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November 2010
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Marketing Lessons from the Elections

Joe McGinniss in his book, “The Selling of the President 1968”, presented a clear case for how Richard Nixon captured the presidency using television and the basics of marketing. The media have changed the basics have not. The recent congressional elections offer so many lessons about the use of marketing principles to win that they cannot or should not be ignored.

To state the obvious the Republicans proved to be great marketers and the Democrats not so much so. A successful marketing campaign starts with a clear identification of your prime prospect, a strong knowledge base of the needs and wants of that prime prospect and a focused, consistent, benefit oriented message that is relevant and salient for the prime prospect. Plus a great campaign will gain added value by utilizing the value of branding.

Let’s start by looking at the prime prospect. Like all good marketing programs, it is important to define who your prime prospect is and not fret over those who might fall outside your target audience. For the Republicans whether it was conscious or unconscious they identified and tapped into angry people. Why they were angry or who they were angry at was irrelevant. If one thing is clear over the last decade Americans have become ever more empowered and with that empowerment a believe they are entitled. Their entitlement can best be defined as believing someone other than themselves will make it all right.

All is not right. Millions couldn’t find jobs or were underemployed. People’s homes were either in foreclosure or are they knew someone whose home was in foreclosure or the house next-door was in foreclosure and they were consistently being reminded by the media that total financial collapse was potentially a day away. So it’s not hard to understand why a large cohort of potential voters were angry and anxious.

It is interesting when you go back and review all the rhetoric that the Democrats reminded people of how bad things are and spent so much time apologizing that it sounded like they were the cause. “Things are getting better, but…”. If you are angry what kind of message is that? The Republicans on the other hand didn’t apologize for anything, they just reminded the angry cohort that the Democrats were in power and they should be made responsible for the way things are. The Republicans were successful at deflecting the fact that they were a major contributor to the problem. (For the purpose of this post, I am combining the Republican and the Tea Parties. My analysis suggests that the Republicans so co-opted the Tea Party message they became one and the same.)

The Republicans had a simple focused message – big government, big spending, big problem. The fact that they were able to minimize their complicity was brilliant. They made the “Party of No” work for them with their prime prospect. (Think about cigarette advertising and even with warnings on the package how they can make it look cool.) The Democrats on the other hand tried to talk about all the things they accomplished and the list was long. The list was so long that the angry cohort heard none of it because they couldn’t identify with it. The Democrats could not or did not demonstrate the benefits of their actions so the angry cohort, with all their anxiety and fears, could not identify with what had been done to make things better. Their life sucked and somebody had to pay. Those not in the angry cohort appear to have said, works for me, and stayed home.

Another marketing tool where the Republicans were successfully was branding. Look how they demonize healthcare reform as ObamaCare. It didn’t matter whether our angry cohort was going to benefit from health care reform because the Democrats could not demonstrate the benefits and the Republicans clearly established the cost is a demon. They made ObamaCare into a disease not a solution. Say ObamaCare and people cringe. Financial reform became a disease not a solution. The fact that it was the banks and financial institutions that caused the angry cohort to be angry was lost.

Probably the single most impressive component of the Republican marketing program was their ability to keep their message simple and consistent. It was what ever Rush said everyone said. It is amazing that everyone including the Republican leaning media used the same words and stressed the same issues. Facts and truth were irrelevant to a simple message, the Democrats are bankrupting your future – big government, big spending, big problem. For all the reasons that millions of people came out for President Obama during his campaign, hoping for something better, the angry cohort came out for Republicans.

Every good marketer knows that the truth is what you make it. My detergent cleans better than yours. My computer is better than yours. My cough medicine works better than yours. In almost every case it would take a chemist or a technology person to prove that one product is really better than another. To someone who owns an Apple product all other products are by definition inferior. The Republicans were very good at convincing the angry cohort that they were better.

It will be interesting to read the next chapter. Will the Republicans be able to hold onto the angry cohort when unemployment doesn’t go down or taxes go up or their afterschool programs are eliminated? Will the Democrats have learned the value of marketing and find a message that resonates with a large enough cohort of Americans who will relate to their message and reelect them. One of the truisms in marketing is that consumers build strong brands that have real benefits. Consumers buy benefits not attributes. While tipping my hand, I am hard pressed to identify what are the benefits in what the Republicans are selling.


Comment from alex garnett
Time November 17, 2010 at 6:27 am

Well done. You should be teaching again!

Are you playing golf this week?


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