How Do You Maximize Momentum When There's So Little of It?

Primary Candidates Grapple With Wide-Open Primary

By Published on .

Marc Brownstein Joe Erwin
Well, the Super Bowl's less than a week away, and already it seems there's more anticipation for the battle of 30-second supremacy than the gridiron showdown between the Patriots and the Giants. I'm less interested in the ads themselves and more curious to see which marketers will maximize their time in the spotlight to create a truly sustainable advantage -- which is precisely what the leading presidential candidates will be trying to do as we head toward Super Tuesday.

Call it "Momentum Marketing" -- the ability of a brand to fully maximize the value of a limited opportunity for exposure. Let's face it, there are far more efficient media buys than a Super Bowl ad. But smart marketers develop a comprehensive game plan that often extends months before and after the big game.

For politics, that starts with influencing the influencers, or feeding the hype machine that turns out regular punditry on the ebb and flow of the campaign. Forget advertising -- this is good ol' fashioned PR, and the most effective candidates, like the most successful brands, know how to obtain implied endorsements from the allegedly neutral Fourth Estate.

They also know how to merchandise successes in a political age where your latest victory might keep you on the front page for a day or two, tops. Never before have we seen a primary season with so many pivotal races week after week . . . and it's still only January. That means if your man (or woman) wins, you've got to cash in before you find yourself explaining a disheartening third-place finish (see: Huckabee, Mike).

That's the incredible challenge facing every campaign manager in this high-stakes game of poker: They must have a game plan for every eventuality. I liken it to the three-dimensional chess game Spock used to play in the old "Star Trek" series. It's not good enough to know what you're going to do in any given circumstance. You've got to anticipate the moves of your opponents so you can adjust your strategy accordingly.

So what can we expect as the ante gets raised in both parties' contests? I believe we'll see even more negative advertising, more direct mail and more push polling in an effort to draw stark contrasts between the chief adversaries in both races.

And I expect we'll soon begin to see more campaigns brushing up on their electoral math, concentrating resources in winner-take-all states where a one-vote margin looks like a landslide when it comes to landing the nomination.

If Super Tuesday is to the presidential race what Black Friday is to holiday shopping, then pull up a chair, folks. It's about to get interesting.

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A former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, Joe Erwin is president of Erwin-Penland, a 180-person full-service advertising and marketing agency in Greenville, S.C., that is part of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos.
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