Why Sarah Palin Is McCain's Camaro

Brand Mavens Tell Ad Age If Veep Choice Is GOP Genius or a Marketing Misstep

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Donny Deutsch told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" that "women want to be her and men want to mate with her," while Harvard's John Quelch said she's the red Chevy Camaro to John McCain's Ford F-150.

They were just two of the media-blanketing opinions that followed John McCain's unveiling of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his choice for veep. Evangelicals were euphoric, Republican pundit Peggy Noonan was clearly not so sure and Democrats readied their attacks. Ad Age asked a handful of brand mavens whether they saw this as GOP genius or a marketing misstep.

Mark Penn
Mark Penn
CEO of Burson-Marsteller and chief strategist for Hillary Clinton
On the speech: "I think that everybody feels that it was a good speech, but it's uncertain still whether or not she appealed to a broader audience or just reaffirmed the base of the party and I don't think we'll know that for several days.

Bottom line: "Time and time again it looks like VPs are going to have a big impact, but then the evidence afterwards is that things really centered on what people thought about the presidential candidates."

John Quelch
John Quelch
Senior associate dean and Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and author of "Greater Good"
"It's a very good brand extension, one that complements the core propositions of the master brand while extending it to a new audience. ... We're still in an opinion-shaping moment. [Wednesday] night's speech put the extension on the supermarket shelf, but it's a little premature to ... declare we've got a permanent new fixture in the product line."

On the competition: "Biden was a defensive line extension. Palin is an offensive one. [She's] more of a fighting brand, whereas Biden was picked to shore up foreign-policy credentials and lend some experience."

In an earlier interview with Newsweek, Mr. Quelch likened Obama to a Prius and McCain to a Ford F150. With this pick, he said, McCain has put a red Chevy Camaro in the garage next to his truck.

Bill Hillsman
Bill Hillsman
Chief creative officer, North Woods Advertising, Minneapolis
On the Hillary Clinton voters: "The notion that Palin is going to move Democratic women supporters of Hillary Clinton to the McCain ticket is ludicrous."

On the male vote: "Her presence on the ticket may move independent male voters toward the ticket, because (especially in mountain states and the upper Midwest and in some rust-belt states) these independent males tend to be 'boys with toys' -- outdoorsmen who are fishers, campers, hunters and who own [four-wheel-drive] trucks, ATVs, boats, jet skis, etc. Palin for VP may be the best news for the snowmobile industry in the past five years."

Howard Rubenstein
Howard Rubenstein
President of Rubenstein Associates
Before the speech: "I thought it was super-high risk. It was almost like a politically death-defying moment for him. On paper, the way it first broke, there was nothing that would lead you to believe that she could be a president in the case of some sort of emergency. ... It started out as a political PR disaster."

After the speech: "Her presentation and feistiness, I think, has reversed most people's decisions and they think it might be a masterful move by McCain that emphasizes a lot of the things he had to emphasize -- that he was a maverick and that he wasn't listening to the old political machine."

Bottom line: "Only the election results will count. At the end, if Obama sweeps, they'll say it was a bad move and blame everything on her. If it's tight they'll say she kept it tight."

Carol Cone
Carol Cone
Chairman and founder of brand strategy and communications agency Cone
After the speech: "The expectations were low, and she totally surpassed those expectations. She was competent, passionate, clear about what she stood for and made some huge hits against Obama. She played the role of attack dog well."

What to expect: "This story is just in chapter one. There is a tremendous amount of peeling back the onion that is going to take place quickly. The National Enquirer is on the beat. So the jury is still out. ... Hillary had a lot of scrutiny that went beyond the norm. It's too unique to have a woman at that level. How does she look? What are her clothes like? How does she run her family? What are her family obligations? That's how the media treats women, because women as high-level politicians and government officials are still fairly rare. It's going to take 10 to 20 years before that goes away."

Kevin Lane Keller
Kevin Lane Keller
E.B. Osborn Professor of Marketing, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth
From the branding perspective: "Think of this as a brand alliance or partnership. Choosing Palin offered a lot in common as well as bringing some distinctive qualities and characteristics: independent conservative values on one hand ... a youthful female perspective on the other."

Drawbacks: "In this case, one of his key points of difference -- experience -- gets really muddied if nothing else. But I think McCain is willing to live with that in that one other advantage McCain gets with Palin that he badly needed is buzz. Brands need news, and this was a big story in many, many different ways. It got people's attention and will force at least some people to examine and consider McCain more closely than they might have otherwise."

Football or baseball: "I think that the sports analogy of a Hail Mary that some pundits have used to characterize the choice misses the point. A better analogy to me is that this is a curve-ball -- unexpected and somewhat unpredictable but with sound logic and intent. The competitive surprise is considerable."

Bottom line: "Like any marketing campaign, the logic of the alliance and partnership will only be as good as the quality of its execution. Ultimately, the real decision will be about the McCain brand and how he is perceived. He is the primary brand by far in this combination."

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Michael Bush, Ira Teinowitz, Ken Wheaton



Palin pick causes controversy at Us Weekly, 'Oprah'

Less than a week after being selected as John McCain's vice-presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin electrified one magazine's subscriber base and forced Oprah Winfrey to clarify her opinion of the candidate.

The controversy first hit Us Weekly on Tuesday morning, when an image of the magazine's new issue with the cover line "Babies, Lies and Scandal" began circulating. The wording was considerably more slanted than the covers from OK ("A Mother's Painful Choice") and People ("Family Drama") and was especially pointed considering that Wenner Media's Jann Wenner gave Barack Obama an open endorsement in sister publication Rolling Stone.

MSNBC's online column The Scoop reported on Sept. 5 that as many as 5,000 subscribers had canceled their subscriptions by the time the issue hit their mailboxes Thursday, a figure an Us Weekly spokesman denied. "This week, we had 1,000 new subscribers and 1,000 people who've canceled their subscriptions. ... We have no regrets about our cover decision." No advertisers have called to remove their ads, he added.

Oprah Winfrey is also treading lightly when it comes to Ms. Palin. Political blogger Matt Drudge reported that she refused to allow Ms. Palin on her show. In a statement, Ms. Winfrey said, "There has been absolutely no discussion about having Sarah Palin. ... At the beginning of this presidential campaign ... I made the decision not to use my show as a platform for any of the candidates. I agree that Sarah Palin would be a fantastic interview, and I would love to have her on after the campaign is over."
-- Andrew Hampp
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