FEATURE : Perception is reality

A New York Times article printed in December caught our attention and sparked quite a debate around the GCF office. A man on trial for murder underwent a transformation before he was due to appear in court. As you can see from the photos above, the defendant sports a swastika tattoo (among others) on his neck and unruly facial hair. But the jury saw a clean cut, well dressed young man with only a bit of a tattoo resembling a cross under his eye.

The article explains how the defense lawyer obtained permission from the judge to have the tattoos covered before trial so they would not affect the jury’s verdict. This idea of changing a person’s appearance caught our interest. As marketers, we are constantly finding ways to influence our audiences so they see what we want them to see. But when does manipulation go too far?

In the comments at the end of the article, some readers argue that the accused man should have his tattoos obscured so they do not distract the jury members from the facts presented in the case. Others pointed out that if he chooses to go through life with his tatts on display, then that’s how he should appear in court.

Replacing a swastika with a religious symbol swings the debate in another direction. Now the defense has gone past neutralizing the defendant’s appearance to misrepresenting his character. A cross conveys quite a different message than a swastika, and motive is often a factor in determining whether a person has committed a crime. If this man is a white supremacist, then he might have motive to kill based on his beliefs.

Perception is reality. In the photo on the left, the defendant is a hardened criminal; in the photo on the right, he is the guy next door. What happens when we leave the courtroom and examine what we say about the classroom? Are we being honest in our portrayal of campus life, facilities, neighborhood, academic rigor and outcomes? Or are we painting a picture that is rosier than reality? No matter how slight the distortion, misrepresenting who we are is never a good idea.

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