10.06.2008

experiment: friendly persuasion

or: what advertising has taught me about politics.



i still don’t know who I’m voting for in november. really.

in hopes of maintaining as much objectivity as possible, I’m trying to sort through all the hype and SNL skits and meaningless statistics and mudslinging and get to the meat of the situation. the issues. and I’m having a hard time contextualizing just about anything. just about every “fact” is contradictory. though it might seem unpopular or unwise to even still be considering a republican candidate, I don’t see any reason I shouldn’t still try try try to garner facts late in the game. though mccain has a crazy lazy eye and palin sounds a bit folksy and uneducated, I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. I hate to judge a book by its cover, or even its prologue, or amazon rating. same goes with team obama.

now, a word on branding. and the point of this political epistle.

coming from a branding back ground, it’s always fascinated me how people are so influenced by a brand. and why shouldn’t they be? there are people whose full time jobs it is to segment every micro-niche of a population, demographic-designators (and sometimes market designers, shudder) who know what product to sell to whom, when, and how to sell it to them. they’re smart. they’re sneaky. they’re subtle manipulators. remember those truth, anti-tobacco ads that have been running for the past 5 years or so? remember how Big Tobacco was segmenting some of their customers? to a T? and how they would convince people to smoke and keep smoking? Well, I’m a far cry from a politico, but I can guarantee you this much, the tactics employed by political branding and campaign managers are just as deeply specific and shady as Big Tobacco's. I know motives are different here, and that's the big difference, but you know what I mean.

this might come as a patronizing, underwhelming shock, but you, me, and miranda july have ALL been targeted this way! outrage! very specifically. and marketed to in a way that is hard to understand, but whose techniques have undergone rounds of focus groups and ethnographies, and in the end, mister advertiser knows that you are 24, drive a pontiac hatchback, subscribe to Wired, and eat chicken vindaloo four times a month. they know to get you they'll need to say the following key words: "energy-efficient" "change" "maverick" "web 2.0" blah blah blah. and then they strike when it's hot (2am on facbook) with a carefully tailored message that makes you think "Gee you're right, I must be a Obama/McCain type of person!"

And you might not be completely wise to this scheme, because the whole point of effective branding is to convince your target market of the superiority of a brand UNCONSCIOUSLY. so when they’re shopping at target and have to choose between Method and Softsoap, they automatically go for Method, for reasons they can sometimes articulate, but often times cannot. it equates to a feeling, an impulse. Also, Method has just undergone a package redesign and comes in hipper bottle with less clutter and copy, so why wouldn't you? But does it clean better than Softsoap? Doubtful. and in the end, you’re paying for aesthetic. a prettier package.

I have to say, the brand of Barack Obama has been very good from the start. He’s had the fortune of good designers, good marketers, a flock of celebrity endorsers who petition his cause and his good name all over the internet. his campaign understood new media and how to milk support from online communities from the get-go. the “maverick” was, unsurprisingly, a little late on the draw. so even initially, from a branding standpoint, it was good to be Barack Obama. What can I say, he’s a Mac.*

And he sounds like he has some good ideas and simple (if vague) summations for how to put our country back on track. (or rather, to pick it up from the fiery rubble that used to be a track and brush it off). I’m not afraid of people voting for Barack Obama. instead, my fear is this: too many people may be voting for Obama the Brand™ instead of Obama.

don’t get me wrong, he's appealing to me as well. what's not to like? he’s attractive, clean cut, presentable, articulate, confident, general good orator and seems like a generally good man with good motives. and I hope he is, because I may be voting for him in 4 weeks. maybe I’m just hyper-aware and paranoid because of my ad background, but something in Barack, seems, well, too good to be true. too. . . crafted. it's like i can just see what that first meeting (for him and mccain) was like where all the campaign managers, image consultants, branders, designers, etc sat huddled around a conference table and said: "okay, how can we sell him to soccer moms? how can we mobilize college kids?" you know! I've just been in those meetings too many times. it's so much about image and perception.

i like the IDEA of Obama. will I like the reality? and am I frightened by the prospect of voters who opt for him without really investigating what a Obama White House would mean? the point of this whole thing isn't to say, don't vote Dems, but is to say, think about why it is you're voting for him. or if you're leaning GOP, the same goes for y'all. I know it hurts, but baby, be a little self-analytical. for those of you who already have/are, good on you.

My other fear here is that people have sided with Obama because of what he is not. He is not GWBush. he has kind of been branded as the anti-bush, an antidote to bush and all bushness. Understandably, Americans are anxious for "Change®" after a corrupt and disappointing administration. I am one of them. But I hesitate to vote for Obama soley on grounds that he is NOT bush. That being said, If you (and I) are going to elect him as our next president, do so because of what he IS. not just because he represents some epistemological enemy to your enemy (Bush).

Let me reiterate. I’m not anti-Obama. I’m not pro-Obama. Same goes for McCain. Although part of me loves an underdog, and also feels like the McCain ticket has been treated a bit unfairly. Fair and Equal Time? not to my knowledge. I’m an avid NPR-ite, but I’ve got to say, everytime I turn on the radio it’s Barack Story Hour with Michele Norris. Everyone has their biases, not least of all news organizations, but I’m just saying. If nothing else, this election year shows us the tremendous role media plays as a political influencer. did the first presidential get-together remind anyone else of the JFK/Nixon debate? the young, handsome candidate vs. the semi-saggy, less attractive, abuser of the auditory? (i really can’t stand his voice).

if you think I’ve let mccain and sidekick off the hook in all this, I haven’t. I just think they've endured the majority of the mocking for geninue (but lots of superficial) hmm, shall we say “missteps?” and do me a favor when you watch the next debate (as well as in the future): try to ignore colloquialisms, hairplugs, or freakishly skinny necks, and listen to what people are actually SAYING. and whether they're spouting off nice-sounding slogans written by some copywriter or are getting to the hard and fast specifics of the situation.

so wrapping up. if upon further investigation I vote for Obama, I’m assuming it’s friendliness as usual between you (internet audience) and me. But know that If I vote for McCain it was because I genuinely felt it was right, and my integrity wouldn’t let me get out of it. To mine own self vote against universal healthcare, government bailouts, and gay marriage.

If you have actual facts (in CONTEXT!!!) that might be helpful for an indecisive moderate like me, let me have em.


what I have learned:

- it’s hard to know where one can go to get unbiased information.
- the power of branding is pretty amazing.
- SNL has really lucked out by having a cast member who could double as a vp nominee. it's almost too easy for them this season, but it may prove to be their saving grace.


*i was not the first to use this analogy, but i should have been! i've been saying it since march! stupid ny times, stealing my thunder.

**it should be noted, that when it comes to politics, it is very likely i don't know what i'm talking about. take my opinions for what they are - opinions. but in terms of branding, listen to mama.

3 comments :

Brenna said...

Totally agree with you about branding. What are the issues you're deciding on? I can try to hand you some facts :)

Liz Canaan Roberts said...

four years ago i rolled my eyes at people who voted third party. "what a waste", was my humble thought.

now i find myself saluting them.
however, i'm not encouraging you to vote third party per se; although it is always worth looking at ALL the candidates, and there are four others who are discluded from debates and get nill media coverage.

i won't be voting at all this election (and my conscience is clean on the subject). seems i've been utterly brainwashed by the wacko libertarians and constitutionalists.

i would offer some advice, although i don't know that you'll find it helpful.

read this: http://www.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo59.html

p.s. you know i can't help spewing my silly political nonsense when you post something like this! and i even read the entire thing.

oh, and that photo of obama/mccain is eerily halloween approriate.

JB said...

Dead on... you got it.