Tuesday, November 04, 2008

McCain's campaign: A case of bad brand strategy or something else?

John McCain's presidential campaign is being critically analyzed by many professed marketing professionals, pundits and political strategists as an example of unfocused and inept branding. This resounding one-note tune coming from many corners is a pretty clear indication of how easy an opinion it is to adopt. Rather than jump on the bandwagon, maybe everybody should step back and consider what the candidate faced from the outset.

I’m not so sure McCain could have done any better running as the nominee for a party that is as badly fractured and ideologically bereft as the Republican Party today. The irascible candidate's campaign has been universally portrayed as one Hail Mary pass after another, but what were the alternatives?

Not true to his brand? After the primary lesson learned in 2000, he co-sponsored several bipartisan bills that were directly aimed at dirty party politics and the toxic ethics environment on Capital Hill, but to little avail. Once Bush won his second term, McCain took the only path left available to him for the nomination in a thoroughly rigged primary system, he sucked-up to the GOP leadership. So much for Maverick.

Maybe if he’d picked Lieberman as his running mate, he’d still be the Maverick that centrists were looking for. Maybe he could have pulled from both left and right of center. But, he’d have been abhorred by his own party for the choice, and GOP turnout would have flagged on election day. Truth be told, the Palin choice really did energize rank and file conservatives, and probably got him the best possible results.

No, I think the branding story is all Obama’s. He’s the one that broke the Dem leadership’s hold on their equally-rigged primary system. He was the perfect storm of charisma, a well executed brand marketing campaign and a new approach at fund raising and event packing using social media. Of course, he also had lots of help from the new convergence of television programming and the Web, an anti-Clinton party coup by the Kennedy’s, a really unpopular outgoing president and (like I said) an ideologically bereft Republican party.

One thing Obama should keep in mind though, should he win tonight. The election is basically a popularity contest. After the inauguration it will be a different game altogether. Teddy is on his way out. The Clintons aren’t done yet. And social media has proven time and again that there are difficulties translating its massive online energy potential into real world results.

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