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  • 07.06.11

The Casey Anthony Brand Wins

The prosecution lost because they acted like product managers, PowerPoint logic in tow. The product manager says, “Buy our widget for all these rational reasons.” But the defense understood that the case rested on the strength and believability of the Casey Anthony brand.

Yesterday’s surprising verdict was, simply put, a supremely
emotional consumer purchase decision.
Though a potential death sentence was at stake, the process by which
jurors acted as purchasers followed well-established patterns of
perception. Jurors listened, drew
conclusions, and eliminated unpleasant realities that interrupted their existing
belief structures in the same way that consumers hear product arguments–or
political arguments–and toss out the inconvenient, or painful.

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To continue the metaphor, the prosecution lost because they
acted like product managers, PowerPoint logic in tow. The product manager says, “Buy our widget for
all these rational reasons” and the state argued, “Buy our argument for all
these rational reasons.”

But the defense understood that the case rested on the
strength and believability of the Casey Anthony brand–a brand that the media
had been trashing for years before the trial began. Even
though she never took the stand, the case rested on whether or not the jury
believed she was capable of the horrific murder of which she stood
accused. So while the state tried to
connect, the dots, the defense knew that they had to overcome the viscerally
toxic aspects of her behavior by creating an emotional scaffold for jurors to
grab onto, a neural framework for re-branding her, for thinking of Casey
Anthony in a way that would allow them to resist the prosecution’s logical appeals.

The defense knew that the music mattered as much, if not
more than, the words.

Here are three branding strategies that that the defense
successfully leveraged:

• Create positive associations that link to deeply-seated
emotional networks.

The defense showed a lot of footage of Caylee to convince
the jury that Casey was a good mother.
It worked. Images are depth
charges that function on an unconscious level.
Those videos branded Casey brilliantly, connecting her with existing, powerful
imprints of mothering. After all, bad mothers don’t care enough about
their children to memorialize every detail of their lives. That footage normalized her, made her
relatable.

The more this footage was shown–by either side–the
better it was for Casey. And the harder
it was for the jury to shut off the neural networks that linked her to the
imprint of a loving mother. And, in
turn, the easier it was for the jury to accept the defense’s arguments–and to
dismiss the hard-partying image the prosecution sought to create.

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It’s the Casey Anthony version of Johnnie Cochrane’s “If it
doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” If the
defendant’s behavior doesn’t fit what you see of them, you must acquit. Behavioral psychologists call in the
confirmation bias.

• It’s a bad time for authority figures. Take advantage of it.

Even though the official syntax is “The People Versus Casey
Anthony,” jurors can see it as the all-powerful government at war against an
individual. And if you read any of the
polls, you’ll see that Americans are increasingly skeptical of what their
government has to say to them, and I believe that translates down to
prosecutors–particularly arrogant ones who laugh and smirk during closing
arguments. Because there is such a
built-in mistrust of the government, the slightest weakness or flaw in the
prosecution’s case–and there was no shortage of them–becomes magnified.

When Jose Baez, in his summation, said that the government
was using “checkbook prosecution” he was tapping into the meme of big, bad
government. The government lies and
isn’t to be trusted in its way–and Casey Anthony made up imaginary characters
and lied in her way. It’s a draw.

• It’s a good time for accepting the inexplicable.

Terrorists hijack planes and blow up the World Trade
Center. The biggest, and allegedly the
smartest banks in America created the worst financial crisis since the Great
Depression, and nearly bankrupted themselves.
Black swans–the highly improbable–are everywhere. That’s the Casey Anthony brand narrative
that the defense sold: The truth can
co-exist with a defiance of logic.

The absence of any forensic evidence linking Casey Anthony
to the murder gave the jury something to hang their existential doubts on; despite
the densely patterned wallpaper of lies she told about one imaginary friend
after the other, the mother didn’t kill the child. The times in which we live created room for
the jury to develop a level of comfort with what, outside the courtroom,
appeared to be a totally absurd narrative.

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There will be no shortage of theories proffered about this
case, but unlike the O.J. judgment, where the arguments revolved around color
lines, the Casey Anthony decision is more complex. Beyond the prosecution’s tactical mistakes —
and the argument that they should have gone for a lesser charge is a good one —
is the fact that there were two brands fighting for the sale.

On one side was the brand of motherhood. That’s a damn strong brand, even when that
motherhood waits a month to report her daughter’s disappearance, and feels no
compunction about pole dancing and getting a tattoo in this frightening period
of uncertainty.

On the other side was the brand of power and authority, a
brand with unlimited resources, a brand that is trusted less and less every
day.

We know the outcome.

Which leads to the question: What kind of brand are you selling?

About the author

Adam is a brand strategist--he runs Hanft Projects, a NYC-based firm--and is a frequently-published marketing authority and cultural critic. He sits on the Board of Scotts Miracle-Gro, and has consulted for companies that include Microsoft, McKinsey, Fidelity and Match.com, as well as many early and mid-stage digital companies.

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