe to eat and would hurt nothing but sales. And it was my fault.

I did it on purpose. It started as a noble experiment but then devolved into a base prank.

One summer, I was working as a cook with two other bored confederates. We dreamed up a chemistry research project combining two of the five senses: color coordination and a taste response. No animals were hurt in this human testing.

Our hypothesis was simple, “If the taste and coloring were different, would the tongue “taste” what the eye saw? Or would the eye “see” what the tongue tasted?”

So we mis-mixed the purple coloring with the lemon flavoring, instead of with the grape additive.

And we combined the yellow lemon coloring with the grape flavoring. This produced a mixed-message that tasted awful, or so I was told.

We dreamed of getting published in the Journal of Food Science. We later lost interest and I did the next best thing: I went into sales and marketing. (Who would think anything ‘salt-water’ would taste good? That’s marketing management.)

The product was confusing. The taster had to think about it … and over-thinking is dangerous.* Simple sells.

Politics is the art of selling an intangible, the candidate’s vision. Getting votes is the ultimate sale.

The simple is easy to understand and to sell. Contra-indications are not. Mixed taste is a negative; the confusing, the inconsistent, takes a fraction of a second longer for the human mind to process. A positive can be processed fast. A negative takes longer.

Authors Gary Mack and David Casstevens wrote in their go-to sports psychology book, Mind Gym, that, “Doubts cause intellectual confusion. Doubts can be paralyzing.”

The best managers and politicos will avoid the confusion of mixed messages and have one theme, one voice and will reduce risk — for the good of the company and community or candidate. Marketing guru Seth Godin reminds us, “Consumers [or, say, voters] are too good at sniffing out inconsistencies. … ”

Unless you’re trying to cause trouble.


In the mid 1970s, IBM was noted for inducing fear, uncertainty and doubt, or FUD, into the decision process of buyers considering purchasing a competitive product. If a buyer had concerns about a computer company — even if those concerns were introduced by a competing vendor or, say, a biased partisan — the purchaser would slow down and then not consider a supplier with a mixed or unknown track record. August Turak, author of Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks, reminds us of the adage (promoted by IBM), “No one was ever fired for buying IBM.”

We value a known, predictable product. Purchasing agents as voters are fearful of buying an out-of-character brand-politician. FUD at its finest.

Trump is unpredictable, inconsistent, profane, insulting. Anti-establishment. This is his brand.

Rubio is predictable, consistent, virtuous, polite. Establishment. This is his brand.

But then Rubio veered off brand. And went on the attack, tastelessly. It didn’t work.

Marco Rubio is no Donald Trump. The voters had long ago come to terms with Trump’s off-color brand. But now, suddenly, the voters had FUD over Marco.

Rubio, as an establishment candidate, attempted to inject fear of Trump — but instead created concerns for his own image.

Consistency is easy if you have a single objective. Unless the consultants or cooks in the kitchen, making FUD(ge), take you in two different directions.


*The over-thinking part was not dangerous to me. The mixed-up salt-water taffy tasted just fine. I am partially color-blind.

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