Christine O’Donnell Regrets "Witch" Ad

Earlier this month, I wrote that Christine O’Donnell’s “I Am Not a Witch” ad was a disaster.

Many high-profile pundits disagreed with me, saying the ad was a smart move. But at the time, I wrote:

    “Does her [“I Am Not a Witch”] denial sound familiar? It should:
  • “I am not a crook.” – Richard Nixon
  • “I am not gay.” – Sen. Larry Craig
  • “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” – Bill Clinton

Spokespersons should almost never use the language of denial, and should turn their statements into positive ones instead.

Imagine, for example, that Richard Nixon had applied that technique, saying, “I have always complied with the laws of the United States.” The line would likely not have become iconic – and more importantly, he wouldn’t have placed the words “I” and “crook” within three words of one another.

The public has witnessed far too many spokespersons issuing flat denials which turn out later to be untrue. Does that mean Christine O’Donnell is a witch? Of course not. But she did herself no favors by adopting the syntax of notoriously false denials.”

Now, more than two weeks later, Ms. O’Donnell has finally conceded the obvious – that her ad backfired.
On this morning’s Good Morning America, Ms. O’Donnell said:

“I haven’t publicly stated this, and I don’t know if I’ll get in trouble for saying that, but our intention was to kill it, and that’s not what happened,” she said in the interview.”

Well, duh. Instead of killing the story, the denial ad predictably fueled it, culminating in a spot-on parody on Saturday Night Live.

Avoiding the language of denial is Media Training 101. I have no idea what her advisors were thinking, but this negative outcome should have been obvious to any experienced strategist.