Advertising & Practical Thinking

The advertising profession is cold and cruel. The power of practical thinking is a perfect antidote.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Who Needs Branding?

The Republican & Democratic Parties!

The 2008 Democratic Party Convention starts in Denver Colorado on Monday, August 25, 2008. As of August 28, the adjective “presumptive” will no longer be used with the phrase “Democratic Presidential Candidate”, while referring to Mr. Barack Obama.

“Presumptive” will again be discarded as of September 4. It will be Mr. John McCain, Republican Presidential Candidate.

Over the last few months, I have been wondering what do the two parties, Democratic and Republican, stand for.

Now, I am not new to American politics. Even when I was very young in India, I had my own opinions – and mind you, this was all from information gained from reading the Indian newspapers and occasional issues of TIME, LOOK, LIFE, or NEWSWEEK. Even though I was an ardent reader of Encounter, I was pro Barry Goldwater in 1964 and pro Richard Nixon in 1968. I must admit, at that time, I was not very engrossed with the ideologies of the two parties. I knew one was conservative and the other was liberal, but did not have wisdom to know the detailed differences.

The escalation of the Vietnam War made me anti-Nixon. I suppose all the anti-war protests, the student rebellions, and the music world influenced my thinking.

In August 1971, I came to the United States, and in April 1972 I started an advertising agency, Penta Advertising (please read The Penta Story). My introduction to serious American politics was a couple of months later when the Democratic candidate for the Illinois State Senate, Mr. Joe Pisciotte, hired me to provide advertising services for his election campaign.

One of my recommendations called for spot advertising in the central Illinois market during the 1972 Olympics. The recommendation was not accepted as the campaign manager felt that the elections were still a few months away. I pleaded my case – name recognition and building the Pisciotte name; however, to no avail.

Notwithstanding the fact that the war was still raging, the Republicans won big in 1972, and Mr. Richard Nixon was reelected. Central Illinois was a very conservative district and Mr. Pisciotte lost by just two points to the incumbent, Mr. Stan Weaver. It was only during the campaign did I learn that Mr. Weaver was a member of the board of directors of my first client, the bank – ouch!

Would advertising in the Munich Olympics (everyone was glued to Mr. Jim McKay and ABC) have made a difference? In my mind, yes! Building name awareness takes time.

Since then, I have been involved in a few successful campaigns for candidates to the U.S. House of Representatives, the Illinois House and the Illinois Senate. All, but one, were Republican candidates. And the lone Democrat was the late Mr. John Gwinn whose advertising I took over only because of the conduct of the incumbent, U.S. Congressman Dan Crane. Ironically, I was responsible for Mr. Crane’s advertising the previous election and his getting elected.

To a certain extent, till a few years ago, there were major differences between the platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties.

Today, the line has blurred.

Those of us in the advertising profession are well aware of the services provided by above-the-line and below-the line advertising agencies. Today, the line has blurred.

Can the two political parties afford to have no perceived differences? Is everyone a “centrist”?

Currently, according to the web sites for the two parties:

“The Democratic Party is committed to keeping our nation safe and expanding opportunity for every American.”

“The Republican Party stands for a safer world and a more hopeful America.”

Okay, so the only difference: one wants a safe nation, the other wants a safer world.

I believe it is time for the two parties to take a stance. It is time for the parties to re-brand themselves and re-launch their brands. And while they do this, they should also launch their elephants and their donkeys into outer space!

The one that does this first will have more to gain.

Today, the only branding of the parties that exists is visual. Visual as in ‘red” or “blue”. If a state is predominantly republican, it is a red state; and if it is predominantly democratic, it is a blue state. And yes, if a state has an equal distribution of republicans and democrats it is a purple state!

This coloring system was started by NBC News in 1976, during the Jimmy Carter/Gerald Ford election. A state won by Mr. Carter was lit in red and a state carried by Mr. Ford was lit in blue.

The color coding proved to be very popular and each network had its own colors – ABC even used yellow. In 1984, CBS decided to color the republican states “red” and the democratic states “blue”. This to a certain extent, I suppose, reflects CBS’s political leanings, as blue is a more pleasing color and red signifies danger!

However, it was only during the 2000 elections did all media follow the same color coding. According to The Washington Post, it was the late Tim Russert who coined the terms “Red States” and “Blue States”.

Is it not ironic that the color “red” associated with communism is the color assigned to the conservative party?

The color coding, or forced branding is carried to the next level by the political candidates themselves. More often than not, a republican candidate wears a red tie or scarf, whereas a democratic candidate dons a blue tie or scarf.

A message to the two parties: Brand yourselves. Stand for something. And, give the voters a true choice. Not a whitewash. If you don’t, there will only be gray states!

As for me, philosophically I am red, and not a pinko. Musically I like the blues, especially the Chicago variety. And when I blush, which at times I do, I turn purple!