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From “Bear in the Woods”: Corporations and Campaigns, Part 2

Sunday, January 24, 2010  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The very successful but very anonymous advertising exec, whom we know as “Bear in the Woods” weighs in on the choices facing CEOs in the aftermath of last week’s Supreme Court decision:

Dear CEOs:

Congratulations. Your freedom of speech has been restored. You are now free to advertise the political position, or for or against the political candidate, of your choosing. I hope you will. I hope you will help elect those who will defend the liberties we cherish, and help restore those that are lost or in danger. I do, sincerely, hope you will take the leap into the marketplace of ideas. But as a marketer, and a conscientious creative, I also hope you will look — long and hard — before you leap.

I am a conservative. I live and breathe conservative principles. But I also live and breathe brands. I know the rewards and consequences that come hand in hand with the potent mix of brand reputation and political or issue speech.

Just as you prepare before launching a marketing campaign, you must assess market conditions, audience mindset, messaging, delivery, goals, and possible repercussions, before launching into political speech. If a marketing campaign goes bad, typically the worst thing that happens is that consumers buy the competition’s product instead of yours. Your political speech, however, has the innate ability to inspire those who disagree with your position to actively attack your brand in the marketplace. For some of you, that’s reason enough to steer completely clear of political speech. For those of you who press on, whether out of passion for your position, or seeking benefits for your industry, forewarned is forearmed.[# More #]

Preparation for launching any marketing or communications effort, as you know, is complex, detailed, and time-consuming. It’s no different for political and issue speech. I want to point out three key areas to consider before you ever get into the details. Consider these a first glance at the landscape for any position you may want to take. You’re familiar with the terms — but they may have different connotations when the subject is political, rather than marketing, communications. I hope this perspective helps.

First: Positioning. Regardless of your motivation for crafting a political message, the positioning of that message must be consumer (voter)-centric. You must communicate the benefit to the consumer, over and above all else. In this regard, positioning for political speech isn’t much different than for effective marketing. But even in marketing communications, advertisers frequently forget the real benefit to the consumer in favor of chest-beating over product attributes. It’s a mistake in marketing, and a bigger mistake in political speech. It’s not about you. It’s not about the principle, or the candidate. It’s about the voter.

Second: Transparency. By now, you’re all familiar with the power and the pitfalls of the social web. Many of you are still struggling with the realization that you do not control your own brand’s message. You’re developing rules of engagement to help your brand navigate the space, and “transparency” is a word that gets bandied about endlessly. What’s it going to mean when you enter into political speech? Simple: You can’t hide anything. You can try, but you will fail. And should you try to hide — anything — the mere fact that you tried will have negative repercussions for the political speech you create, and for your brand. The web, if nothing else, is an instant-answer investigative machine. The market will know you’ve crafted the communications, and the market will know why. If you’re going to play, play openly. Simple as that.

Third: Strategy. Your political speech is going to be part of your brand strategy whether you want it to be or not. You should know that you will lose some segment of your market — ranging from a tiny, insignificant portion, to a dangerous percentage — simply because you (your brand) has espoused a political opinion. But that might not be a bad thing. I’m assuming you employ some aspect of the Pareto principle in your marketing strategy. With the emergence of the web, more personal communications have allowed marketers to hone that principle to a razor’s edge. By communicating your politics, you could very well create much stronger brand ambassadors from those customers who share your positions. It’s not an old-school strategy for creating mass-market share. But it could end up proving more valuable. To all of us.

I can be reached at

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