I blogged yesterday about the power of projection; why working out that Gordon Brown was seen as a Volvo and David Cameron as a BMW was in itself nonsense, but working out why people think that and taking appropriate action was a valuable tool.
However, the mistake people make in projection is that, having spotted that everyone thinks you're a skunk, you then start trying to dress yourself up as as something altogether more cuddly and attractive. Because the world spots that you're stll a skunk, you're just wearing ridiculous bunny ears. Or as Mark Ritson puts it in his excellent piece, Don't fall for the myth of repositioning, (Clegg warning: he has a dig at Nick in the actual piece..)
'If there is one picture that captures the futility of repositioning Brown - and repositioning in general - it is the painful sight of him trudging around Hyde Park on the first of a series of shortlived and ill-conceived jogging sessions. Brown was no jogger, and the media presented the image with his pained expression, ancient running shoes and baggy old jogging pants as evidence that Brown was not quite up to it.
Project Volvo had an enviable grasp of research design, but it had a flawed vision of brand strategy because you cannot turn a Volvo into a BMW. Like too many marketers, (Labour) fell for the myth of repositioning.
Brown was a dour, genuine, dedicated, fastidious, untidy man. The only way to get him re-elected was to play those associations, not attempt to reverse them'.
Now at first site, that sounds both very sensible, and yet completely depressing. How can you possibly make a positive out of such negative attributions.
Readers, I give you Peter Mandelson.
It's easy to forget how long the Labour leadership tried to make the party, and the world, love Peter Mandelson. He was, apparently, misunderstood. He was brilliant. His reputation was a conconction put about by the media. Never forget Blair saying that '' the New Labour project would only be complete when the Labour Party learned to love Peter Mandelson.'
But at some point, the penny dropped.
And instead Mandelson stopped trying to be liked or loved. But instead started to trade on being rather feared - and admired for his Machiavellian ways. Remember the incident when Osborne alledgedly leaked about Mandelson holidaying on a Russian oligarchs yacht - and the media camapign orchestratd, again, alledgedly, by Mandelson against him. His ruthlessness, his power, his skill. We all secretly thought 'blimey, thats a man against a boy scenario' if ever we saw one didn't we?
There's a reason why Mandelson named his autobiography The Third Man - it's not just because of his Brown and Blair relationship. It's because The Third Man is a film shot in the shadows. And he's glorying in that environment.
He may be the Prince of Darkness. But he's still a Prince.
So why should we care?
Well, I guess the lesson is this. I'm not suggesting for a moment that we position Nick as the Lib Dem version of Peter Mandelson. But we have a leader who seems to have got stuck with a repuation that neither he nor we particularly like. And we spend a lot of time debating how we can get the world to love Nick again.
And I wonder - would be better off stopping trying to make the world like him? and get the world admiring him or fearing him instead?
Just a thought.