“A brand that makes great claims but fails to deliver will soon have a contaminated image in consumers’ minds.”
By Justine Castellon and Carlos Castellon
Today marks the first day of political campaigning/promotion as the Philippines gears up for another presidential election. Inevitably, branding will play a big role for the success and failure for each political candidate. Political branding has become a universal and dynamic component of politics because candidates want to appear larger than life in most people’s minds. They need to think of themselves as if they are consumer goods — and sell themselves using techniques learned from the successful marketing of these goods.
First, what is political branding? It is how the public perceives a political organization or individual. Similar to branding a product, it has distinct functional parts such as the individual politician and policy. Political branding creates the overall feeling, impression, association or image the public has towards a politician or political organization. These help change or maintain reputation and support, creates a feeling of identity, develops a trusting relationship between the politician and voters, and distinguishes him or her from the competition.
The political brand differentiators constitute what we call the ‘emotional wrappers’ of a product – the various associations connected to a purchase or a vote. There are 3 different types of brand differentiators: (1) psychological brand differentiators that appeal to voters’ self-reflexive capabilities and value preferences; (2) social brand differentiators that relate to their socialization or standing in society; and (3) cultural brand differentiators that tap into their customs and traditions. Most of the time these categories overlap and determine the perception of a political candidate and his/her image.
For instance, vice presidential aspirant Cong. Leni Robredo is very specific in her point of differentiation. Compared to her competitor their usual motherhood statements, Cong. Leni is well-defined and consistent with her brand of good governance and people empowerment. She claimed and owned that brand positioning in the way she talks, acts and the ways she performs her duties as a representative of her district. Her campaign spiels are all about what the government can do for its people and what the people can do for the country. She believes that if the people are more involved with their government, they will demand more from the government, but at the same time feel more responsible and willing to participate in projects–because their welfare is at stake. She was able to communicate the value-laden narratives with emotional appeals and trust-building messages with do-good claims.
At the end of the day, the political brand is the projection of a politician in voters’ minds.
Creating point of differentiation perhaps is one of the challenging parts of every political brand marketers or managers’ job. The art of influencing the voters’ perceptions and facilitate the evolution of mutual relations. At the end of the day, the political brand is the projection of a politician in voters’ minds. This is where the brand can be cultivated or contaminated. There are activities involved in focusing resources on selected tangible and intangible attributes to differentiate the political brand in an attractive, meaningful, and compelling way for the targeted audience. In this process, all factors shaping the voters’ political brand perceptions – be it communications, behavior, or the actual experience of voting – will have to be aligned to the brand. In marketing theory, this is called ‘brand integration’ and guarantees that everything the brand does in some way reflects and contributes to its unique identity.
According to branding strategist Laura Ries , running for public office means building a brand wherein 51% of the country’s voting population is willing to buy on Election Day. And the task is huge. People are attracted to brands that projects messages they like. So it is important for the political brand managers to understand that if their brand carries a message, it carries equity. Similar to how brand managers build the consumer brands, political branding management requires tapping the touch points to make their candidate appealing to potential voters in a campaign.
Use value-laden/emotional narratives: in consumer branding, products are merchandised through their characteristics, pricing, distribution and availability.
In other words, if it were solely for taste or price, the difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi would be minimal. Only through brand images constructed around both products, suggesting distinct connotations and identities for each, that the two drinks become distinguishable. Hence, the claims like ‘Sen. Grace Poe is better candidate’ or ‘VP Binay is the worst candidate’ are ineffective. Voters have to be provided with the more elaborate motivations, or underlying appeals integrated in the brand images. Using the sensory secrets behind the brands we buy, every political branding strategy should comprise the following:
- LOGO – symbols are representations of organizational culture and values, identity, emotion, and legitimacy”. People subconsciously associate meaning with logos and connect ideas and opinions to visual elements. The Liberal party candidates embraced the party identity, however Cong. Leni executed her logo seamlessly by using the yellow rubber slippers signifying “tsinelas leadership”, which becomes an integral part of her campaign messaging.
- COLOR – brands communicate meanings with the language of color. As the overused cliché says, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Former Sec. Mar Roxas’ brand managers may have shortcomings in building a solid MAR brand, however, the consistency in using the campaign color yellow in all his brand activation programs help build his equity and identity. Colors are an excellent way to convey a product or express the unique personality of the brand.
