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Obama-Clinton: Battle of the Brands

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Obama-Clinton: Battle of the Brands
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Maya Raichura
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Obama-Clinton: Battle of the Brands - July 20th, 2012

For years, political campaigns have taken the best ideas of consumer marketing and put them to work in the battle for voters’ preference. Just as marketing has evolved from the traditional focus on unique selling propositions to brands and customer experiences, political campaigning has kept pace.

The ongoing battle for the Democratic nomination illustrates the three keys to brand success today: a great experience, consistent messaging and an emotional appeal.

Just like the bottled water and tissue paper categories, there is little differentiation to be found among the candidates’ product features (tax policy, education, the economy, etc). So experiential qualities will hold sway: leadership, consistency, inspiration. As the race continues across the country, voters are enjoying the ride — showing up in throngs not only to vote, but to take part, live, in the experience. (The voting booth as destination store!)

Barack Obama had to build a new brand from scratch, so he was forced to be extremely disciplined in his message (commentators have even commented on the consistent use of his signature font). Hillary Clinton started with high brand awareness, but in trying to modify her established image, she had to deploy a variety of messages, which her critics took to be brand confusion (e.g., a New York Times op-ed listed “Soft Hillary, Hard Hillary, Misty Hillary — Let’s-Get-Down-in-the-Dirt-and-Fight-Like-Dogs Hillary”).

Clinton’s latest comeback shows that her brand has done best when it’s had an emotional appeal — whether her coffee-shop moment in New Hampshire, or her Ohio advertisement that set her familiar argument of foreign-policy credentials in starkly emotional terms (the sleeping child straight out of a Nyquil commercial). Obama’s brand has generated strong emotional resonance by tapping into voters’ dreams and aspirations.

Where is this battle of the brands headed? Possibly to an eventual cobranded merger, with the dominant brand at the top of the ticket. Which brings up a classic question of brand architecture: Would the consumer be swayed by the synergy of two brands? Or opt for the purity of an undiluted brand: John McCain?


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