יום ראשון, 2 באפריל 2017

The Importance of Branding in Modern Political Campaigns

A Star Is Born, a Brand Is Built

By Steve Penhollow

As the country gears up for another presidential election, branding has become a pervasive and vigorous component of politics.

Candidates want to loom large in most people’s minds, and accomplishing that requires selling themselves as if they are consumer goods. To be more precise, it requires selling themselves using techniques learned from the successful marketing of consumer goods.

Political branding is gaffe-prone territory. It is a delicate operation where missteps and unplanned moments can spell political doom.

It’s not easy.

“Running for President of the United States means building a brand that at least 51% of the country is willing to buy on Election Day,” branding strategist Laura Ries wrote on her blog, Ries’ Pieces. “Not an easy task in a country as large and diverse as America. Too narrow a focus and you won’t get a majority vote.”

A narrow focus builds a brand, she wrote, but a wide base wins the election. “The task is huge,” Reis wrote. “Even the iPhone doesn’t have a 51% share of the smartphone market in the U.S.”
Political Branding When Branding Meant Cattle

The practice of political branding is far older than the terms used to describe it.

The fact that we still know that Andrew Jackson’s nickname was “Old Hickory” probably has less to do with Jackson’s heroism during wartime than it does with political branding.

According to Albert Martin in his book Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People, Jackson was given this sobriquet by his soldiers because of his stamina during the worst privations of the War of 1812.

After he lost a contentious presidential election in 1824, Jackson and his devotees used political branding to a secure different outcome in 1828.

Obama’s first presidential run may have marked the first time in history that a campaign logo had the same strong appeal for people as the Nike swoosh.

“Old Hickory” was transformed from a nickname to a marketing catchphrase. “Local committees, often called ‘Hickory Clubs,’ distributed materials and staged events,” Jason Karpf wrote for the website of the Public Relations Society of America. “Historians have likened the multitude of Jackson marches, rallies and barbecues to a planned pandemonium.”

What ensued was imbued with a “keen sense of modern branding,” Karpf wrote.

““Hurra Boys,’ Jackson field operatives, planted hickory trees and doled out hickory brooms, sticks and poles. [Historian Robert] Remini describes the use of pop culture in the Jackson campaign, including songs, humor and cartoons.

Another way Jackson anticipated modern political branding was to repurpose a piece of popular music, “The Hunters of Kentucky,” as his campaign theme.

“The Hunters of Kentucky” celebrated the valor of Jackson and the men who served under him.

It would be absurd at this point for any writer to try to create a segue connecting Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, with Indiana Jones, a 20th-century action-film character. But that’s exactly what I am going to do.

Because associating oneself in people’s minds with a song that packs a built-in emotional wallop is an understandable, if elusive, goal for many politicians.
The Use of Music in Political Branding

Music can be a powerful aid to branding.

John Williams’ Indiana Jones theme instantly evokes the character’s qualities, and politicians have tried (and largely failed) for years to borrow and subsume music that they believe conveys the message they’re trying to send. It stands to reason that any politician who could get voters to think of him or her whenever the Indiana Jones theme was played or performed would win that election.

In increasingly crowded fields of candidates, politicians need to think it terms of building a brand that doesn’t so much capture as it does seduce the public imagination.

I wrote “largely failed” above because politicians have the tendency to borrow music for their campaigns without first securing the right to do so. Musicians have been known to vociferously object to such misappropriation, not only because they haven’t been paid but also because their politics are the opposite of the appropriating politician’s politics.

For reasons probably having to do with the nature of the artistic temperament, these controversies usually involve liberal musicians and conservative politicians.

Of the 34 examples cited by Rolling Stone in a recent article, only one involved a liberal politician.

But there are significant theme-song success stories, the most notable being Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s use of “Happy Days Are Here Again” in his 1932 presidential campaign (and again in his 1936, 1940 and 1944 reelection campaigns).

Today’s politicians will probably never experience anything quite like the bounty enjoyed by Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Legendary Broadway composer Irving Berlin wrote the song (“I Like Ike”) for Eisenhower’s presidential campaign that year. And Walt Disney Studios animated the campaign ad.

