Bows and Guns and Messaging

In “The Book of Five Rings,” Musashi Miyamoto gives a brief mention to the strengths and weaknesses of weapons. In the field, bows are a great way to begin a battle. In the same way, guns are as effective in structures (bases, castles, etc.) There is a difference in what the two projectiles can do, however. The bow allows you to see the trajectory, so you can make adjustments while the arrow is still flying and see how far off you are. The ammunition from a gun, however, is not so easy to adjust. In battle, you either hit your opponent or you don’t. Granted, in the 16th century, guns were very inaccurate, but the premise behind this is still applicable today.

In messaging, you can broadly define two types of messages. The first is the Wide Message. This type of message in politics is something along the lines of a platform message, where the politician or political candidate has loosely defined beliefs and goals. These include ideas like “pro-life” and “equal rights.” These ideas are the arrows of political messaging.

The bullets of political messaging can be referred to as Pointed Message. A politician or political candidate has the ability to take a Wide Message and narrow it down into specific points. He or she can also narrow it down and use it to attack an opponent. These are riskier, as an incorrect definition can miss its target.

The Wide Message is one that moves more slowly. It is a bigger projectile that can sail through a campaign. If voters don’t respond as you like, it is noticeable in polling and can be adjusted on the campaign trail without requiring much work. However, the Pointed Message, as a smaller, more immediate message, can have an instantaneous impact that has the potential to make big strides for a campaign. Or, it could do irreparable harm if misfired or inaccurate.

A candidate can say that they are for “equal rights,” but if the constituency is more conservative, they can add other, more conservative ideas behind it. Likewise, a candidate that is “pro-life” can adjust the Wide Message to include other, more progressive ideologies to balance that out in a more liberal constituency. However, the progressive constituency will have a harder time accepting the candidate if the issue is made into the Pointed Message of “Life begins at conception.” The candidate in the conservative constituency will quickly lose support if he or she comes out supporting gay marriage.

In the same way, the Wide Message is good for establishing a baseline with which to define an opponent, and a Pointed Message is a way to drill those points home. However, if the Pointed Messages misfire – they are quickly and irreparably disproven or their tone and meaning reflect poorly on the campaign – then it is harder to make an adjustment. The gun is louder than the arrow, and once it is heard, your position is given away. You are much more likely to be defensive after that.


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