Main Street Is Sexy, Nexus Is Not: Reasons Affiliates Should Rebrand The Argument

We’re losing. Another state, Illinois, drops legislation that threatens the lives of affiliate marketers. Who’s next? Texas? My state of Ohio? Then another, and another. Do you see this being stopped? I don’t.

Here’s why we’re losing. Because not enough people either:

A. Know about it
B. Understand it
C. Care about it

That’s the truth. If you don’t get people to care enough, especially in your own industry, you don’t get enough support and you can’t win.

So why are we losing then? We’re losing this battle because of branding, or lack thereof. Because we haven’t chosen the right words to frame our message.

The “Nexus Bill”? The “Ad Tax”?


To be clear I applaud every single person or organization who has been out there fighting for this. You have done an amazing job and I’m proud to see so many of you, many friends of mine who I admire, going out there and putting time, effort and money in. You rule. But I don’t see this being stopped until we change the game. So ear me out.

I’d like to call out author Frank Luntz here now and his experience rebranding the term “estate tax”. From Wikipedia…

James L. Martin, chairman of the conservative 60 Plus Association, described Luntz’s role as being that of pollster and popularizer of the phrase “death tax”.

Martin gained an important ally in GOP pollster Frank Luntz, whose polling revealed that “death tax” sparked voter resentment in a way that “inheritance tax” and “estate tax” couldn’t match. After all, who wouldn’t be opposed to a “tax on death”?

Luntz shared his findings with Republicans and included the phrase in the GOP’s Contract with America. Luntz went so far as to recommend in a memo to GOP lawmakers that they stage press conferences “at your local mortuary” to dramatize the issue. “I believe this backdrop will clearly resonate with your constituents,” he wrote. “Death is something the American people understand.”

Apparently, he’s right. Spurred by Luntz, Republicans have employed the term “death tax” so aggressively that it has entered the popular lexicon. Nonpartisan venues like newspapers and magazines have begun to use it in a neutral context–a coup for abolitionists like Martin.

Where’s our staged mortuary? Where is our stunt to get attention? What have we presented to our politicians and associates that they easily understand?

Want another example? More from Frank’s page…

Additionally in his January 9, 2007, interview on Fresh Air, Luntz discussed his use of the term, “energy exploration” (oil drilling). His research on the matter involved showing people a picture of current oil drilling and asking if in the picture it “looks like exploration or drilling.” He said that 90 percent of the people he spoke to said it looked like exploring. “Therefore I’d argue that it is a more appropriate way to communicate.”

He went on to say “if the public says after looking at the pictures, that doesn’t look like my definition of drilling—it looks like my definition of exploring—then don’t you think we should be calling it what people see it to be, rather than adding a political aspect to it all?”

Terry Gross responded: “Should we be calling it what it actually is, as opposed to what somebody thinks it might be? The difference between exploration and actually getting out the oil—they’re two different things, aren’t they?”

Which sounds better? Depends on the side your on and your specific agenda, right?

Estate tax is boring and nobody cared. But the Death Tax was an immediate lightening point. If you’re in favor of drilling, then softening the phrase “oil drilling” to an audience by calling it “energy exploration” is probably a good thing for your branding strategy. The same way that environmentalists rebranded “global warming” to “climate change”.

I’ve been saying this to close friends in the industry for a long time now but nobody wants to listen.

Take a look at the Alliance of Main Street Fairness’ website. They have put emotion front and center. The first thing you see when you arrive on their site is a face of someone who is supposedly being hurt by online only retailers. Go to the Performance Marketing Association’s website and what you see is a compass.

The AMSF has pushed front and center the nostalgic image of “main street” and “fairness”. Then they hammered home that nostalgia with video testimony after video testimony from frightened small business owners. This creates emotion. It creates fear and empathy for their supposed plight. The AMSF makes it easy to get involved.

Our side is still talking about the “Ad Tax” or “Nexus Tax” and it’s boring. There’s nothing emotional about it. There’s nothing that grabs you by the face and makes you want to either scream in joy or scream in horror. Emotions create reactions, and reactions are exactly what we need right now before it’s too late. If it’s not already.

