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McCain Is a Ford, Obama Is a BMW

Brand Study: Voters Find Both Candidates Resemble Starbucks

By Published on . 4

How do you see Barack Obama?
How do you see Barack Obama?
Barack Obama is James Bond and John McCain is Jack Bauer. While that might make a great tagline for a rocking action-movie spoof, that sentence has nothing to do with a movie and everything to do with the way American voters view the presidential candidates.

In the 2008 Presidential Image Power Survey, released today by branding agency Landor Associates in conjunction with Penn, Schoen & Berland, likely voters were asked to associate the presidential and vice presidential candidates with brands including fictional spies, retail outlets, snack foods and cars.

Voters associated Mr. Obama with BMW, Google and Target, while Mr. McCain was compared to Ford, Wal-Mart and AOL.

"A brand by nature is a very personally held perception," Mary Ellen Dugan, senior director at Landor, told Ad Age. "And very similar to what we found here voters have very strong perceptions for these candidates as well. And that's where branding lines up with what's happening in this election as well."

But despite some of those very stark differences, voters found some common characteristics in the candidates and associated each of them with brands such as iPod, Starbucks and MySpace. Scott Siff, exec VP at Penn, Schoen & Berland, said this shows that the candidates have a lot of similarities from a branding perspective, most of all the notion that they are both game changers.

"Three of the key brands that McCain and Obama are both associated with won their reputation as game changers in their respective categories by allowing people to achieve individuality in a comfortable format," Mr. Siff said in a statement. "This similarity in the candidates' brand strategies also indicates that whichever candidate best achieves the positioning they are both trying to claim may well be the winner on November 4."

Voters were also asked to look at the candidates' attributes. Participants view Mr. Obama as charming, approachable, compassionate, intelligent and unifying. Mr. McCain is seen as strong, reliable and respected. Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden is seen as respected, strong and reliable. And in the eyes of voters Republican nominee Gov. Sarah Palin actually shares some of the same qualities as Mr. Obama, including unifying and approachable. Voters also saw her as someone who is trustworthy, "shares my values" and credible.

But the similarities between Mr. Obama and Ms. Palin, the two unknowns out of the foursome, don't stop there. Voters found similarities between the two in seven out of 15 categories comparing them both to brands such as Google and People magazine. Voters felt Mr. McCain and Mr. Biden were even more similar, associating the two with the same brands in 12 out of 15 categories. The longtime members of the Senate were both compared to AOL and BusinessWeek -- two brands with long, respected heritages.

The survey polled 1,002 registered Democratic, Republican and independent voters between Oct. 1-6.

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