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The marketing of a president: GOP makes the sale

SMART ARE the Republicans. Their marketing-minded campaign strategists consistently used tried and true rules of disciplined brand positioning: Pick a simple, focus-group proven, emotionally appealing message, and repeat it over and over verbatim.

Stupid are the Democrats. Their policy-focused campaign strategists are consistently either stumped by the rules of marketing and brand-positioning, or stubbornly disdainful of them.

Don't blame this election loss on John Kerry. This loss, like previous Democratic losses since 1980, provides ample proof that the winner is not elected based on the quality of the candidate, policy substance, or debate about the issues. The winner is elected based on which party best positions and sells its candidate to the most voters. The loser loses because his party mismanages the campaign. Bill Clinton, an anomaly, won the first time because of his own incredible persona, and then again thanks to a booming peacetime economy.

That Republicans excel in marketing should come as no surprise. Modern marketing science developed in private enterprise and is highly counterintuitive for most people who don't understand how or why it works. Bushies know. George W. Bush is a Harvard MBA and former oil and baseball executive. Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton. Karl Rove's sleazy (but legal) campaign strategies are rooted firmly in his direct mail marketing career.

Republicans can get anyone elected (Dubya case in point) because their marketing execution is world-class, not because their candidate is. World-class marketers pick the right message and hammer it home nonstop for one simple reason: It always works.

The only example Democrats have of world-class campaign marketing of late is John Edwards's run in the primaries, where he went from nowhere to near-nominee in a short time by repeating the same speech verbatim about "two Americas." I can remember that from the primaries now a year old. Days after the election, can you remember Kerry's message? I can't. Bush's is easy: "My opponent keeps flip-flopping." I can even recite Bush speeches nearly verbatim: "A president has to say what he means and mean what he says. He has to make tough decisions and stand by them. I will never ask for a permission slip to defend this country."

Republican messages work because they are repeated for months, are void of confusing policy content, appeal to emotions, sound reasonable, and slyly imply that the opposition is not speaking honestly and is neither strong nor patriotic.

There are not many Bill Clintons who magically appear on the ticket timed perfectly with a booming peacetime economy. If the Democrats want to win in 2008, they'll have to remember: It's the marketing, stupid.


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