Romney Versus Obama: Politics From The Perspective Of Marketing

Politics Explained

Are you going to vote for Romney? Or Obama?

Or perhaps you think both of these people suck.

Regardless of your opinion on the U.S. election, you are being marketed to like nobody’s business. Watching the game of politics has many marketing lessons in it – if you’re watching for it.

I must admit… I turn into a little bit of a political junkie during an election season. I do have a preference, but that’s not what really drives this. My interest is in the GAME. As somebody who is interested in marketing, I find the strategy the campaigns play to be interesting.

What can we LEARN from the campaign season? What lessons might be applicable to our own businesses and marketing?

Politics As Marketing

In my last post, I talked about branding: How To Brand Yourself, Your Business, Or Your Blog. In that post, I talked about how branding is really about the creation of a mental image picture. That picture brings with it certain emotional reactions that, in turn, guide people into taking action. The picture matches what they need and want.

Well, marketing is about creating that mental image picture which can drive people emotionally to what you want them to do.

Both of the campaigns – and pretty much all political campaigns – are in the business of marketing. They are working diligently to create a mental image picture – a caricature, if you will – of their candidate. They do this with a lot of stories which are all designed to paint a picture of the candidate. They’re creating a BRAND. The brand represents certain things which will hit the right buttons for their target market.

And these people do market research like you’ve never seen before. They know the right buttons to press to move their market into actions. They’ve geo-targeted it and know what issues work in different areas of the country. They target people in all kinds of ways. In “internet marketing” speak, they’ve got a TON of different sub-lists and they target them all in different ways.

But, all of it is about propelling away from the other guy (using fear tactics) and then attracting them to their guy (by making the brand mental image picture match the needs/wants of the target market).

Now, let’s look at the two main presidential candidates.

The Obama Campaign

The Obama camp’s main strategy has been to paint Romney as an evil, rich guy. And they try to paint the Republican party as the party of the rich, who hates women and minorities. The message is primarily one of “those people over there are horrible”.

Now, whether you believe that narrative or not, it IS a narrative. It is the result of branding.

They created a caricature of Romney which was pretty bad. It is the same kind of character branding you see in major brands like McDonalds (Ronald McDonald) or Geico (the little lizard). It is a character that brings to mind certain mental images. You paint that character in a bad light in order to drive people AWAY. And, the points you make to define that character are designed to splinter various population groups.

The end result is that most of the people voting for Obama are doing so more because Romney scares them than because they think Obama has been particularly good as a President.

The Obama campaign has also created a caricature of Obama himself. This was especially true in 2008, where they had Obama up on a pedestal as practically the perfect candidate and a gift to the country. It was easy to do that coming fresh off of the Bush years. Not as easy in 2012, which is why they’ve been spending more time trying to define Romney in a negative light.

The Romney Campaign

Now, I bet that Obama supporters reading that last section will think I’m going to say something completely different about Romney. But, nope. 🙂 Again, let’s look at it from the perspective of marketing…

The GOP has gone out of their way to brand Obama as a Marxist who wants to take over the country with over-regulation. They brand him as the man solely responsible for the problems with economy (which clearly isn’t true). That’s taking advantage of the biggest primary complaint in the marketplace (the economy) and getting them to choose an enemy and point of blame (Obama). It is “us versus them” marketing – a classic way to unify people into a common cause.

The image of Obama created by the GOP is, likewise, a narrative. It is designed to garner an emotional reaction. And, as a result, most Romney voters are more anti-Obama voters than they are pro-Romney voters.

Buy On Emotion, Justify With Logic

It is an old marketing slogan that prospects will buy on emotion, then justify with logic. It is VERY true.

We’ll buy things based on our emotions and how we feel about it, then we’ll go out and look for facts to make us right. Human beings desperately want to be right and never want to be wrong, even to the point of making up “facts” to make themselves right.

And nowhere do we see this more than in the world of politics.

The quest for facts in politics is rather hollow, really. As with most things, there are facts out there to support almost any claim you want to make. Both campaigns use facts which are indeed true, all while ignoring other facts that don’t paint them in a kind light. And the problem with the media, with talking heads, with politicians – even with the “fact checkers” – is that they’re cherry-picking the facts that justify their emotions.

They’ve bought with emotion, and they’re desperately trying to justify constantly. And be right, of course.

It doesn’t matter which narrative you’ve bought, or who you’re going to vote for – you’re still doing it. It is human. That’s just the way the world works.

Applying This To Your Marketing

So, we can clearly see how both the campaigns are using effective branding and marketing to create a mental image picture of themselves and the other candidate.

They do this primarily by painting a narrative – by story-telling.

And it all begins with knowing the exact buttons to press to get a rise out of their target psycho-graphic.

Now, these campaigns have HUGE budgets to pull this off. Presidential campaigns really are just about the biggest single marketing campaigns we ever see. Surely, we can’t have the same scale of effect in our own businesses. We don’t have multi-million dollar budgets and an entire media industry hanging on our every word. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it and use it.

  • When you create the brand for your blog or business, do it strategically so that it brings to mind a mental image picture which will resonate, and which matches what your target audience needs and wants.
  • Always be in tune with what your audience needs and wants, so that you can ensure your message provides it.
  • To the degree that you have competition, find a way to differentiate. Now, in politics, outright character assassination of the other side seems to be the name of the game. In business, we don’t want to do that at all. So, instead, just find points of delineation.
  • Use the power of emotional stories in your content and your marketing as best you can. Stories work and they work well. People fall in love with brands because of the stories that are told about it.
  • Pay special attention to the KIND of emotion you use to push/pull people. It is an unfortunate fact that political campaigns are often driven using the emotion of fear. Fear is an emotion that pushes people away. You want to use positive emotions to attract people, and negatives ones to push people. Think of it like a magnet with the different poles. It works in much the same way.