No one seems to have explored how animation aided the branding of Ike, but plenty of pundits have examined the importance of visual elements, namely logos. Eisenhower had a nifty one that incorporated his “I Like Ike” catchphrase.
The Rise of Logos in Political Branding

A turning point of sorts in political branding using logos came in 2008 with Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign.

Describing the logo’s appeal on the website of the marketing agency Spellbrand, Mash Bonigala wrote, “Because Barack Obama’s winning campaign slogan was ‘Yes We Can,’ it is only appropriate that he have a custom logo design using the most inclusive shape: the circle. This circle is all the more appropriate, as it is also the first letter of Obama’s last name.”

Bonigala said that the stripes inside the “O” resembled a road and gave people the impression that Obama wanted to “lead us into his vision of the future.”

“In all,” he wrote, “millions of people felt included in Obama’s audacious hope, enough at least to help him succeed in his bid for the Oval Office.”

In an infographic on its website, the marketing and communications agency Pappas MacDonnell wrote that Obama’s logo was “designed by a political outsider — and it shows.”

“Never before had a logo mark captured a candidate’s platform and identity so well,” the agency wrote. “It practically oozed hope and change.”

Obama’s first presidential run may have marked the first time in history that a campaign logo (not to mention the “Hope” poster designed by artist Shepard Fairey) had the same strong appeal for people as the Nike swoosh.

It should not, therefore, be surprising to us that today’s presidential candidates are paying more attention to their logos than ever before. Boldest among the current crop of aspirants is Hilary Clinton’s logo (a red “H” with a blue arrow through it).

Almost universally panned after its debut (some compared it to a hospital sign), Clinton’s logo (and the people who OK’d it) gained new respect when it was revealed how malleable the logo was intended to be. The logo, as was discussed on NPR’s website, was designed to adapt to certain regions and issues.

It’s too early to tell if Scott Walker’s logo is primed to gain new respect after a disastrous debut. Many people have pointed out how much it resembles the logo of an eyeglass company.
Pitfalls on the Road to Creating a Strong Political Brand

Political branding is gaffe-prone territory. It is a delicate operation where missteps and unplanned moments can spell political doom.

Where Democratic candidates tend to get in trouble is when they try to seem tough — as in not soft on defense, not averse to making war.

Absurd photos of Michael Dukakis in a tank were among the many things that didn’t help him get elected, and Jimmy Carter’s referencing a conversation he’d had with his 13-year-old daughter about nuclear weapons may have sunk his reelection efforts.

Trying to subtly steer one’s brand away from an unflattering perception sometimes backfires, merely serving to cement that perception in people’s minds.

Candidates strive to present an idealized version of themselves (idealized in this context meaning a version that will appeal in that moment to a plurality of voters).

Creating such a brand is not unlike the way Hollywood actors of the early and mid-20th century crafted strong screen personas that would ensure success.
What Political Branding Campaigns Can Learn from Hollywood's Golden Age

Some fans of John Wayne probably aren’t aware that almost everything beloved about him was determinedly devised and meticulously rehearsed.

“The task of gaining the majority is huge. Even the iPhone doesn’t have a 51% share of the smartphone market in the U.S.”

“When I started I knew I was no actor,” Wayne is quoted as saying in Michael Munn’s book John Wayne: The Man Behind the Myth. “I had to invent myself. It was a deliberate attempt to create ‘John Wayne, screen actor.’ So I started to speak with a drawl, I squinted, and I tried to find a way of moving which would suggest I wasn’t looking for trouble but was always ready for it. It was a hit-or-miss project I set myself, but slowly it all began to come together.”

A man born Marion Mitchell Morrison created a brand named John Wayne, and near-universal love for that brand made Morrison an icon.

Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan (who was a good friend of Wayne’s) managed to project some of Wayne’s star power.

In increasingly crowded fields of candidates, where many aspirants espouse the same views, politicians who wish to rise from the pack need to think in terms of building a brand that doesn’t so much capture as it does seduce the public imagination. Steve Penhollow
Freelance Contributor

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