In round about six week’s time citizens of the United States will elect a new president or confirm the incumbent for the next four years.
And I will be there in the thick of things trying once again to pick up as many media and marketing lessons from this mother of all democratic bunfights.
Certainly, in 2008, the young presidential hopeful, Barack Obama, demonstrated the imense power of social media.
I believe that everyone from the media to large and small businesses and political parties can learn a thing or two about marketing communications by just watching the run up to the US presidential elections.
For starters, as most political commentators in the US have pointed out pretty much ad nauseum, when presential candidates meet face to face in one of their hugely contrived and sanitised public debates on TV, the winner is not decided on what he is saying but how he is saying it.
Of course, this means its all smoke and mirrors and anyone who believes that US politics or anyone’s politics is otherwise, is extremely naïve. And frankly that goes for marketing as well. And the media.
Whether a politician or product is sustainable or not depends on actual performance but it’s smoke and mirrors that gets them elected and the products streaming off the shelves in the first place.
The second marketing lesson that comes out strongly from a US election campaign is that reality means absolutely nothing and perception everything.
But, South African politicians haven’t got to first base yet and still respond to criticism or make statements with their feet firmly founded on reality.
Which is why they so often get a fairly robust reaction from the media and the population in general because they’re wanting perceptions addressed and not realities.
The next thing we can learn from the US presidential campaigns is that the fundamentals of marketing also apply to politics. For example, it is not what marketers want to say that is important but what the consumers want to hear.
US politicians are generally master of this – and it seems that the US electorate don’t really seem to mind. Bush and Blair blatantly fibbed about things like the Iraqi’s weapons of mass destruction, but their voters, at the time, seemed quite happy as long as they kept telling them things they wanted to hear.
So, the final and most important lesson seems to be that the consumer, the voter, is a lot more forgiving that one imagines.
One just has to look at instances where potentially damning media publicity about some products and service should actually have meant the death of those brands, but somehow or other the intrinsic strength of the brands concerned and the overwhelming desire by some consumers to own those brands, just seems to completely neutralise all negativity.
Looking back at the many product failures and customer service disasters just in the South African business environment, it seems quite clear that it is the most difficult thing in the world to commit brand suicide.
Killing brands isn’t easy. Just look at the Absa case history… a decade after they killed off Volkskas, that name still came up year after year in brand survey polls.
I have the feeling that as a result of everything that started with with the Enron and Worldcom scandals, the 9/11 attacks, hysteria over sex scandals in so many churches and the diabolical behaviour of investment bankers, the ordinary Joe has become shockproof. Which might sound like great opportunities for companies and the media to cut corners to not give too much of a damn about product quality or service.
But, in fact, the real media and marketing opportunities lie in giving the consumer something they can trust in their heart of hearts.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk
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