What Marketers Can Take Away From the Presidential Race

Ad Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

The presidential election of 2008 was perhaps a year too long and, as usual, resorted to bitter attacks in the final weeks. But there are plenty of lessons for consumer marketers and agencies to learn (or relearn) from the Barack Obama and John McCain campaigns.

Perhaps the most important point to remember is that advertising is not the entire marketing package. Political advertising in general rightly gets slammed for its woeful creative and lack of imagination on display. The ads are only a small part of the overall battle. Both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain understand that. Marketing involves product, branding, online media, social networking, showmanship, public relations and much, much more.

But pay closer attention to the candidates, and you'll see they understand something else: Americans -- Republican or Democrat -- aren't as polarized as the media make them out to be. With the exception of a few key issues such as the war in Iraq and abortion, most Americans are more similar than not. Often, the other differences boil down to how we solve problems. It was no coincidence that the debates featured two candidates who often seemed like they were saying the same thing.

In our political coverage during this cycle, comments often broke down to bitter, small-minded attacks from members of both parties. Further, we're not exactly breaking news by pointing out that within the halls of ad agencies in major urban centers, disgust and disdain is aimed in the direction of those McCain-Palin supporters in flyover country. It's one thing to disagree with a candidate. It's another to assume that half the voters in the country are knuckle-dragging troglodytes or terrorist-loving communists. Those voters aren't idiots; they're your consumers.

We'd hate to think marketers and agency folks assume voters are mentally defective because of their positions on things such as abortion. It shows a lack of imagination, empathy and respect. While it might offer a hint at why so much creative is pure garbage, we'll chalk it up to a high emotional state caused by an exciting election. Anti-abortion or pro-abortion-rights, pro-Obama or pro-McCain, people all need to wash their clothes, brush their teeth and go grocery shopping.

We hope you all vote this Election Day. We hope you learn something from the marketing efforts of these two candidates. And when it comes to applying those lessons, we hope you leave your political emotions at home, where they belong.
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