Five Political Lessons For Brand Managers
Branding consultant Tim Kane shows how grass-roots political tactics can be applied to brand marketing. Includes case histories.
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Five Political Lessons For Brand Managers
BVC-Strategies_7.1.08.qxd:Layout 1 7/18/08 3:55 PM Page 1
Branding + Visual
S t rate gi e s Communications
n e w s l e t t e r
Published by Makovsky + Company Volume 22/Number 5
For more information on Makovsky + Company’s
Branding + Visual Communications practice, please visit
the power of specialized thinking
Every Sale is an Election
Five Political Lessons Every Brand Manager Should Learn
In the 1972 film, The Candidate, Robert constituency, buying the
Redford plays an idealistic young product — casting a vote — is
politician who is shocked – shocked! – to almost a foregone conclusion.
discover that his campaign manager is
using consumer brand marketing 1. Own the issue. Every
techniques to drive his candidacy. successful brand, like any
successful politician, is
In the twenty-five years since the movie organized around a compelling
was released, we’ve all become issue. It’s not enough to just
considerably more comfortable with the identify that issue. You need to
interaction of marketing and politics. In embody it, to coin the phrases
fact, as our understanding of the that describe it and brand the
relationship between people and solutions that address it.
brands has deepened, we’re beginning
to realize that just as a candidate can be In 1979, while Jane Byrne was
presented like a brand, the opposite is running for Mayor of Chicago
equally true: Every brand needs to be against the all-powerful political
handled like a candidate. machine of former Mayor
Richard Daley, a series of
Why? Because people don’t buy brands. freakishly huge snowstorms
They join them. slammed the city. Daley’s hand-
picked successor, Michael
Expectations for brands are the same as Bilandic, bloviated from the
mass marketer for the five key
expectations for politicians: A coherent warmth of City Hall, but Byrne conducted
techniques of the grassroots crusader:
world view. An emotional connection. her campaign out in the blizzards. The
An identifiable image. People don’t want 1. Own the issue. media was soon filled with images of Jane
to passively receive messages; they in her cheap cloth coat and wet stocking
2. Start a groundswell.
expect to be engaged in an active cap, pointing an accusing finger at the
dialogue. They’re not “customers” at all. 3. Win the debates. snow-choked streets. She quickly became
They’re constituents. 4. Turn out the vote. the literal embodiment of the city’s
resilience. And Chicago’s first female mayor.
5. Keep your promises.
As a result, smart Brand Managers are
acting more and more like campaign Using these strategies will allow you to More recently, Citibank found itself under
managers, setting aside the tactics of the create such strong bonds with your brand’s attack from aggressive low-rate credit cards.
BVC-Strategies_7.1.08.qxd:Layout 1 7/18/08 3:56 PM Page 2
With a now-famous series of ads, Citibank shifted discussion in the Apple has always been a master of the us-versus-them scenario, from
category away from interest rates to identity theft. Although studies their very first Macintosh (“The computer for the rest of us”) to their
showed that identity theft was far down the list of customer current, brilliant Mac vs PC campaign. No matter what new Microsoft
concerns, Citibank successfully reframed the issue and gave it a new operating system is introduced, no matter what new features it
urgency, allowing them to hold onto their customer base and boasts, even PC loyalists are left with the feeling that there’s a smarter,
actually steal share away from the competition. faster and more sophisticated Mac waiting just around the corner.
2. Start a groundswell. Every issue, no matter how compelling, 4. Turn out the vote. Your issue is provocative. Your momentum is
begins as a fringe issue. Every candidate begins with a small circle of building. You’ve won the debates. But you still won’t win unless your
admirers. And every brand starts off as a niche brand. To be supporters show up. “You gotta do everything for the voter except
successful, you have to build outwards from your base of support, vote,” as one precinct captain puts it. “Pick ‘em up, sign ‘em in. Push
and generate a seemingly spontaneous groundswell of support that their wheelchairs, sit with their kids, whatever it takes.”
makes election seem inevitable.
For Brand Managers, the lesson is: Focus on your infrastructure. You
Al Gore, with his“Inconvenient Truth”campaign, took an issue that had have to make it easy for people to find you, to interact with you, to
long languished in the Green fringe and moved it right to the top of get whatever they want from you. With all due respect to your many
the public agenda. Gore’s approach was textbook: he simplified the brilliant product developers, the quality of your infrastructure often
discussion, made the science accessible, and established vehicles — defines your brand’s relationship with its constituents.
the lecture tour, the film, the website — that magnified the level of
support for the issue. He then invited everyone, advocates and Ten years ago, the idea of selling shoes online was considered
skeptics alike, to add their opinions to the debate. absolute madness. “The returns will kill you,” went the conventional
wisdom. Then Zappos.com was launched. The idea was radical: What
Once upon a time, Cisco Systems was an obscure manufacturer of if, instead of avoiding returns, you embraced them? Wrong size?
obscure networking equipment. But they expanded beyond their Don’t like the look? Here’s the return box, here’s the return postage,
niche, by first repositioning themselves as the backbone of the here’s your money back. Today, Zappos is the world’s largest shoe
Internet, then extending invitations (first to businesses, then retailer, and rapidly becoming one of the largest retailers of any kind.
consumers, schools and governments) to join in the online
community. By March 2000, Cisco was the most valuable company in 5. Keep your promises. For a politician, an election cycle doesn’t
the world, with a market capitalization of more than $500 billion. end with a victory in the election. For a brand, the sale of a product
is only the beginning of the relationship.
3. Win the debates. Just like any other candidate, your brand will
be pitted against all the other brands vying for your constituents’ So just like any President- or Senator- or Dogcatcher-elect, the Brand
loyalty. And just as Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore learned, Manager’s continuing task is to deliver on the promises made, to
the winner of those debates will not be the one who scores the most solve the issues raised, and perhaps most importantly, make sure that
points on policy details. everybody sees you doing it.
The key to victory is to create a simple storyline with distinct Because the last thing you want to do is to supply the issue for the
characters: The Youthful Idealist trumps the Experienced Cynic next election.
(Kennedy/Nixon). The Reformed Bad Boy tweaks the Pedantic
Schoolmarm (Bush/Gore). As history has repeatedly demonstrated, if
the story is compelling enough and the characters distinctive
enough, the debate will be won regardless of facts presented or
Learn more about how About Makovsky + Company
Founded in 1979, Makovsky + Company (www.makovsky.com) is today one of the nation’s
Makovsky’s Branding + Visual Communications Practice
leading independent global public relations and investor relations consultancies. The firm
can make a difference for your company. attributes its success to its original vision: that the Power of Specialized Thinking™ is the best
way to build reputation, sales and fair valuation for a client. Based in NewYork City, the firm has
Contact Tim Kane agency partners in more than 20 countries and in 35 U.S. cities through IPREX, the third largest
212.508.9699 worldwide public relations agency partnership, of which Makovsky is a founder.
1 6 E A S T 3 4 T H S T R E E T, N E W Y O R K , N Y 1 0 0 1 6
T: 212.508.9600 F: 212.751.9710
W W W. M A K O V S K Y. C O M