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From “Bear in the Woods”

Friday, December 19, 2008  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

A missive from my favorite conservative ad man, “Bear in the Woods”


It was quite the barrage you had going on the blog before you disabled comments. That’s the thing about social media: You know what people think of your efforts almost instantly. With traditional methods, and before the web, it took longer. Which is one of the key differences — social media allow you to, and actually demand that, you think on your feet.

There was one comment on the post that struck a chord. I agree with it, in a qualified way, though. The commenter pointed out that marketing is, first and foremost, about the product. He contends the GOP didn’t have a good product to begin with, and therefore, the communication, while bad, didn’t matter.

I agree — marketing is, first and foremost, about the product. David Ogilvy said, “Nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising.” What he meant by that is: Advertising can persuade people to buy a product — but once they do, if they find out it’s junk, they won’t buy it again, and they’ll tell their friends not to, either. Word of mouth about a bad product trumps any “official” marketing you could do for it. It was true then, and it’s true now — except that now, “word of mouth” is really “word of web” and it travels farther faster than Ogilvy could have dreamed. Twitter is rocket fuel.[# More #]

I’ll concede that the GOP’s product this past election cycle wasn’t great.

But I’ll also submit that neither was the opposition’s product. At least, not if you looked beneath the surface communication. But most voters didn’t. Which is why I qualified my agreement with the comment.

Your product is defined exactly as your customers define it. No two ways about it. You can’t force them to think good things, and their definition of your product is almost certainly different than yours. Their definition wins, always. You can try to shape their definition through persuasive communication — but only when they choose to listen. Advertising and similar forms of marketing communication are designed to do just that — help shape consumers’ definitions of your product. Social media have simply redefined the methods by which marketers attempt that, from a tactical standpoint. But strategically speaking, social media, just like other forms of communications (new and old) used in marketing, depend heavily on what most ad agencies call the Big Idea. Mad Ave speak for a broad creative/strategic concept, the Big Idea is more than just the thing that defines your communications. For the duration of any marketing campaign (and hopefully, longer,) for all practical purposes, the the Big Idea is supposed to define your product (the way you want it defined) in the minds of consumers.

The Democrats’ Big Idea, of course, was: Change. Does it describe the product? Depends on how you look at it. Does it describe a benefit in detail? Not really. “Change” didn’t articulate positions, or offer anything of substance. But it was a Big Idea, because it defined the product in an emotional way for millions of voters. And it got them to buy. I wonder if Ogilvy’s rule will cause many to regret their purchase. We’ll only know after we have an opportunity to experience the product.

The job of a political campaign for a non-incumbent is the same as the job of an advertising campaign for a new product: Encourage trial purchase. In order to experience the product, consumers (voters) first have to buy it. Experience with it comes after the election. Everything that comes before the election is simply opinion and theory, which makes it more susceptible to persuasive messaging, and means it is, in fact, defined by communications.

I’m not advocating that the Right abandon intelligent and reasoned positioning, or frank and truthful discussion of the issues. I don’t think the GOP should reduce all it stands for to a single catchphrase. Far from it. I’m simply pointing out that people — many, many people — buy, live, and vote based upon more elemental criteria. And of all those criteria, emotion is the most powerful. Not only do the Democrats understand how to use social media and other forms of new communications better than the Republicans — they understand how to craft an emotionally appealing message better, too — regardless of medium. If we expect to win, we’d better learn.

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