Monday, November 12, 2012
MARKETING LESSONS FROM THE
2012 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL RACE
The 2012 U.S. Presidential race is over. It’s finished. The people have spoken. After 2-years of campaigning (actually 6-years for both since they began campaigning back in 2006 for the 2008 race, and neither had stopped campaigning) President Obama has been re-elected to serve another 4-years as President of the United States.
While Democratic Party strategists and candidates are congratulating themselves on their victory, the Republican Party has begun sifting through the embers of the fire that destroyed their hopes to regain the White House and, in their opinion, set a new, more productive course for the American people. The question is “what can we marketers learn from this most expensive (it is estimated that it cost more than $970-million dollars), highly visible and contested campaign?” Here are some observations for reflection:
- There are two very important observations worth noting in the preceding two paragraphs:
1) This has been a long running campaign. While the official campaign is some 18 – 24-months prior to the election, both parties started much earlier. They started back in 2006 when both were vying for nomination for the 2008 presidential race. In the U.S. a standing politician starts campaigning for re-election as soon as s/he is elected. So Obama never stopped campaigning. And, Romney, while not nominated in 2008 continued to jockey himself into position to win the 2012 nomination and the Presidency.
2) Analysis is conducted following a campaign for learning that will contribute to future success. The victors typically identify practices that made them successful so that they may repeat them in upcoming elections. The losers try to decipher what went wrong (because they clearly did not believe they would lose) and identify what they need to do in the future to garner success. The media contributes to the analysis using their experts days and weeks following the election.
- It is so very difficult to change people’s habits. The incumbent has the advantage. People resist change, apparently even when they are not totally satisfied. How could Americans be satisfied with persistent unemployment above 7% (which understates un- and under-employment), a moribund economy, the inability of Washington to get anything accomplished, a looming fiscal cliff, among other issues. Yet the vote leaned (although at a smaller margin than 2008) to the incumbent. Exit polls revealed that people did not want to start over again. It also revealed that the challenger, Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, did not excite them.
- The Republican “brand” is not perceived to be a worthy choice among specific segments of the population. In fact, it is currently perceived to be a worse choice. This traces to perceptions that it does not care for “all” people, but caters to the rich “fat cats” in our society. Their stance on highly emotional social issues such as women’s right to choose, equal pay for women, gay rights, immigration, etc., all of which the Republican party appears to oppose, were a turn-off to women and minority voters. (By the way, they’re a turn off to the majority of Americans who believe in the values this country was founded such as “equal rights.”) Their stubborn resistance to raise taxes on the so-called rich (those families earning more than $250,000 per year) and the rather ludicrous statements by some Republican candidates regarding “legitimate” rape compounded these negative perceptions adversely impacting their brand.
- President Obama won large with minority voters. He captured around 95% of the black vote (despite the fact that their median income has gone down some $4,000 since he took office and their unemployment rate is over 15%, significantly greater than the mean) and nearly 75% of the Hispanic vote. Additionally, he won handily among single-women. These segments have grown significantly over the years, outpacing the mean percentage of total population growth.
- The U.S. demographic landscape and values of the people are changing dramatically, and this election confirmed what the Republican Party should have grasped long ago. Beyond the growth in minority segments noted in the preceding point, we now have 19-female senators, 1 openly gay senator, and re-elected a black president! Additionally, two states voted to legalize pot (Colorado and Washington State), in contrast to the 17-states where “medical marijuana” is legal. Also, 10-states have now legalized same sex marriage.
- The Democratic Party had a sound grasp of where it needed to win. They designed their campaign strategy to focus on key states, cities, districts, precincts, and communities. (Combined spending for Iowa, a swing state, topped $12-million in media, despite having only 6-electoral votes. That’s an astounding $2-million per electoral vote!)
- The Democratic campaign employed a wide range of media to support their ground game. Don’t overlook the ground game. They worked tirelessly to get out the vote and win independent voters. Moreover, they didn’t just use social media they employed smart media. They knew who would be tuning-in to traditional media, at what hour, what programs, and focused their media when their targeted-customers could best be engaged. Additionally, they created ads in Spanish.
- The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, got a late start on defining himself and his party’s platform. Additionally, he had difficulty in clarifying his plans, particularly in the context of the Democratic Party’s strategy to obfuscate the Republican Party’s message. This could be attributed to Mr. Romney’s need to satisfy the far right segment of his party. As a result, despite Mr. Romney’s reputation for being a decent, caring guy and a successful manager (both as a businessman, and Governor who passed legislation despite an opposition party that commanded more than 80% of the state legislature) he was painted as being a flip-flopper, cold hearted and a rich “fat cat” who doesn’t represent the middle class and hasn’t paid his fair share of taxes.
- Despite an overwhelming “win” in the first debate against President Obama, the Republican candidate and his party played it safe and were not able to really capitalize on the change in the momentum that debate precipitated. More that 2/3rds of the viewing public declared Romney a clear winner following the debate. Even staunch, rabid, in-your face liberals such as Michael Moore and Bill Maher admitted that Romney had won the debate. Also, they, like many in the population questioned whether President Obama had the right stuff and/or really took the campaign seriously. Yet the Republican strategy was to play “prevent defense” while they were still behind in the polls and a significant percentage of independent voters were still in play.
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
Here’s where we usually indicate potential “indicated actions” from the learning for your consideration. But we’re not going to do it, not just yet. Learning occurs not just from noting but thoughtful reflection of what it means for your marketing. So, we invite you to respond with what you believe are “boats & helicopters’ from our and your observations. We will then, in a future article, address boats & helicopters – yours and ours.
Don’t let the learning from this historical campaign pass without reflection and action. We look forward to hearing from you.
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney
© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.