The latest missive from our favorite anonymous ad exec:
In the past three weeks, a couple of things have combined to keep me from sitting down and composing something for this space: First, the economy has all ad agencies scrambling to do more with less. Mine is no exception, and the fact that we’re able to do more, even with less, is a good problem to have these days. I had to take advantage of the three-day weekend just to get this piece out to you. The other thing that’s happened is, well — everything. At least it seems that way, on the political front. As soon as we begin to discuss one particular errant policy of the Obama Administration, or a reckless move by the Dems, or, lately, a victory for our side, the subject quickly changes to something else worth fighting for. And that situation is exactly what I want to write about today.[# More #]
Just look at the issues and happenings of the last few weeks: Torture vs. enhanced interrogation, did it work?, do they care?, what did Pelosi know?, what did Pelosi say this time?, the unleashing of Cheney, Gitmo vs. Supermax, cap and trade, Obamacare, single payer, the budget, the performance tax, the California tax revolt, the California bailout?, DC owns GM, beer tax, soda tax, Michael Steele and infighting, more Tea Parties brewing, are they coming after semi-autos and detachable mags?, an activist supreme court nomination and a Carter-esqe stance on North Korean nukes….whew. And I just touched on part of the stuff. It’s like October and sports. Football, basketball, hockey, baseball, auto racing — there’s so much going on, you simply can’t keep up with it all.
Which is exactly what the Administration is hoping. Remember HOPE? Their greatest hope seems to be to divide, confuse, diffuse, and ultimately, conquer. And recent success stories notwithstanding, if we on the right don’t recognize the strategy, and address it for what it is and how it’s designed, we play directly into it.
There has been a small but growing amount of discussion — notably, from Hannity — about Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, and how it has influenced Obama’s political philosophies and career. From my perspective, Sean couldn’t be more right. Reading “Rules” is like reading their playbook. Rule 8: Keep the pressure on.
Of course one of the best ways to pressure an opponent in any strategic operation is to metaphorically, at least, start a lot of small fires, rather than one big one. This divides the opponent’s resources, and splits his focus into many directions. A single day’s viewing of evening and prime-time news and commentary, or a single afternoon reading intelligent discussion of many of the policy moves that are coming out of DC these days, makes it clear that the agenda is, in fact, multi-targeted, yet with a single goal: consolidation of power. And it only helps when fires start themselves (see: N. Korea, Iran). Never let a good crisis go to waste. Or something like that.
Now, all of this may seem obvious to a well-versed political observer — even an amateur one like me. But the other obvious thing that most well-versed political observers, professional and amateur alike, almost always miss — is the fact that most people aren’t well-versed political observers. They just don’t pay close enough attention. Not because they’re stupid. They’re not. But because they’re people, and they simply have other stuff to do.
What people pay attention to is twofold: Specific things that benefit them; and broad concepts that connect emotionally. Hence, a union auto-worker votes for HOPE and CHANGE, because that sounds like a positive direction to take the country. He’s very happy with an auto bailout, because he benefits directly. HOPE and CHANGE contains a lot of other stuff beyond an auto bailout, but that stuff doesn’t feel as immediate or personal because it affects somebody else. Yet it comes in the package. He’s just not thinking about that.
The broad emotional connection is all about the positioning of the brand, and the ability of that positioning to encompass all the smaller, tactical elements that collectively make up the brand. Here’s a fun example from toy marketing:
One of the reasons Barbie has been so successful for so long is the toy’s ability to emulate any trend, any fad, or just about anything any other doll manufacturer could dream up as a specific feature in a new doll. Make a doll that does (A), and in a few months, Barbie will do (A). And Barbie will win, because in addition to the specific feature, she delivers the overarching emotional connection that is the Barbie brand. The only serious challenge successfully mounted to Barbie has come from Bratz. Bratz follows the same chameleon-like formula, yet embraces a different over-arching brand personality that Barbie cannot or will not match. The point of difference is in the overall brand personality, not just in any one specific feature. Yet collectively, those specific features make up a brand personality for Bratz that is, at the same time, comparable to Barbie, yet radically different.
I’ve read recent conservative commentary that mocks the GOP’s re-branding, and calls instead for clear, strong stands on the issues. To me, it misses the point. It’s not an either/or situation. To win, you need both — substance on every tactical front, collectively expressed in a broad, emotionally-appealing brand mantra. HOPE and CHANGE worked, not because they were empty, but precisely the opposite — they were filled with meaning for any given individual who embraced them. The meaning they were filled with varied wildly from person to person, but each variation combined with all the others under the strong and emotionally appealing brand umbrella.
To successfully defend against the Administration’s Alinsky-inspired multi-faceted assault, the GOP must do more than simply meet each point with a firmly rooted, solidly-articulated counterpoint. That’s imperative, of course, but it’s only step one. Step two is an emotionally appealing umbrella — a mantra that speaks to a broad range of people, yet can embrace any and all of the individual positions that define the conservative message. In short, it’s easier to fight multiple battles if you’re fighting all of them under the same flag.
An appealing brand with substance to back it up is the toughest competitor there is. That’s the task the GOP has on its plate right now. The good news is, it’s not a chicken/egg scenario. Substance comes first. The bad news is, time is short. And new fires are popping up every day.