By Tony Samson
THERE is a school of marketing that believes that a political candidate is no different from a can of sardines or a shampoo. It’s just another product to be sold. In a 1969 book on the 1968 US elections, author Joe McGinniss exposed the Madison Avenue techniques used to successfully push the election of the already once-defeated Richard Nixon as president. Since then advertising types and market researchers/pollsters have jumped into the political process.
The brand manager can offer segmented products using different selling propositions addressed to the mass market or the high-end counterpart, as in selling condos. There are cabinet-sized spaces near cemeteries (a quiet neighborhood) and two-floor units in plush zones with an atrium for the chandelier (it fits your image).
Can politicians also adjust their messages according to the audience?
The varying messages employed by advertising types to target different segments of the market, in terms of socio-economic clusters or lifestyle categories (single moms with one child), can be perceived in a political context as pandering to different groups. What results is the image of a dissembling candidate who has no real stand on any issues, and just trying to delight different sets of customers…like a stand-up comedian.
If product marketing has now embraced social media, should its political equivalent be left behind? The digital missionary will tell his client candidate that the world belongs to the “millennials” and that the median age of this country is 23 years old. This segment, the voting population from 18 to 28 years old, comprises 70% of the voters. (Who checks these statistics?)
It is perhaps a culture shock for the wizened political handlers to sit still for the slide presentation of one, who just started shaving, promoting a digital approach to campaigning. He refers to bloggers and “brand ambassadors,” and letting messages be defined by the community. This crowd-sourcing of desired product attributes is how digital marketers like Trivago with its consumer reviews of hotels, restaurants, and destinations have quickly replaced the travel agents. Is this the way to go in selling a candidate?
The reason why traditional political handlers balk at the digital approach is its cheekiness and air of certitude — really, you can deliver 8 million votes using this approach? Yes, sir, if they will all register and bother to vote. We are not sure of their passion.
The digital missionary explains the characteristics of the 18 to 28, maybe stretching to 33-year old millennials. Remember, this is the 70% chunk mentioned before — are you paying attention, Sir? She (we only use this gender for convenience, and there are more women in the demographics) has a very short attention span (six seconds). She only stays connected when she’s interested in a topic. She doesn’t even watch TV or read the printed newspaper. (You need to understand your voter, Sir.)
One difference between a product and a candidate is the role of the consumer. In the case of the product, it is the seller who gets money from the consumer. In politics, the product and the buyer switch roles. Guess where the flow of money starts and ends — from the product to the customer. Please don’t call it vote buying. It is now called “incentivation.”
The candidate and his handlers may feel more comfortable with the traditional approach, like dynasty politics, which still works. (As Arnold S, the Terminator, puts it — I’m old but not obsolete). This entails going to wakes, organizing meetings, and giving out T-shirts. But the candidate may put some money too on the digital side, just to keep up. But which option should weigh more?
Good advertising for a bad product can doom its prospects by enticing more customers to use the product and be disappointed or even infuriated with its consumption. When a bad candidate wins because of good marketing and a compelling brand promise (he will solve EDSA traffic), there is no opportunity for a refund or an exchange because of a bad fit or a torn pocket.
Thankfully, for the politician, the product may already be well known with a high profile on his past achievements or lack thereof. As they say in sales — caveat emptor. The buyer must indeed be wary of a candidate who insists — that’s all history now, let’s just move on. Okay, hold on, what other products are on the shelf?
A.R. Samson is chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.