Thursday, December 7, 2006

...The Marketing of a President

Eye-popping celebrity branding, aggressive promotional schemes, astounding discount offers, unbelievable package deals... No, we’re not at all referring to some fabulous new product being introduced; rather, it’s all about...

They are gathering data – very detailed data on you. Things like, which car you drive, which magazines you read, are you married, do you have kids, how old are you, where do you live. They are not marketing whiz-kids collecting data to help their company launch a new soap, or plan a new marketing campaign for a refrigerator! They are the kids with Palm-tops and other gadgets knocking on people’s doors and gathering a whole lot of information, which is then fed into software. The software then helps the political parties figure out what issues would be of importance to a person with a particular profile. Accordingly, they can plan their political campaigns. Welcome to the modern way of tracking and monitoring potential voters. Yes, just like potential consumers, today political parties are keeping track of their potential voters and doing everything to woo them! The Presidential elections of USA have today become the biggest showcase of political marketing. The candidates are marketed in almost the same way as a shampoo or a face cream. The voters are pursued like consumers. The advertising campaigns are as glossy and slick. After all, we live in a fast food nation and our target is the Pepsi Generation. It’s about youth and fun and whatever your age, everyone is young. So if you want them to come and vote, you have to follow the advice of the marketing gurus who know this clientele very well.

The i-Pod crowd

Times have changed and the whole business of political campaigning has changed too. People are increasingly becoming more and more tech savvy. Internet has begun to play a very important role in framing people’s opinions. Thanks to the internet, information is flowing more freely – especially among the youth. They are becoming more and more aware of political issues. They are the ones who can tip the scales in your favour. Like any savvy marketer, political parties are realising the benefits of ‘catching-em-young’. After all, brand loyalties develop at an early stage and it’s easier to influence the younger lot. So in America, they started a campaign called “Rock the Vote”, which was targetted primarily at young voters, where pop-stars told the young generation to go out and vote.

It’s no more just long speeches that political candidates are using. They are doing much more to reach closer to the young generation. They now do phone polling, phone surveying and SMS text messaging to market their parties and themselves – things that the younger crowd finds cool and trendy.

Just as a brand needs to communicate the product benefits, the political candidate should be able to communicate something that the voters can understand and identify. He needs to work on a good sales pitch to increase his chances of winning. He needs to know what his target audience wants, and then he should sell that.

After all, Coca-Cola does not sell sugared water, Nike does not sell shoes and Starbucks does not sell coffee alone. What they all sell is an ‘image’, a ‘lifestyle’. Hutch does not sell ‘good connectivity’: It sells emotions. Emotions are the key word here. Our generation responds to emotions and a large part of the voters respond almost exclusively to the emotional appeal of the candidate. No wonder, when Rajiv Gandhi, a total novice, wept on his mother’s pyre, the whole nation wept and voted for him. He was the last superstar of Indian politics. He had the right image and evoked the right emotions.

If products need images to sell, then politicians need personalities to sell themselves. It all comes down to this basic fact, and Gallop surveys are a proof of the fact that time and again, in a Presidential race, it’s the personality factor that has played a critical role in deciding who would be the winning candidate. You need to master the art of knowing what is it that attracts the audience and reach out to them. A research has revealed that most of the people have no clue and no understanding of the candidate’s stand on issues. Most of them don’t understand the Presidential debates. It was said that people who voted for John Kerry in the 2004 elections believed in his health program and people who voted for Bush were concerned about the terror and national security and values.

On closer examination, it was found that hardly anyone understood the stand of both the candidates. They were all voting for the image that they liked. After all, all soaps clean germs, yet you pick up one and not the other – for no strong rational reason – but probably because you liked the model or the image shown in the commercial. The same was true for the Presidential elections too. Most don’t understand the rationale; and the few who do, don’t believe that political candidates would live up to their promises. So, if you have to win the voters over, you have to use your personality and evoke the right emotions to make them come out and vote for you.

