Since Senator Ted Cruz announced his 2016 presidential bid back in March, 20 others have tossed their hats into the ring with him. Soon, our media airways will be flooded with political ads and our neighborhoods will be filled with vibrant signs supporting the various candidates, presidential and otherwise. By that time, these candidates will have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of man hours strategically crafting both their platform and their image.
Taking a step back from all the mayhem that election season brings, it's easy to see why candidates spend so much time and money crafting what is essentially a huge marketing campaign. They want us to buy a product — them. If a candidate is going to win, he or she has to convince the most people in the country buy into their brand, their message, and, ultimately, their product.
It's All About the Brand
The notion of branding within politics has been around for centuries. A brand is a promise. It is a nonverbal assurance of excellence and consistency businesses make with their customers.
Steve Goodson, founder of StrawberryFrog, explains in an article in Forbes,
“Brands are psychology and science brought together as a promise mark as opposed to a trademark… Brands outlive products. Brands convey a uniform quality, credibility and experience. Brands are valuable.”
Every time a customer buys an Apple or Ford or GoPro product, they expect a certain quality, and it's actually no different when it comes to voting for politicians.
Just like Apple or GoPro, it is a politician and their team’s job to create a meaningful connection with their customers — the voters. For months, these candidates undertake a role as Chief Marketing Officer, convincing an audience that they are the highest quality and most valuable product available.
As voters, we analyze everything — political stances, eloquence, religion, family life, etc.— and in November, we finally make a purchase in the brand that we identify with the most when we vote. Meredith Post, a designer for LPK global brand design agency, explains in an article on LPK’s site,
“When you vote for a candidate, you’re not just voting for their policies or party affiliation, but also their personality, attitude, appearance and beliefs—in essence, their brand. No candidate is perfect when it comes to their policies, strategies, personal lives or even choice of typeface, but it’s interesting to realize how branding influences your decisions.”
To give you an idea of political branding in action, let's examine a few of the recent branding strategies.
The Obama Brand: Hope
While logos and signage have existed in almost every presidential election for the last century or so, Barack Obama changed the approach to branding with his campaign in 2008. In a market that had been dominated by bold-print political ads/signs comprised of red, white, and blue to inspire patriotism and nationalism, Obama's campaign focused heavily on one strategic message: hope. Post writes,
“Regardless of personal politics, the beauty and effectiveness of Obama’s brand is evident. Americans wanted hope and they got it; from the Palatino/Gotham typeface combinations, to the bright, optimistic photography—everything laddered back to the fresh, ‘new day in America’ messaging.”
Instead of honing in on a message of American-centric patriotism that was so important in 2004, everything in Obama's messaging came back to the simple idea of hope and change. The Obama brand successfully communicated that cohesive and comprehensive message across each and every one of his platforms.
The Bush Legacy: Tradition
The Bush brand is different. It has a long history, dating back generations. We can think of the Bush brand like many of the other established brands on the market—Chevy, IBM, Kraft. When these established brands consider launching a new product or extension, they first ask themselves: How will our brand and reputation carry over from one product to another?
The same applies to the Bush brand. In 2016, Jeb Bush will become the next in the family to run for president and his family brand will indeed have a powerful influence on his campaign.
The Bush brand represents tradition and power in the world of politics. Just like Chevy would never launch a new automobile product without Chevy attached to it, Jeb Bush can't launch a campaign without acknowledging his past. Jesse Collen, an intellectual property lawyer, explains in an article for Forbes,
“What is the point of leveraging the brand if you are going to distance yourself from it? [Jeb] is recognizing his brand, and doing nothing to retreat from all that brand power brings to him. He is simply saying that he is the new product and stands on his own two feet. Name alone usually cannot create success, but experience enhances product quality.”
If he's smart, the former Florida governor will present himself as new, unique version of an already established and experienced brand dynasty. In a field where name recognition is valuable, Jeb Bush's family name could give him a leg up on many of his competitors.
The Trump Card: Power
Donald Trump. The name itself conjures up images of towers, real estate holdings, and opulent demonstrations of affluence. While the Bush legacy is one of political experience, the Trump brand is one synonymous with dollar signs and power. Doubters will argue that Trump is using his political platform to further his already globalized brand. Whether you consider him a serious political contender or not, Trump has already been one of the most successful candidates in terms of publicity. Collen explains,
“His brand may not be loved, but it gets him attention; skeptics are writing today that as much as he would love to be president, that is not what his campaign is about. It is about burnishing his 'Trump' trademark for his next round of commercial ventures.”
Regardless of his intentions, the Trump brand has been incredibly valuable in getting media play, and there's no doubt that Mr. Trump will continue to use the wealthy and audacious persona he's known for to further his political and financial goals.
Names and branding alone will not garner enough votes to win. Yet, every vote will help, and when a name invokes visions of power, hope, or tradition, voters are moved. Some of the best minds in advertising and branding will be set to the task of refining each candidates message and image in the coming months, and I look forward to watching these campaigns develop.
What are your opinions on the political brands in the upcoming election? Join the conversation by tweeting @EidsonPartners!
(Image Source: http://www.lwvnyc.org/)