Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Art of Marketing and Manipulation (a/k/a "The Republican Problem")

A lot of people see politics as overly combative and manipulative, to which I respond, "It's the economy, stupid!"

Politicians and policies are sold or assailed like every other product in our consumer-based, market-driven economy. Why? Because it works. Every technique employed in politics has either come from, or been refined by, Madison Avenue and psychology-based marketing.

Negative campaigns?

Try Mac versus PC. It wasn't good enough for MacIntosh to attack the defects of PCs as computers. It had to first personify the PC into dorkdom before employing a savage tongue-in-cheek assault. Shouldn't we be troubled that a multi-million dollar ad campaign is based on getting us to laugh when the cool kid disses a nerd? (As an aside, does anybody doubt the advertizers were thinking about Bill Gates as the PC embodiment when they came up with that spot?) I promise you, though, that this "message" was tested before it went on the air, and Americans responded.

Pizza places and deli sandwich shops are currently waging cut-throat campaigns against each other. I expect Dominos to tell you anyday now that Papa John "does not care about people like you who cannot afford $25 pizzas."

Another marketing concept politics has taken from the corporate world is the power of a name. Say the words "Phillip Morris" and "lying tobacco company" might pop to mind. Realizing that kind of impression would kill its other product lines, Phillip Morris faced the choice of either: (1) being better; OR (2) changing its name. (Number two seemed like less hassle, so they went with that).

Sometimes the name can't even be written. I was in the grocery store looking for butter, and I realized that none of the boxes actually have the word "butter" anywhere on the packaging. The closest was Country Crock, which read: "Spreadable sticks." Sticks of what? I felt like I was watching the early Viagra commercials when you couldn't tell the product. Had I not been familiar with how sticks of butter are packaged and where butter is located in my store, I would have had no idea what I was buying.

I can only conclude that the manufacturers of the product have market research that says "butter" has negative connotations, a notion supported the prevalence of a "substitute good" called "It's Not Butter." In your face, Imperial!

This is crazy. Do the companies believe I can delude myself into thinking I'm buying something other than butter because it doesn't say butter? Actually, yes, they do. If businesses do what works, and this kind of name change/omission happens all the time, it must work on at least a subconscious level.

This brings us to the notion of Republican "rebranding." Rebranding means the same product with either a new name, new omission, or new packaging. You can add some Yellow #5 to your margarine and call it "New and Improved," but it's not new ingredients, folks. It'll still taste the same.

Likewise, the Republican Party can try to make itself seem "cool and hip" by conspicuously omitting "old" from G.O.P. It can change its logo, create a new slogan, and air new Benetton-style ad campaign ads showing us its "big tent" inclusion. But until it changes its ingredients, it can't fool us. We'll know it's still bad for us like butter.

Or will we?



Paul K. Ogden said...

The classification of "butter" you describe that has to do with regulations regarding what the manufacturers can identify their product as. Butter and margarine are two different things...butter comes from a cow. Most of what you describe isn't butter so it couldn't be described that way.
Margarine is also defined a certain way and the "spreadable sticks" you describe don't qualify as "margarine" which is why they aren't described as such.

I understand your point regarding labeling...just wanted to point out the example you use isn't because of negative connotations regrding "butter" or "margarine" but FDA requirements regarding labeling.

Miklo Velka said...

To Paul:

Have you checked out the code of federal regulations lately?

Are you sure those sticks don't qualify as "margarine" or "oleomargarine" or "margarine-like"?

If not, it probably relates to the percentage of fat in them.

And your conclusion that the example Chris used wasn't apropos because the labeling requirements as they relate to oil spreads was due to FDA requirements begs the question "Why did the FDA enact such requirements?"

I digress. I think Chris's analogy ultimately fails because if he wanted to have it maintain (or is it acquire?) factual integrity, it would actually pose a direct counter-point: "The Republican Party has discovered that it has to fundamentally change it's core principles (see, Oil Spreads ARE fundamentally different than butter or margarine because they have many times fewer fat grams/calories) and so, are now New and Improved and better for your health than the Old Party, and yet, you the consumer will still get the same taste you've grown up loving."

However, since I don't think this is truly what's happening, I think you should just drop the "butter/spread" analogy and "stick" (get it, spreadable sticks...) with the "Philip-Morris/Altria Group, Inc." analogy.


Chris Worden said...


That was pure butta, baby. You hit it on the head when you say that GOP can't have it both ways - unless we're a generally gullible public (which is probably another way of saying, if the marketing is clever enough, THEY CAN HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!)

Anonymous said...

Country Crock is margarine not butter.

Paul K. Ogden said...


Actually not all Country Crock is margarine. It depends on the content in terms of what they can label the product.

No, Milko, I haven't checked out the CFR lately, certainly not on that subject. I know for example though about regulations regarding whether you can call food "organic" or not. It's the same sort of thing.

J. Hagedorn said...

The word "organic" turns our discussion to fertilizers, which ultimately points us back to the GOP and the stuff they're shoveling.

Wow! Maybe we can tie in Kevin Bacon?

jabberdoodle said...

It is an interesting time we live in. Are we seeing the death of a political party play out? The last few election cycles the Republican Party has revolved on fear and who was the baddest on the block and who was a 'real' American. It could be said to be a marketing ploy. Whatever it was, it worked.
But, times do change and these approaches now look hollow, mean spirited, and ineffective to a broader audience. So, in part I have to say that the party advertising needs to connect with the public, which will move in a different direction from time to time.
Butter is good. No its bad. Yes its good. Times change and the Republican Party needs to change with it or go the way of the Whigs.

Anonymous said...

jabberdoodle is right on - we are watching the slow and painful demise of the GOP. A big thank you to George Bush, Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Brian Bosma, Dan Burton, the two Erics, etc

Anonymous said...

and lets not forget jim bopp - what a collective bunch of idiots the gop has become

Political Season said...

Speaking as a reluctant republican, it is indeed frustrating that the GOP, built from conservative principles I consider ideologically superior to those which underpin the democratic party (particularly as it pertains to social issues, but on economic issues as well) has and is failing so miserably in the actual political practice and implementation of those principles.

Melyssa said...

I encourage Republicans who want to clean up their party to unite with the RLC (Republican Liberty Caucus). That's the arm that cares about the regular folks, the Constitution, etc.