Actually, I do think there is still time. But only if we all stop right now and rebrand this legislation and meme. Frankly, I don’t see any other way. The snowball is rolling and growing.

So, what are we gonna call it? It’s in our hands to reframe the discussion. To rebrand it in our favor. This is ALL about branding now. Maybe someone should call Frank Luntz?

About Jim Kukral

You can find Jim on Twitter: @JimKukral.

23 Responses to Main Street Is Sexy, Nexus Is Not: Reasons Affiliates Should Rebrand The Argument

  1. joemagennis says:

    Jim .. EXCELLENT point. On top of that, add the fact that recent events have proven that online communications continue to become more influential in political debate, and there is no group anywhere with the combined knowledge of how to leverage these communication tools than affiliate marketers … rebranding and leveraging social networks should be a huge home field advantage.

    • Jim Kukral says:

      No doubt Joe. We can do this. When a political party needs to get a message out, they craft a talking points memo to their flock. Then that flock takes those points to the cable news networks and repeats them over, and over, and over until they take hold. Some work so well they get a place in the lexicon, like “death tax”. There’s no reason with our combined power in the social-verse that we can’t do the same thing. We can, we just need a new name.

  2. Jim Kukral says:

    So any name suggestions? What would cause people to pay attention? We need to come up with something, and fast.

  3. I’ll think about a new name. I would raise a point to go along with this though: stop thinking about what will fit on Twitter. Twitter is a closed system, the people we need to reach aren’t using Twitter or if they are, they’re not following us. “Ad tax” was coined because it made for a nice hashtag. Stop thinking about hashtags. Give it a good name that makes people think.

  4. Frank Luntz has a new book, “Win,” that is a great companion to his “Words That Work.”

    The rebranding would do well to start with chapter 12 of “Words That Work”: Twenty-one Words and Phrases for the Twenty-first Century.

    Or you could just look at one of the pictures many folks in the audience took of those words at Affiliate Summit last summer.

  5. Nick Loper says:

    Very much agreed. It’s a complicated issue and we’re struggling to make the decision-makers fully understand. I feel terrible for the Illinois affiliates, but have no shame in using that new piece of ammunition against the legislators here in CA.

    The Technology Tax… governments usually like to support new technologies instead of crush them.
    The Backward Tax… forces small business out of state, with no revenue benefit
    The Net Negative Tax… a money-losing political boondoggle
    The Path of Least Effectiveness… For the media: “Why do our legislators insist on pursuing the Path of Least Effectiveness?”
    The Insanity Tax

    • Jim Kukral says:

      I really like where you’re going with the backward tax. The Back Assward Tax? lol. Funny creates reactions. Not sure of the right ones needed here though. I still like that direction.

      Could always go for shock and awe with “The Dumbass Tax” etc… What will get people to pay attention?

  6. Lets face it DEMS are leading/writing these bills – look it up. It needs to create a bad stigma that DEMS don’t want to be associated with.

    Un-American Tax
    Un Democratic Tax
    Killing Small Biz Tax
    Gluttony Tax
    Greed Tax

    • Jim Kukral says:

      Now we’re talking.

    • Despite the drafter of each bill, votes to raise taxes always come in from both sides. If you frame this as a Democrat problem and we start insulting Democrats, you’re going to find that a significant number of people that would otherwise support this effort will back out – myself included. I may not be the staunchest supporter of the party – I don’t blindly toe the line – but I won’t be a part of an effort that insults people that think as I do. If this gets framed as “Democrats want to kill our small businesses”, we’re going to have a problem.

      Consider that the examples you gave are too vague, anyway. The Death Tax makes sense because ‘death’ is linked to the manner in which the tax is applied. Your examples, while somewhat descriptive of how we might feel about this, aren’t going to give anyone an understanding of what the tax is or does.

      • Not trying to insult registered Democrat voters at all, and if you are insulted, sorry. However, that doesn’t change the fact that these bills are largely drafted/supported by the democrat politicians. As for votes coming from both sides, well that ‘could’ be due to pet projects getting tacked on to other legislation — I want my project passed I have to vote Yes for a larger piece of legislation that includes the nexus bill. Makes me ill, but thats US politics.

