“If you had called it finely textured beef, would we be here?”

Those are the words of Texas Governor Rick Perry, made to the media during a barnstorming tour he took with Governors Sam Brownback of Kansas and Terry Branstad of Iowa in an attempt to defend the processing plants in their states that produce what has come to be known as “pink slime”.

You know the stuff. The this-looks-like-raspberry-frozen-yogurt-but-it-isn’t stuff. The stuff that we’ve been eating for years without a complaint and that, by all accounts, is perfectly safe. What Governor Perry was referring to was the fact that an industry that’s important to his state is now in jeopardy simply by virtue of an unappetizing nickname and an ugly photo.

I find this a rather fascinating example of the power of positioning. If you think about the term “ground beef” too deeply, it gets disturbing. But most of us don’t think about the term too deeply–we’ve just taken it for granted all our lives. And when ground beef is ground all the way down to “finely textured beef” (the industry’s preferred label for the stuff), it’s even less of a big deal. Label it “pink slime”, however, and add a lovely image for good measure, and it’s a whole different ballgame.

Crazy, isn’t it? Nothing about the product has changed, but because we’ve been forced to think about it–and in disgusting terms, no less–an entire industry has been turned upside down. I suppose there’s some irony in the fact that the folks from which we got the term “branding” are now facing a branding problem of their own.

Unfortunately, I expect we’ll see more of this in the coming months as political candidates attempt to brand each other via the same repositioning tactics. And it’s likely to be even more unappetizing.