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Marketing and the vote

Posted on September 9, 2012 at 10:40 AM

As someone who loves the art and science of branding, it's been fascinating to watch this year's run-up to the presidential election.  Not that this year is probably any different than other Presidential elections over the past few decades.  For someone like me, who believes in the power of the spoken word, imagery, advertising, messaging, etc., it brings up some tricky questions.


1.  What is the objective?  I know, this seems like a stupid question.  Each party's objective is to sway undecided voters to vote for their candidate.  But who are these 'undecided voters'?  Of all the people I know, I am pretty sure they knew who they were going to vote for long before the millions began flowing into campaign ads, debates, and the "machine" really got cranking.  Speaking personally, there is no amount of money, artful television commercials or debates that could ever get me to jump over to the other guy.  So, to change the question, is the objective achievable?

2. What about truth in advertising?  Media pundits spend hours dissecting the debates, sound bytes, and statements being made by the candidates.  Over the past few years, measurements like "Pants on Fire" and "Pinnochios" have started to be used to indicate how far from the facts each candidate strayed.  In the "normal" world of advertising and marketing, there's a concept of truth.  Sure, there's always "spin," but if an ad for soap said, "Use our brand of soap because this other brand of soap will cause your skin to fall off" it would be pulled immediately, assuming it were ever allowed to run in the first place. And yet the equivalent is happening today, and all that happens is they get "4 Pinnochios." It makes stretching the truth sound, well, cute.

 3.  Does style trump substance?  The campaign branding machines pump out beautifully produced photo montages and video clips over soaring musical scores.  The claims made by each side are debated (see Point #2 above), but that seems almost to be secondary.  What really matters, what really inspires voters, is the style---emotional value of the commercials.  Does it make you cry?  Does it fire you up?  What they're saying---the substance---seems to be getting blurred by all the artfulness.  It's lovely and inspiring.....but is it true?

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