I’m sure that all of my U.S. readers lean toward one candidate or another. And, that’s fine. I’m not even remotely trying to convince any of you of anything.

But, aside from who you’re going to vote for, try to observe the campaigns with a detached eye. Realize that almost everything you hear from these campaigns is part of a narrative… part of a marketing effort. It may or may not have true facts behind it. Irregardless, they wouldn’t be saying it if it didn’t back up their brand and their narrative.

Watch it from that perspective and it can be truly fascinating to watch. 🙂

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Responses

  1. I don’t feel your article attacked one party or the other. I think readers need to look at campaign strategies and how they approached their audience as you clearly provided. In summary when you read this article read it objectively not with emotion. I really do believe that stories sell a product better as you stated in your bullet point.

    I remember an example of a t shirt company called jonny cupcakes which brands itself around its story of how a independent printer sold shirts from his trunk to make millions. Similar example is tap out shirts. I know thats off topic but they branded their story around their product.

  2. You lost me at this statement… “They brand him as the man soely responsible for the problems with economy (which clearly isn’t true)”. This is where I literally stopped reading. I know this article was about marketing and not the candidates, but it was at this point that it was no longer “opinion free” like you intended. I love reading your articles, but I couldn’t get past that line. I found myself thinking about that instead of reading ahead. So, my friend, you just couldn’t keep your opinions out of the article and it tainted it for me. Hmmm…..

  3. Living in Ohio and being in radio, this state is getting bombarded with campaign ads. It really stinks! I hear so many ads on both sides, including ads that the candidates do not endorse. I picked the candidate who represents the majority of my beliefs a while back, so it’s difficult to listen to the nasty campaigning, especially against my choice. That’s where your article really strikes a cord. I’ve become emotional about who I’m voting for. It’s an excellent study on marketing to people’s emotions.

    Also, well done on have me confused enough that I’m not entirely certain of who you voted for. I recently read another up-and-coming company’s blog post about the election, and the awesome point they made about monetary voting with the products you choose to purchase was almost lost in my emotion with who they alluded to voting for. In fact, I’m so disappointed in the reason they give for their vote that I almost don’t want to purchase their product. If you’re running a business, writing a political article is risky because if you reveal your choice, you alienate half your audience.

    1. Thanks. 🙂 Yeah, like most people, I have my opinions. But, if I’m going to post on this blog, I keep my opinion out of it. 🙂

  4. Nice to take a different perspective on the election David.

    I’m an interested outsider – not American so no vote. I used to work in politics so I know exactly what you mean about story-telling. Holding a room and creating that compelling vision… ah it’s like magic when it’s done well.

    Strikes me that there’s more vitriol in the the campaigns this time around. Maybe a feature of the second-term thing or maybe the state of the economy? Either way – like you – that’s one part I won’t be carrying over to my business!

    Cathy

  5. Great article! What amazes me is that neither candidate seems to adequately build on their integrity or expertise. Hence little time has been built on trust which seems very important for bloggers and and internet marketing.

    Further more so much emphasis has been focused on what they believe will happen and the swing states that I imagine that most voters could feel disenfranchised and feel, “why bother to vote?!”

    I went to vote already. 2 things I learned: one, Mitt Romney folks did not even bother to set up signs.
    Second, within 2 days I was contacted by my party thanking me for my voting early (and asking for more help). I never realized that my activity would be shared with the public.! There is a blog to write!

  6. Well, I’m a Romney guy. My wife and I own two small businesses and, well…. we built them. 🙂

    I have long thought that the GOP has a big marketing problem. Now, admittedly, I am a conservative, so my comments are dripping with my political ideology. But here goes… I think the GOP tends to market using logic to generate a logical vote. The Democrats use emotion to generate a vote.

    We (marketers) understand that to close the deal you need powerful emotional drivers. Well, the democrats have that down pat. Pure and simple: they are better marketers. Just think of how powerful the image of Paul Ryan pushing a grandma in a wheelchair off a cliff is (was). It doesn’t matter that Obamacare raided $716 Billion form Medicare – the image that most will remember is that Ryan and Romney are mean – they want to push grandma off a cliff.

    Just one example of thousands of how the GOP tries to use math and logic, and all of it is wiped out by a strong emotional appeal.

    One of the reasons I joined David was to try to make something of my blog – my baby. This is a true example of picking a topic that I am passionate about, but that lacks marketability form a monetization perspective.

    The blog is toberight.com – if any of you marketers have any idea how to monetize it – I’m listening!

    Great post, David.

  7. Lovely analysis, David, and such a refreshing change in this polarized election season! Political campaigns have millions and millions of dollars to spend on branding, and we all should pay close attention to their high-priced strategies AND tactics. And it’s so key to remember that emotions are what drive our customers’ “purchases” – be it a vote or an ebook. If we keep that at the forefront of our marketing efforts, it’s a win!

  8. Great post here, David!

    I love what you’ve done by relating the campaigns to how we could apply them to blogging and so forth.

    Impressions might not necessarily be everything, but I can say that they are of significant value. How one communicates, conducts themselves, etc..

    Also, I look at things in terms of if the candidate is effectively using various social media resources, various technologies, etc.. it leads me to believe that they would be more likely to be a proponent for advancing in this area within our nation!

    Thanks again for proposing this topic, David!

    Safe travels my friend!

    All the best,
    -Alex

    1. I think both campaigns have been doing a great job with social media. In 2008, the Obama camp clearly dominated there. But, this time around, they’re both on the ball.

  9. This is very true how they use marketing…even though I cannot stand either one of them LOL!!

    Question for you…what plugins are you using for the scrolling “share and comment” bar and the bottom right category bar? Those are awesome!!

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