3 Ways Political Candidates Teach Us Marketing 101: What Kenny Rogers, Y’all, and Best Buy Mean to You

By Matt PerlFebruary 29, 2016

Don’t worry—we aren’t going political here.

But we do need to think of our political candidates as brands. Brands that are being advertised to us through every potential channel out there. These political brands are much like the brands we consume everyday—McDonalds, Best Buy, etc. While some of the campaigns for these brands are hits—others are duds. Pretty simple: for every “I’m Loving It” campaign there is a message that never lifted off the ground. The same kind of reality exists on the campaign trail where messages, candidates and themes are floated to the American public and only certain ideas resonate. Whether the message is about taxes, immigration or something else isn’t really the point—it’s whether the concepts and the messenger actually matter to the electorate.

Research is Essential
Much like any marketing campaign, the groundwork for success lies in the research and planning phase as messages and ideas are crafted. In any of our planning meetings we look at the potential messaging of a campaign combined with the intended audience we are going after. Much of the same exists in a political campaign. What’s fascinating about the early stages of electing our president is that the intended target is moving on a daily basis as the candidates hopscotch across this large country and attempt to tailor their messages to different target audiences as they go. Military big in South Carolina? Better be talking about defense spending. Travelling to Nevada? Gaming must be addressed as a key issue. With these changing targets, it’s imperative that the research phase is designed to address the key constituencies. As noted by Winning Campaigns Magazine, “… sometimes the campaign that wins isn’t always the one with the best candidate, but is the one with the best message and strategy for communicating it.” This shows exactly how important this research and strategy phase can be.

Know Your Demo
Research has helped you identify your market, but now the key is talking to the audience in an authentic fashion. We all recognize this type of marketing gaffe from a mile away: someone tries to talk to us in the way they think we want to be talked to. For example, if you are from the South, then the uninformed marketer assumes you should be addressed at all times with corny Southern expressions like “Y’all,” etc. There is a time and a place to try these colloquialisms—but more often than not you end up sounding more inauthentic than you initially intended.

Knowing It’s Done
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em…”. As Kenny Rogers told us in 1980, you need to know when to get out if you don’t have it. Our political candidates teach us each election cycle one of the more essential skills in marketing—knowing when it is time to stop spending money. In the case of a campaign you thought couldn’t miss– but was terrible— it is hard to call it quits. But for a political candidate it isn’t a concept or brand campaign they are walking away from —it’s their political viability as a leader. That is a tough pill to swallow and this level of humility is something we see on full display each political cycle. If these battered and bruised politicians know how to suspend a campaign, you should be able to easily ditch an underperforming TV buy or a digital campaign in a heartbeat.

Whoever wins the 2016 Presidential election is going to be able to look at their campaign and see their victory as the culmination of research, fortitude and willpower. But the positioning and branding of the candidate could end up being the campaign that mattered most.


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