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Branding the Next President, 2008


SAN FRANCISCO, CA --- The two dozen 2008 presidential candidates can’t escape the current campaign froth.  It just rattles the campaign managers.  Instead of message control, it’s currently about damage control  -- daily, hourly, (even by the minute, with text messaging and mobile bloggers.) Plus, never has so much polling been available so early and so often.  Making matters worse, the media tends to avoid intended messages, since they must deal with their own poll numbers:  Who’s watching and who’s turned off by the premature injection of presidential politics one year and half before the election!  They’re working to disrupt the process to create drama, and thus create audiences. 

Political campaigns and retail marketing are of the same species. Same tools, techniques and strategies, and most importantly, control.  Branding is critical to both --  projection of image intended to attract loyalty.

For the front runners of 2008 presidential candidate campaigns, the disarray has had it's impact.  Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guiliani may be headed for early primary defeats.  For the dark horse candidates – Huckabee, Paul and Obama, the chaos has been advantageous.

But that will all change with the conventions end next summer. 

That’s when the campaigns and parties take firmer control of the fireworks.  That’s when branding begins;   Selling the ticket.  The branding act will more complex than at any time previously. There are three generations of voters to impact, each with their own special interests’ message and media.

Some housekeeping.  The most critical step is to complete the project.  Voters decide the nominees for president, but the party and presidential nominee decide the vice presidential candidate.  This cycle, that will be crucial, especially for the democrat ticket.  For example, a Clinton-Obama ticket captures the two themes of that primary battle – experience vs. change. In their case, major change, dramatic change  -- plus the first woman, the first African-American candidate.  The downside, of course, is that it could be painted as lack of experience, and a return to the past.  Still, from a marketing point of view, there’s plenty to like if you’re running that campaign.

On the other side, Republicans’ leading candidates have experience, a former New York mayor and former governor.  That represents normality and managerial experience;  With a Thompson or Huckabee vice presidential candidate, they create North-South coalition.  This would be a traditional campaign and their voter base is older.  No razzle dazzle here, more “conservative”; not in a political sense, but as a marketing theme.

Each of these scenarios requires different branding for broad segments of the voting public. Here's where branding comes in.

The baby boomer generation, now aging voters, require a mixture of ideological arguments with concerns for the simple things of life, like concerns over the non-existent Social Security trust fund, health care, and an economy.  For, Generation X, it’s all about image, and fashionable issues, like the environment.  Generation Y, twenty something's are notorious for not voting, are more idealistic and practical. With the right stimulants, this broad age group might just vote this cycle.

Regular voters also are older than those who are not registered. More than four-in-ten of those ages 50 and older (baby boomers) are regular voters, about double the proportion of 18-29 year-olds (22%). Among those between the ages of 30 and 49 (Generation X), more than a third (35%) reliably go to the polls. our-in-ten 18-29 year-olds are not registered to vote, double the proportion of 30-49-year-olds and nearly three times greater than those ages 50 or older.  Reaching these three groups requires different messages and media.  Let’S take them in order.

Media and Message.  To reach the boomers, content is important. The campaigns will use traditional issue ads, photo montages to invoke fear (e.g. Social Security), and the medium will be cable and network cable, and print newspaper editorials and sound bites from the candidates’ speeches. They’ll  emphasize the debates where issues are discussed intelligently for probably the last time leading up to election day.  Boomers are like a majority of regular Florida voters, are focused on personal needs, especially securing their retirement years. 

For Gen X, in their thirties and forties, it’s always been about style and the fashionable.  The Iraq war and the environment place high on the list of issues.  Their medium is blogs, high emotional photo montage ads, celebrity endorsements, lite issue message, and using the polls to create a group-think, join the band wagon spirit.   They’re more attracted to what the candidates say, how they say it.  They’re very partisan.

For Gen Y, it’s a major challenge.  To motivate them to vote, campaigns will be forced to be straight forward, using alternative media.  Blogs, emails, and ads are less effective.  Creating issues that fit into the text messaging format, web presence, and comparative ads will appeal to this group.  The younger voters have a special affection for the altruism of the Baby Boomers, but a clear aversion to making choices based on what’s fashionable.  They want the truth, the facts, and they want to know the candidates personally.  Branding is less important, including party affiliation.  They’re more interested in what the candidates plan to do, not what they say. Retailers have learned about this new generation and their buying patterns.. They’re the most discriminating consumers.  That tendency will characterized their choice for president.

Mastering these flow of message to these three groups will be crucial for victory.  Using the varies message mediums will be just as important. Taken together whichever ticket reaches these three groups will have deserved the victory. It may be more about macromedia, not microtrends.  It will take agility, persistence and honesty as in authenticity.  Pluralism in full force.