There is an increasingly blurry line separating politics and marketing. I’m sure one can make the case that this has always been true, but most political junkies will point to Lyndon Johnson’s groundbreaking “Daisy” campaign commercial as the tipping point that ushered in the modern era of political marketing.
Candidates today are neatly packaged like brands. They have catchy names (Barack!). Like brands they often need to be repositioned (Rudy, now kinder and gentler). Sometimes they launch line extensions to increase market share (Hillary, with 50% less Bill). And they employ many of the same media strategies embraced by successful brands – e.g., product placements on The Tonight Show, viral marketing on YouTube and social networking on Facebook.
With all these similarities, why don’t we trust politicians as much as we trust household brands? A recent survey from the Pew Research Center shows that Americans believe the federal government is ineffective and wasteful and that we are pessimistic about our elected politicians’ ability to do the right thing.
So what can we do? Well, if our politicians want to behave as brands and not leaders, then let’s treat them as brands.
We must demand the ability to evaluate a candidate’s content like we do a can of soup. Food products are required to carry clear nutrition labels, so should our candidates. Let’s insist that candidates stand next to a sign at all debates, photo-ops and stump speeches that clearly articulates their positions and that the sign, like food labels, be consistent and present at all times.
We must demand the ability to compare and contrast each candidate’s quality and reliability – a form of Consumer Reports for candidates. And I don’t mean some dusty and dense policy review from the League of Women Voters. We need something snappy like a J.D. Power rating or a CNET numeric score.
And while we’re shopping for a new president, how about insisting on a rock solid warranty with no fine print? We don’t buy our cars without a warranty. Why let our politicians off the hook? Let’s insist that a first-term president cannot seek re-election if, by his or her third year in office, they have not fulfilled at least 50% of their campaign promises.
I’m not going to give up on this democracy thing. Although it's a relatively new product on the world market, I think it will have a long shelf life.