From my favorite ad exec, “Bear in the Woods”:
I got an email from John McCain. I’m sure you did, too. He, or rather the bulk email app, wants me to support his PAC, Country First. While there’s a lot I could say about Senator McCain’s version of conservatism, or the overall need for fresh new thinking in the GOP, or even about his campaign’s (and now his PAC’s) rather ham-fisted implementation of some, but actually very few, of the tactics of new media — I’m interested, right now, in looking, from a marketing perspective, at his choice of theme.[# More #]Regardless of media, new or old, it helps if you understand right off the bat that the audience is — not just basically, but completely — selfish. I’m talking about any audience you might market anything to, in any medium. We in the developed world live in an age where we don’t really need anything. We buy what we want. We make decisions based upon what we believe is in our own best interest. (Lest I be considered heartless, of course I’m not talking about the most impoverished of impoverished — although it should be noted that, by global standards, even the poor in the US are remarkably rich — I’m talking here about average Americans, or, for the sake of argument, anyone who might possibly get an email from John McCain’s PAC.)Country First is an admirable sentiment. No, it’s more than that, really. It’s an honorable position. It’s the way John McCain has lived his life. He should be credited and celebrated for that, and every American should be encouraged to emulate his sense of honor and patriotism. The problem with Country First, as a theme/slogan/tagline though, is that it simply doesn’t tell average people what’s in it for them. In fact, it kind of does the opposite. It says to the consumer (voter) — this isn’t about you. This is about something big and abstract, with lots of different definitions, depending on who you are, and no matter how you choose to define it, it definitely and explicitly places your self-interest behind the interests of the country as we choose to define those interests. It gives me almost no wiggle room, even, to begin to think about just how my life is going to be improved by signing on. The tag, while, admittedly, conjuring feelings of patriotism, lost a head-to-head battle just a couple of months ago. There’s little that makes me think it’s the right choice for a theme for a PAC that wants to make an impact moving forward. It might be the right sentiment. But it’s probably not the right way to express it.I’m not suggesting that the GOP cave in principle to self or special interests. Far from it. As a point of difference, the idea of putting the country first is, in my opinion, much of what separates the right from the left. We see beyond the selfish quick fix. We see the big picture. We just don’t know how to sell what we see.The screen name you and I agreed on comes from the comment I made early on about how the Bear in the Woods spot was the last piece of good creative I remember seeing from the GOP. And it is still the last piece of good, solid, creative advertising I remember seeing. But there has been another good piece of creative positioning — a solid tagline — and it’s perfect as a comparison here: The Contract With America.It has everything “Country First” does not. It suggests action and accountability. It says, “We’re going to make an agreement with you,” and by implication, using the term contract, says, “We’re going to agree to do what you want us to do.” It’s just a few simple words. But it’s a few words that say, “This isn’t about me. It’s about you.” And that’s the secret formula to marketing communications in any medium, from TV to Twitter: To be successful, the message has to be, not about the product, but all about the consumer.
This is an easy call for GOP supporters across the country. Rob Portman is smart, experienced, a skilled communicator and an exceptional candidate. It wil be a tough race, but one that can be won if the Ohio GOP avoids a knock-down primary.
When Portman announces, I hope his team has a web site up and running, the early response to which will say a great deal about the energy level of Republicans across the country. Judging by the reaction to the Georgia run-off, most center-right voters want to start working now to return balance to D.C.