“Our Brand is Crisis”: Valuable Lessons from a Fictional Political Campaign
Sandra Bullock stars in this movie as “Calamity” Jane Bodine, a washed up American political campaign strategist who goes to Bolivia to help turn around the campaign of an unpopular ex-President. She ends up running up against her arch nemesis and machiavellian Pat Candy who is working for the leading candidate. And to quote the movie description “it becomes a down-and-dirty, all-out battle between political consultants, where nothing is sacred and winning is all that matters.”
This is easily one of my favorite movies to come out in the last decade. Something I rewatch everytime I take a flight as it’s often in movie catalogs. It did not do very well in the box office with less than $10M taken in, which is a shame because it’s an incredibly insightful view into modern day Democratic political campaigns. So many deep and cutting views into human psychology & behavior, social psychology. Also shows the power and ability of the media and the elites to manipulate and shape public perceptions for both good and bad. Usually bad I would say considering how many crooked and rich politicians we have in office these days across the globe.
But there is so much to be learned from this as a business person. A couple of things stand out.
- The use of Opposition research for other candidates and your own candidate.
Wikipedia states: “In politics, opposition research (also called oppo research) is the practice of collecting information on a political opponent or other adversary that can be used to discredit or otherwise weaken them.”
This is very smart and is basically competitive analysis to figure out competitors weaknesses. This can be done on your own candidate to see where you have issues or potential problems. In business it’s called “Red teaming.” In fact, this is valuable to do for yourself & you need to be very honest here. Blindspots kill you.
2. “You don’t change the man to fit the narrative, you change the narrative to fit the man.”
There is a scene when the other political consultants want to make their Bolivian candidate be seen as nice and cushy, by apologizing for striking a man who smashes an egg on his head at a rally. Bodine, the main character, tells them to stop. The idea is to tap into his unlikeability, his seriousness and experience. The only way for him to win is to be more authentic and be himself. She states that “A man’s strengths flow from the same well as his weaknesses.”
I think we spend too much time pretending to be something that we are not. Customers and clients are smart and can see through this. Better to be yourself. (Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to fix glaring personal issues though).
3. There is a quote by her opponent Pat Candy: “You know, when Adlai Stevenson was running for president A woman came into him at a rally one night and said, “Every thinking person will be voting for you.” Stevenson said “Ma’am, that’s not enough. I need a majority.”
The point is people are not rational. They do not always make the best decisions for themselves. They are affected by advertising, by the media, by other people and by their emotions. In fact, most major decisions are made emotionally and then they use their rational side of the brain to justify the decision.
That’s our job as business people, understanding people better, so you can figure out what they need, and hopefully help them while making money from them.
4. In rallying cry to her team and political staff Bodine yells at them. “Wake up, this is war. There’s only one wrong in this, only one, and that is losing”
The lesson: the side that takes the competition more seriously, usually does win. If the stakes are high, treat it like war. Life or death. Thankfully most of business and life is not like this and can be quite cooperative. But the point still stands. Like it or not, whoever wants it most and is prepared to do what it takes, will usually win.
There are so many great nuggets in this movie and I learn something new every time I watch it. The acting is also quite solid and the story is entertaining as everyone loves an underdog and turnaround. And it takes place in an interesting country that is unfortunately overlooked in the world. The movie may also give you a different view into the importance and messiness of the democratic political system. This movie is worth watching for these valuable reasons alone. I do recommend it.