- SOUND – the power of music and sound is not one to be underestimated. Music can be a powerful aid to branding. Although, politicians have the tendency to borrow music for their campaigns without first securing the right to do so. That spells disaster especially when the politicians and the music owners have opposing views on politics. It is best to hire professionals to compose your own political jingles. Use short, catchy, musical numbers that rely on simple, often repetitive melodies or ‘hooks’ that are designed quite intentionally to get stuck in voters’ head and be placed on repeat. This involuntarily memory response is why people sometimes refer to jingles as ‘sticky music’ or ‘earworms’.
- MESSAGE – this refers to the underlying value proposition conveyed and language used in communicating the candidates’ political campaign platform. It’s what makes voters relate to the political agenda by inspiring them, persuading them, motivating them, and ultimately making them want to vote for the politician. Among the political candidates for vice president, it’s Cong. Leni who consistently inspired the audience when she shares her plans and styles of governance. Her message centers on these fundamentals: the grassroots, women, children and the poor. Her detractors tried several times to discredit her by accusing her of just mimicking her husband’s accomplishments. Instead of correcting them, she admitted that she’s copying his style and will continue to emulate his best practices. It helps too that she walks the talk – this is where the medium becomes the message.
Implement a Multi-channel orientation: A consistent and effective brand image can only be evoked, if identical brand attributes are transmitted through all communication channels. Consumer marketing make sure its TV commercials, print advertisements, and social media communications all suggest similar feelings and undertones, although the three channels involve different senses and reach audiences in different contexts. Most political candidates opted to allocate their media budget to TV because it is the first thing media managers think of when it comes to mass media advertising, most likely because it’s the most visible and gets talked about the most.
In Cong. Leni’s case, they’re targeting a significant portion of voting population – the youth – which according to the Commission of Election (COMELEC) composed of 20 million aged 18-35 years old. And that’s 37% of the entire electorate. It’s not surprising when her camp put emphasis on social media campaigns. Her #JumpForLeni perhaps is the most creative way to jumpstart an awareness campaign. In a unique and creative way, it urged everyone to post a jump shot on Facebook with the hashtag #JumpwithLeni. Her brand handlers utilized people empowerment to uplift her standing in voters’ preferences. She aired some TV advertising too to allow potential voters to know her, but what work best for her on TV is when ABS-CBN airs her life story at Maalaala Mo Kaya. Similary, print, billboard, radio can be utilized also to help her in expanding her numbers on people awareness.
While she may not be an ace in advertising spending, her branding communications including colors, messages, her deliveries across all channels are consistent. In a fragmented media environment, effective branding functions through the disciplined promotion of distinct brand attributes across all channels.
Strengthen trust-building: Branding also means that all activities, including communications, should be focused on gaining and maintaining consumers’ trust. Communicating the rational brand image, which, involves values and inspirations, make brand promises that raise high expectations on the side of consumers. Campaign managers must do everything within their power to deliver on the promise. This, however, poses great challenges to them. Let’s take a look at the other presidential candidate who talks about prioritizing the solution of traffic problems in the metropolis (to the point of openly calling out the incompetence of some government officials) on national television; however, she hosted her political launch party in a location that is a known magnet for tremendous traffic. The media message contradicts her political platform. Political branding management which is essentially constructed around the process interacting of interacting with the public, ensuring that the characteristic or value of the political candidate (product) always lives up to the brand promise. And, it is not easy. Consistency and honesty are cited as key factors facilitating the emergence of trust-based relations between the candidate and the voters. A brand that makes great claims but fails to deliver will soon have a contaminated image in consumers’ minds.
Political branding management which is essentially constructed around the process interacting of interacting with the public, ensuring that the characteristic or value of the political candidate (product) always lives up to the brand promise.
DANGERS IN CREATING
A STRONG POLITICAL BRAND
Political branding is gaffe-prone territory – meaning brand handlers are prone to accidents or mistakes. It is a very delicate task where missteps and unplanned moments can spell political doom. Even the classic –proven formula for celebrity endorsement didn’t help Mar Roxas. The celebrity-packed music video “Fast Forward” earned social media ire from the competitors’ camp, of course. But what turned it from bad to worse was the decision of media managers to abruptly pull out the music video off the airwaves and replace it with a different campaign material. Steering one’s brand campaign away from an unflattering perception can sometimes backfire as it reinforces the initial negative perception in people’s minds.
Sometimes, candidates strive to present an idealized version of themselves but will not likely work in the millennial era – the age of quick validations where people, especially the millennials, can quickly spot fakes or posers. They look for a candidate who is real.
It is best for the political brand managers and handlers to focus on aligning their communication activities to a fixed set of messages and emotions and introduce a certain level of discipline and standardization in the management of their external presentation –- an asset that can be particularly valuable in these more chaotic times of election campaigning