The marketing battlefield

Elections are today nothing but marketing warfares! The mid-term election held in USA in November 2006 has been the bloodiest marketing battlefield. The media was splurged with ads of all kinds. According to Nielson Media Research, American TV viewers were exposed to around a million political ads between August and October this year. Compared to the last mid-term elections, there was a 31% increase in advertisements. Historically, America has always had a very low voter turn-out. As is the case everywhere, people don’t believe it’s important to vote, and don’t take it seriously. This time around, America went all out to reverse this trend. All possible marketing gimmicks were used to make the voter come out and cast his ballot.

If you have a five-year old at home, then you know how effective freebies are in selling a product. A packet of cornflakes assumes a whole new meaning if it comes with a free Spiderman projector. If free gifts attract a 5-year old, then they even attract a twenty five or a fifty-year old. So, in Florida, all those who voted, got free vaccination (which otherwise cost $25) against flu. “Vote and Vaccinate” worked quiet well. In Colorado, voters were given free rides from their homes to the polling booths in a limousine (A strech-limo rents at $500 a day!). If that were not enough, then in Arizona, Mark Osterloh had an irresistible trick to lure voters into polling booths. He offered a $1 million lottery. One lucky voter could change his fortunes!

A lot of gloss and glamour has been added to election campaigns nowadays. You now have Hollywood actresses featuring in advertisements and engaging in sexual innuendos – about the “first time” they voted – to Hollywood actors like Robert De Niro leaving messages on your answering machine to go out and vote for Hillary Clinton! During the 2004 Presidential elections, from music albums like Rock Against Bush to full length feature films like Farenheit 9/11, we saw them all being made to convince people to vote against Bush and his policies. If serious logic didn’t work, then humour was used to change people’s mind. Ergo, we had humourous ads like “Anyone but Bush” to humourous slogans on T-shirts proclaiming “No flip-flops in the White House” (a jab on John Kerry’s indecisiveness)

America leads the way. If these marketing gimmicks have worked in America, they would so in the rest of the world too. The fastest learner has been Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who has given his people free riders on a new metro line, free tickets to a rock concert, and even an unexpectedly large bonus – worth three times the monthly salary – just before the re-elections. His opponent, Manuel Rosales, in retaliation gave away free debit cards to more than two million poor Venezuelan households, allowing them to withdraw around 250 pounds a month. Freebies have some kind of a magical pull. The exiled child king of Bulgaria, Simeon Saxe-Coburg, used lottery power to win the elections. The lucky ones won cars, holiday packages and televisions. Not just this, he even had an exciting slogan. He promised to change the living standards radically in 800 days. He and his young team of economists – trained in the city of London – sure had learnt their marketing lessons well! To encourage voting, Simeon even made the nation indulge in tambola through mobile phones to win exciting prizes.

After all, all countries cannot be like Australia where voting is compulsory and everyone who doesn’t vote pays a $20 fine. No wonder they have a 95% voter turn-out. Till it isn’t made compulsory, we all need to open our marketing books to pull out some new tricks, to make people come & vote for us!

It’s all about money
Today elections are a game of money. The ones with the deepest of pockets survive. In fact, it’s become the norm in America since 1976, that the candidate who has raised the most money by the end of the year preceding the election, has become his party’s nominee for President. Bush and Kerry raised a total of nearly half a billion dollars each for the 2004 Presidential elections. The battle between the Republicans and Democrats is fought primarily on TV, thus making it a very expensive warfare. During the mid-term polls held this year, some $2 billion were spent on the United States election campaign ads.

The fact is that it’s not enough being a good candidate, just as much as the fact that it’s not enough simply being a good product. You need to know your marketing extremely well to make it successful. The electoral marketing battle has to include all the tips and tricks strategically used while marketing products and services. From celebrity endorsements to malicious and attacking comparative marketing, direct mailers to internet campaigns, from emotional speeches to kissing underprivileged children, you need to do it all – and it doesn’t come cheap. That’s the price of democracy. The making of a President is actually nothing but the “Marketing of the President”.

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