In 1789, George Washington was elected to lead the new country.
They’d never had their own leader before so they didn’t know what to call him.
The House of Representatives and the Senate argued back and forth.
The Senate wanted to call him the king.
Everyone knew that the king was the leader of a country.
The only difference would be that their king would be elected.
But the House of Representatives thought this was too grand.
It might give him ideas of ruling over them like a traditional king.
They wanted a less pompous title.
They suggested chief magistrate.
But the senate didn’t think this was grand enough.
The argument went on for a month.
Eventually, the House of Representatives suggested a term used to define someone who presides over a meeting.
They suggested the word president.
The Senate didn’t like it – it sounded like a foreman or chairman.
They formally registered their objection:
"From a decent respect for the opinions and practices of civilised nations (whether under republican or monarchical forms of government) whose custom it is to annex to the office of Chief Magistrate titles of respectability, and that in the intercourse with foreign nations the majesty of the people of the United States may not be hazarded by an appearance of singularity."
In other words, they didn’t like the word president because no other country used it, and so it didn’t feel powerful.
So, like any client, they insisted on adding words to George Washington’s title:
"His High Mightiness the President of the United States of America and Protector of Their Liberties."
George Washington himself was too embarrassed to use it.
He didn’t want to impress people with pompous words.
So he shortened the title to the plain and simple "Mr President".
He thought the reality would be more important than any set of words.
And George Washington was proved right.
Over the years, America became the most powerful country on earth.
And, whatever the leader was called, everyone knew he was the most powerful man on earth.
So that now "president" sounds like a very powerful office.
Which is why 147 countries now call their leader "president".
They want to sound as important as the USA.
The word doesn’t sound like a humble title any more.
Now it sounds powerful, and that’s how it works.
We think we can create a brand just with a set of pompous words.
But we forget, "brand" is just another word for image or reputation.
And image and reputation are created by the reality: the product.
Products create brands; brands don’t create products.
Politicians are just like advertising and marketing people that way.
They think they can use words to shape and control reality.
But reality shapes words far more than words shape reality.
Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three