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Sunday, February 4, 2007

On Being A Candidate ©, Or, The Music Never Stops

It is now becoming a fact of political life that campaigns for National office never end.

Even more importantly, for the purposes of today’s discussion, politicians never seem to leave “campaign mode”-even when not campaigning.

As an example, consider Al Gore. Even though he’s not currently engaged in a campaign, he’s central to the thinking of at least two of the current candidates: Clinton and Edwards.

An even better example, for the purposes of this discussion, is a candidate who has left and then re-entered active politics. This year that candidate is John Edwards.

(Consider that the time he spent away from politics, even if it was done for totally non political reasons, still reinforces his political image.)

In a previous discussion, I questioned whether there might be a place for Party-independent “branding” of “political actors”.

I submit there is such branding already, and that the politician as a “brand” (someone whose identity is managed without consideration of a particular electoral cycle), will become more and more commonplace.

There are a number of Rs and Ds who either drift in or out of Presidential contention (Dole, McCain, Gore) at various times, and those who are positioning themselves for 2008 and/or future runs (Clinton, Obama, Biden, Giuliani, Romney); and I offer each of these as examples of “transelectional” candidates who do or could benefit from having a permanent, well-managed brand identity.

What is a brand?

I submit that a brand is an emotional idea represented by a product (“The Marlboro Man”, “Morning In America”).

Look at how Rudy Giuliani uses this concept-the emotional reaction of his 9/11 response outweighs the discussion of the policies he actually oversaw as mayor, and that “brand identification” is the major reason he is in the Presidential discussion today.

Most candidates do not have historical events to place them in the market’s “emotional consciousness”.

So how can a candidate create a permanent emotional connection to the electoral market?

This brings us to Al Gore and John Edwards.

Both have active website communities, and are clearly benefiting from the Internet. But that really isn’t the answer to anything.

What matters is that they both have active public personae which draw the public to the candidates, and then their communities.

Personae that are based around emotional issues (global climate change, poverty); bringing a human element to both “candidates”. (I include Gore as he may or may not enter this or a future campaign.)

How can we apply this, in a practical way, to the candidates we mentioned above?

Giuliani seems well on his way-he makes “National Security” speaking appearances, and this plays well to the R base.

Hillary also seems to be making a “brand” for herself-concerned working woman with a tough side.

Nancy Pelosi-Mom at work.

McCain-scary old guy who’ll frighten the terrorists into submission.

So where’s Obama’s niche?
How about Horace Greely meets competent technocrat?

He seems to be moving in that direction, and it’s a smart move on his part; all sorts of issues (Social Security/Medicare, “terrorism”, health care, and on and on) appear to have no competent “hand on the tiller”, and the perception of competence could go a long way.

Note that in every case the brand is not associated with a particular election, office, or Party-that the “Candidate-Brands” are designed to exist long past any particular electoral cycle.

Now let’s look to the future:

If I were a politician looking to become a “Candidate-Brand”, what images might still be available for adoption? Here are three, for starters:

America’s Dad.

War hero returns to enter politics.
(Jim Webb is moving in here fast, but if a woman war hero were to emerge that would be a formidable brand indeed.)

Al Franken.

So let’s go one step further.
Let me pose a question to the community, if I may.

The players (and their brands) have probably been identified for the 2008 cycle.

But what about beyond?

Who are the “unbranded” candidates (and current non candidates-think Bloomberg, for example) for 2010 and beyond, and with which brands should they connect?

I’m looking forward to the community’s thoughts.

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