How Presidential Advertising Is Like Auto Advertising

Put It This Way: The Thought Process Behind Buying a Car Is the Same One Consumers Use at the Polls

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Seasoned politicos are quick to tell you there's nothing that can possibly compare to running a campaign for Congress, Senate, governor or president.

They're wrong.

Electing a public official is almost exactly like working on another type of traditional advertising account. One that, unlike political advertising, everyone is clamoring to work on.

Political advertising is just like working on a car account.

Before you go deaf from the sound of Henry Ford spinning in his grave, consider the similarities between electing a public official and buying a car:
  • Both decisions come with a commitment of two, four or six years
  • Potential customers are engaged for a short period of time
  • People actually do their homework before committing
  • People want us to believe they decide based on facts, when it's really an emotional decision
  • There's plenty of negative advertising
Whether advertising political candidates or cars, it's absolutely critical to make sure potential customers/voters make a connection to the brand that is both logical and emotional. That's why shopping for a new congressman or a new BMW is almost the exact same process.

Consider this: Talking to voters who have already decided on a candidate is a lot like talking to people who have already purchased a BMW. We all know good and well that people buy BMWs because they're going to look good and be accepted by their peers. But when you ask the owners why they bought a BMW, they go straight for the facts about fine German craftsmanship, racing heritage, etc., etc.

Same with voters. Campaigns spin out miles of material to give their voters ammunition to use when they talk to their friends about their choice of candidate. Even though, in reality, the voter may have chosen the candidate because they think he's a nice guy or think she'll do a good job.

Uncommitted voters are just like active car shoppers. They often have the very same objections to certain politicians as they do to certain cars. Is it comfortable? (Does my candidate share my values?) Is it reliable? (Can I depend on my candidate to do what he says?) Is it durable? (Will my candidate live through the term. Morbid, but something voters consider.) Will other people like my car? (Will world leaders work with my candidate?) And the all-important, how will this car make me look? (What will my friends say when I reveal my candidate choice?)

On these questions, successful candidates and successful cars fall into two categories: They're either good enough on all these questions or they're so unbelievably good on one question that it overshadows everything else.

Barack Obama is a stunning orator and tremendous motivator. More than a candidate, he's a personality-driven movement. For his supporters, that far outweighs any shortcomings he may have in his experience or voting record. He is a Ferrari.

John McCain exemplifies the other end of the spectrum. He's a candidate with tons of experience and decent qualifications all the way around. This allows his supporters to overlook his lack of dynamism. He is a Toyota Camry.

It wouldn't be a new car without options. In the world of presidential politics, those options are known as vice presidential candidates.

Obama was looking to add gravity, foreign policy credibility, help with blue-collar voters and someone to do the dirty work. Joe Biden fits the bill perfectly.

McCain needed to counter the movement aspect of the Obama campaign. He also needed to bring more excitement to his campaign and, frankly, needed to get younger at that position. He also wanted to take advantage of Obama's choice of a man instead of a woman. So far, Palin has proved to be a savvy pick.

And let's not forget that comparative advertising has always been a part of the car business, from the earliest days when Chevrolet claimed its cars were smoother than a Model T to today when Hyundai tells us its new model is faster than a Porsche Boxster. It's a staple of the business and, frankly, customers expect it. Same goes for political campaigns. People say they hate negative ads, but they've come to expect them as part of the process and TV advertising still ranks as one of the top sources voters use to gather information.

The political game is a lot like the car business. You've got your straight shooters and your plaid-jacket hustlers. Your sensible sedans and flashy sports cars. Your great deals and hopeless lemons. Either way, you're stuck with it for years and, if you don't choose wisely, it'll cost you.

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Vinny Minchillo is chief creative officer of Scott Howell & Company, Dallas.
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