On Debate Day, How the Presidential Candidates Stack Up from a Brand Perspective

Whether a Twinkie or a Tesla, Candidates Face Brand Challenges

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As we are well into this perfect storm of what we call the primary elections, it's become increasingly difficult to navigate who's who and what exactly each candidate stands for. What's their purpose? What's the reason to believe? Whom do they target? Egomaniacs -- some with credentials -- cram onstage with the chance to prove to us why they can lead our country, yet we are too often left wishing for more.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump Credit: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

The above questions are similar to how we challenge ourselves with building brands. What's our brand promise? What's the value proposition? How will we differentiate from the competition?

I for one find myself drawing comparisons from my brand-marketing world to help distinguish and identify the dozens of presidential candidates.

Take Ben Carson. He is systematic, focused, academic, yet a bit staid. Like Sony. Highly effective in what he natively does, yet as he tries to expand his horizons, as much as he may have the tools, he gets out-shined by others with more sizzle and spark. We wind up buying other products, knowing that Sony may have been the more reliable option.

Jeb Bush is traditional, even-keeled and has the pedigree, but seems uncomfortable with the idea of being "the one." He reminds us of a brand like Ford -- the car that we think we should buy, but don't. It has the recognition, and convinces us that it's reliable, but when we envision one in our driveway we sigh in disappointment, wishing for something a bit faster with better curb appeal.

Now for The Donald. Bold, disruptive, recognizable and, yes, obnoxious. But it all works for what he wants to convey. It would be too easy to compare him with the "Trump" brand (real estate, apparel, gaming, etc.), so instead, how about Redbull? The charismatic friend that goes to the party with you and says the things you think but aren't bold (or wired) enough to say, Redbull provides confidence and endurance. However, time will tell what long-term harmful effects it could have.

Across the aisle is the challenging, honest, independent yet outlying Bernie Sanders. He is a bit of a dark horse but hasn't given up the fight, and will go down swinging. Similar to Twinkie -- almost gone and forgotten, but brought back for another run, this nostalgic snack cake holds a place in our hearts. Yet when it comes to choosing a treat, we might leave this crème filled delight alone and replace it with something more productive.

Like a Power Bar, Hillary Clinton is fueled with the ingredients to endure the roughest climbs. She has experienced challenges as battering as Ironman and Tough Mudder combined. But what exactly is inside that shiny foil wrapper? It works, but is it real food, or chemicals acting like food? Is it genuine or a perfect combination of the necessary ingredients that mimic what a natural food instinctually does?

Alas, sometimes instincts are overrated. Yes, I'm speaking about Joe Biden. A candidate that seems like a passionate and engaging man who sometimes says more than what's needed. Like Hallmark, there are thousands of emotional options and ways to express oneself, and many are quite over the top and rambling. One card is plenty and sometimes less is more.

After all of this, I wonder where are our Tesla, Under Armour and Netflix candidates? When will we be able to get excited about contenders that embody the promise of stalwart brands such as Apple, Nike and Amazon?

Every day we are hearing stories about young Americans challenging themselves to change our world through creation and innovation. When will this energy and drive find its way to politics? Old brands that don't change are left to die in our consumer marketplace. That rule must also hold true in our political ecosystem. Americans have the power to king-make as consumers but also as citizens. In a market where "progress or peril" seems to be rule No. 1 for brands, it would be welcomed by many Americans for it to also find its way to Washington.

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