Marketing the candidate
But now that we’re grownups voting in national elections, we aren’t dealing with popularity contests anymore.
That is, if we use our heads.
We humans tend to like black-and-white. We have little patience for mottled hues, nuances, contingencies, histories, ins and outs, underlying factors, and agendas. We don’t like being told that economies and international relations are chaotic and not perfectly predictable. We want decisive policies that can be summed up in sound bites.
In a world where nuanced, informed, thought-out answers do not fare well, one can hardly blame the candidates for oversimplifying issues — and focusing on their brand.
“Focusing on their brand” is another way of saying “trying to get us to like them.” Welcome back to high school.
This has been driven home to me when I have said, “I suspect that I would personally dislike So-and-so, however, I support the greater part of So-and-so’s platform, and I believe that So-and-so is a skillful politician and is likely to be effective.” The statement is usually met with horror. How can you vote for someone you personally dislike? Never mind, apparently, the part about platform and effectiveness.
Much as I would love to rid politics of brand marketing, it cannot be done. Slick commercials, flatulent slogans, silly buttons, and obnoxious hats are but part of it. Platform planks, speaking style, well-honed sound bites, speeches, appearance, grooming, dress, TV appearances, where to and not to stump, and more—all of these are elements of brand marketing, too.
If we’re not careful, and often we are not, we risk choosing a candidate the way we choose peanut butter, that is, by unthinkingly favoring a candidate only because we respond favorably to that candidate’s image. We can do better. With an open mind and a bit of work, we can begin to look past the brand, get a better handle on the nuances, and cast better informed votes.
I have ended up with the wrong peanut butter based on brand advertising. Ending up with the wrong candidate is worse.