Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Political Brands: Mitt Romney

I don't know if you've read it, but in The Revenge of Brand X, there's a section I call "Saying Something, Meaning Nothing." It essentially outlines the phenomenon where, due mainly to the over-lawyering of the country, American society seems less intent on saying what they mean than not offending anyone when saying it. In the old days, they used to call this kind of thing "doublespeak."

Today, we pretty much call it bullshit.

When you think about the taglines offered up by advertising agencies to their clients, you begin to get the idea: Toyota uses a phrase like "Moving Forward." As opposed to what, moving sideways? Nike says, "Just do it." Just do what? To whom? Does anyone ever think to ask what phrases and communications like this are actually supposed to mean?

It might be fine and dandy to sell candy bars and airlines and automobiles like this, but what about candidates for the presidency of the United States of America? Clearly, the political spinmeisters have no problem with this at all, as evidenced by the slick, empty packaging of Mitt Romney, the quintessential just-add-water-and-mix presidential politician.

In this media-driven age, Romney is a hype-meister's dream: Good looking, lights well for the camera and unlike John Edwards, keeps his hair styled and colored to the exact degree required to remain understated. Romney also lives the American dream, which is to say he's both good looking and rich. This makes Mitt appealing to American women, especially Republican women. The fact that he's white is probably what appeals to most Republican men. The fact that he's good-looking, populated by sons and reminiscent of the Kennedys probably tugs the heartstrings of conservative-leaning Democrats.

Truth is, Mitt Romney is a media man's dream before he ever opens his mouth. Backed by the Bush political machine, he could conceivably wrap up the Republican nomination without having to ever utter one word. The problem, however, is that TV broadcasts more that pictures. And when it comes to hearing from Romney, all the American really gets to hear is this Christmas card kind of ad:

If you need to run that clip again, feel free to do so. See if you can find any words that ring of any value to anyone in the country. There's not a sentence in the entire spot that does anything other than add a soundtrack to the Mitt Romney mirage. I suppose this kind of feel good stuff could sell cans of soft drinks, but how does anyone with Romney-sized resources miss the target by this huge a margin?

Worse than saying the wrong things, Romney chooses to not say anything, which leaves him susceptible to the likes of Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul, two populist paupers who have learned that Big Money Bullshit no longer passes muster with the American public. You may not like what either of them have to say, but at least you get to hear them say it.

No wonder that, despite his many millions, Romney is limping into Iowa this week, lagging by double digits behind Huckabee. Not that it matters much. Power brokers don't make their decisions based on public approval. They go where the money is. If they want Romney in, he'll get in. So why even bother with Romney's brand -- or lack thereof?

Because if Romney does get the nomination, and if he should get elected President, those very same power brokers are going to have to sell him to an American public. The very same public who bought into -- and got burned by -- the last one they sold them.