Presidential candidates are like brands—it's easier to remember the winners' slogans

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It is the apex of America's quadrennial political season. Like most of you, it is impossible for me not to observe the election through a marketing lens. The similarities between a presidential candidate and a brand are numerous, but is it always an apt comparison? Politics is certainly not my business, but I consider myself to be an attentive observer. In reflecting on the dominant themes or slogans (e.g., candidate branding) from recent presidential elections, I remember 2008 being about hope and change. I remember 2004 being about keeping America safe from terrorism. I remember 2000 being about restoring honor and dignity to the White House. These, of course, were the themes (brands) of the winning candidates, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Barack Obama in 2008. But what were the slogans of the losing candidates? Al Gore spent $130 million, John Kerry spent $300 million and John McCain spent $360 million building their brands (not counting the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by political parties and independent groups). My recollection is vague at best. Candidates are similar to major brands in many ways. They do loads of research to find the best way to express their essence to voters. They seek to differentiate themselves from their competition. They emphasize the benefits they'll bring if elected, not just their features (i.e., their resumes). They understand the value of consistent messaging. And, of course, they spend enormous resources on determining who their audiences are and relentlessly communicating with them across all available media. Still, the consumers in this analogy (voters) aren't the sole decision-makers. The selection is shared with 130 million others and, recent elections being a guide, close to half of them will select a different brand from the one that is purchased (elected). Irrespective of our individual selection, we will all develop a relationship with the brand that is purchased. It is commonplace for the second most successful brand in any market not only to survive but to thrive. Not so in presidential elections. Hundreds of millions of dollars of marketing notwithstanding, the second place brand is quickly forgotten. Tom Nightingale is president of sales and marketing at ModusLink. He can be reached at [email protected]
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