Branded Pols

(Photo courtesty of Reuters)
Politicians, like brands, need to be positioned properly before entering the competitive race. 
One of the key problems the Republican presidential field is having, is none of them learned the important lesson of the 2008 election of Barack Obama and his strong positioning. Whatever your opinion of the man, “Change we can believe in” was a stake in the ground that the campaign stuck to and, well, never changed.


In a recent blog post by the conservative New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, he claims that presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is in actuality the more rightwing White House aspirant in the Republican field - more so even than Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. 


Funny, had I not scrolled deeply into the website of the NY Times and found the blog section, I might not have known this!  The reason being, the Huntsman team never led on.  In fact, if Huntsman is perceived to be more moderate, when in actuality he is far more conservative then he was completely mishandled and not properly positioned.


In politics, as in sports, business and any competitive activity, positioning is everything.  If you are not properly positioned, you’ll miss the ball, it’ll go right past you and the rest of the play is spent chasing after it.


In the example of Huntsman, Douthat points out how the candidate handicapped himself at the outset by making a series of symbolic jabs at the Republican electorate and the party’s base by picking fights on evolution and global warming.  He writes, “Imagine a contender for the Democratic nomination introducing himself to liberal voters by attacking Planned Parenthood, distancing himself from ‘left-wing nutjobs’ and giving a series of interviews on Fox News, and you have the flavor of how Huntsman’s opening act was perceived on the right.” Ooops.


I would add that Huntsman has also had at least three various brand identities associated with himself.  At first it was “H.” That’s it.  Assuming it stood for Huntsman, the fact that no one knew who he was, the initial was just an empty letter.  From there it went to “No pledges, just solutions.”  If I were running for President, I don’t think the first word in my campaign slogan would be “No.”  That then changed to, “Be a Part of The Solution.” Better.  But with the variations, I get the wobbly feeling he’s not really sure what he stands for as demonstrated by Ross’s piece.


Then there’s Governor Mitt Romney.  His tagline is,  “Believe In America”.  Gee, if you are pursuing the office of President of the United States, shouldn’t that be a point of entry? 


In fact, if any other candidate can use your slogan, it’s too general and therefore does not point to your own unique selling proposition (USP.)


The latest candidate to take the lead in the Republican field is former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich.  Here’s a case where the man and the brand is extremely well known, but also carries tremendous baggage, personally and politically.  While House Speaker and a harsh critic of then President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinksy affair, Mr. Gingrich was having an affair of his own.  He had some 84 ethics charges filed against him as Speaker, was forced to resign that position and is also associated with creating The Contract With America (often ridiculed as “The Contract On America”) and shutting down the government.


At a time when the partisan divide in the U.S. has never been greater, it’s a bit mind-boggling that he would remind voters of that period with his slogan, “21st Century Contract with America.”


For a country that possesses the greatest skills in world-class marketing, it’s always a wonder when Presidential candidates don’t take advantage and utilize something that’s, well, so American.


 Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at [email protected]