In 1968, newspaperman Joe McGuinness wrote a best-selling book titled
The Selling of the President 1968.
The book had an enormous impact because, for the first time, it exposed the way in which politicians could be packaged and sold like tubes of toothpaste or bars of soap.
Today, in our media-savvy culture, this is not a new or remarkable concept. But over forty years ago it was positively shocking. People were sickened by the idea that the advertising techniques used to sell frozen peas were being adopted for political purposes.
Even the candidates themselves were repelled by the new marketing techniques used to "sell" them.
After a session filming TV commercials, General Dwight Eisenhower said sadly, "To think that an old soldier should come to this."
And Richard Nixon, in the process of having his tarnished image burnished, lamented that "It's a shame a man has to use gimmicks like this to get elected."
Today, there is no shame.
These days, people talk quite glibly and happily about politicians and political parties as if they were "brands." Here are some actual (and typical) examples:
"The strategist who invented the pledge (to not raise taxes), Grover G. Norquist, compares it to a brand, like Coca-Cola, built on 'quality control' so that Republican voters know they will get "the same thing every time."
"Republicans, as a brand, are dead," Duf Sundheim, the former state GOP chair, told the gathering Saturday."
"The Republicans don't have a cool logo but their economic brand is vivid."
"These days, President Obama is trying to refurbish his own (campaign) brand. He and his aides know how crucial this is."
"Rick Perry doesn't want to be associated with a brand which has become tainted with economic disaster, unemployment, and socialism."
"New House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is consulting with Steven Spielberg on rebranding and remarketing the Democrats."
I don't know about you, but I am positively sickened by the casual, cynical, and shameless way the media adopts the language of marketers to analyze politics.
When pundits talk about politics and use the word "brand," I think they're trying to be cool and cutting edge. What they're really doing, I believe, is debasing the quality of political discussion at a time when we most need to think thoughtfully about where our country is headed.
Now don't get me wrong. My work constantly involves building brands and promoting brands. In fact, you might want to check out an article I wrote a few years ago titled "How should you sell your product - with branding or with benefits?"
But I am interested in using branding techniques for promoting products, not for "selling" people who hold the future of our country in their hands.
Forty years ago people were shocked that politicians could be sold as commodities. Today, it's cheerfully accepted and assumed. To this citizen anyway, this is a sad fact indeed.
P.S. As you can see, this issue of The Levison Letter isn't filled with my usual marketing tips. Instead, it gives me an opportunity to speak with you and other marketers about something that I think is much more important. I'd love to hear from you on this subject. Do you share my concerns? I'd really like to know what you think! You can click here to send me an email.