        I don’t follow all the states voting on these nexus bills but in CA I believe the GOP Yay vote is extremely low, if at all. In fact, it failed twice due to Arnold vetoing the bill. Now that Arnold is out as Gov. in CA and the DEMS have a stronghold on CA politics it will be very difficult to stop it in CA. I guess the third time is the charm.

        As for my examples I was not trying to attack one party or the other, but maybe if it were an “UN-American sounding tax” (not anti-democrat) it would get the ear of the people and be something a politician wouldn’t want to be associated with. I mean really, who (besides Walmart) would support a “Killing Small Biz Tax” ?

        Regardless of your or my political affiliation, we can both agree that these nexus bills are flawed. Now if we can only convince our politicians.

  7. Chris Cooper says:

    anyone connected to Ze Frank? He’s the first one that came to my mind when you suggested coming up with a new phrase/term. I know hes a really creative, I think he could conjure up some trendy/memorable name.

  8. Trust says:

    I like this one the best so far, the one Joe Wojciechowski suggested:

    Killing Small Biz Tax

  9. I don’t have any good suggestions at this time, but I do like the idea very much.

    I would also like to offer a campaign in our network which we could set up with creatives that could be served by affiliates advertising the new approach on their sites. That would allow affiliates a chance to do their part. Maybe serve up 1% of all their impressions pushing out our case to the public. The ads could lead to a landing page that explains our position.

  10. […] with Jim Kukral’s post that we have a branding issue. Agree we could do a better job in the press. Agree we need more […]

  11. Pat Grady says:

    was thinking about what exactly could be branded / re-branded… can we find a state that would pass a bill saying they won’t do this, then give that bill a meaningful name, and start telling story upon story of affs moving there from stupid states who forced them away, while detailing the revenue they bring to their new state… affiliates mainly work from home to earn an income – they pay state and local taxes, don’t suck on the govt’s teet for aid, help real estate demand, use roads and other public resources less than commuters, give to local charities, are low polluters relative to the general public, often grow to the point of outsourcing (aka hiring others), and on and on. affs are great citizens to attract – wondering if we had aff mecca states, that story may help show what fools the Amazon tax states are…

  12. […] and Affiliate Summit Meetups • The Affiliate Nexus Tax bill passed in Illinois • The need for rebranding the Affiliate Nexus Tax • Shawn at SXSW • AffStat survey still open until 3/31 • Country singer and affiliate […]

  13. Connie Berg says:

    It isn’t up to us to brand it, the legislators name it and there really isn’t much we can do about it. I see it as putting a lot of effort where it isn’t going to make any difference.
    We have to get away from calling it the Amazon Tax though, it isn’t all about Amazon and it makes legislators think that only our partnering with Amazon is at stake when that is not true.
    I don’t see how changing the branding will help when no one is paying attention. Out of thousands of affiliates how many actually spoke up and did anything in the states looking to pass this type of legislation?
    We should be putting our energies into where it will really make a difference. Spread the word, support the PMA who actually talks to legislators, attends meetings, talks to lobbyists to get information and passes it along to affiliates fighting. Even though I was mostly alone testifying in Mn, I at least had the support of Rebecca and the PMA, giving me guidance, legal information, information on the legislators and who was important to target etc.

    • Jim Kukral says:

      I should clarify something. I never intended to sound like I thought the PMA was doing a poor job. All I did was illustrate that the front of their website didn’t exactly feature the topic at hand. I realized this because when a friend outside of our industry asked me for more info, I went to the PMA site because I figured that would be the easy place to find all the updated information and I couldn’t easily find it.

      So again, I want to make sure everyone understands I know meant no harm to the PMA and Rebecca and all the people that are behind. Heck, I’m a member.

      But I see it differently Connie. No one is paying attention because there is no good branding. Which is essentially the starting point for a story.

      Will what we have planned work? I don’t know, but it’s what I know how to do. So I’m going to give it my best shot. Stay tuned.

  14. […] The need for rebranding th&#101&#32&#65ffiliate Nexus Tax […]