Chrysler's 1979 rescue: the power of a good metaphor to change people’s minds

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In 1979 Chrysler was in deep, deep trouble. The third largest US automaker was near bankruptcy. 

To avoid collapse Chrysler needed a $1.5 billion loan from the U.S. federal government. 

But Congress was against it.

"If Chrysler wasn't making cars people wanted to buy, why should the Government step in and send money?"

That's what most US Congressmen & Congresswomen thought about the Chrysler bailout.

Senator William Proxmire (Democrat, Wisconsin), the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, even wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times saying that bailing out Chrysler, "would be a disaster for American business, for the American economy and for the American taxpayer."

But Chrysler's CEO Lee Iacocca knew a thing or two about persuasion. He realized that part of the problem was a framing problem because of the language that was being used. 

Bailout is a dirty word, "a colorful metaphor. It conjures up images of a leaky boat foundering in rough seas. It implies the crew was inadequate."

A metaphor is a collision of two apparently unrelated things. When you throw them together to describe something, magic happens. You paint a new reality with words. 

So Iacocca framed the loan not as a bailout but as a "safety net". He argued that the Government is in the business of providing a safety net for its citizens. And Chrysler was no different because they had a large workforce. And they were all American citizens. 

Iacocca also argued that Chrysler was an assembly company. They had 11,000 suppliers and 4,000 dealers. And most of those people were small businesses, not big corporations. 

No Politician wanted to deny a hardworking American worker a safety net, so Congress said yes. And Lee Iacocca got the $1.5 billion loan he wanted. All thanks to a powerful metaphor.

Your pal,

Miguel Ferreira
Founder & Chief Copywriter, Teardwn + Nishi + Jack Had A Groove FM

(Good copywriting that helps you sell more this year than last. Work with me)


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