Monday, September 26, 2011

Political Brands: Mitt & Herman

At the time of this writing, there's more than a year left before the 2012 presidential elections, which means that the political brand strategies - or more accurately, the lack of political brand strategies become most apparent to the American voting public. With Barack Obama barely holding on to his presidential perch, all kinds of Republicans from various walks of life have jumped into the freak show, causing more head scratching than serious consideration.

I won't burn your time with the usual ignoramus-bashing. I'll leave that to the shallow-thinking media pundits who usually manage to misinterpret even the most obvious political ploys. Besides, I'm a branding guy. I'm surrounded by the mediocre, mindless meanderings every day. They don't interest me. What does interest me is the increasingly rare instance in which there seems to be at least a modicum of strategic thought. That's what makes the difference. And that's why I find two of this year's political brands so fascinating.

Forget the old school perspective. The days of qualified candidates went out the window with Y2K. What we have now is more along the lines of American Idol, where audiences applaud the best quip quoted in a nationally-televised public forum. Candidates speak less from knowledge than they do from their media coaches, each battling for the next day's most aired soundbyte.

Okay, I can deal with that. Times change. Empires crumble into dust. I get it. In fact, I can embrace it. Which is why you may want to consider the only imaginable Republican ticket with any kind of brand strategy behind it: Mitt Romney and Herman Cain. That would be Romney as president, Cain as Vice President, simply because Romney has some political experience and Cain is more of the "can do" guy who admittedly lacks any political experience. Neither have much foreign experience, but that's what Secretaries of State are for.

Forget your politics for a moment. Here are two brands that are not only compatible, but effective in getting elected. Think I'm off track? Think again:

1. Romney and Cain are the only two Republicans with any semblance of brand strategy. Romney champions himself as "the only candidate with both private and public experience." Herman Cain promotes himself as a self made businessman, priding himself as a Washington outsider. In an environment of sustained economic recession, that's the kind of news Americans are asking for. Private sector guys who have created jobs. Even the Clintons didn't have to get beaten over the head too many times to learn, "It's the economy, stupid." Just like the Clintons, Obama squandered his newfound political capital on health care instead of the economy during the initial phases of the recession. Two business guys will be able to call him out on that, big time.

2. This time out, the Salt & Pepper factor works in Republicans' favor. Long hampered by the Republican party's "old boy, all white male" reputation, a Romney/Cain ticket is - sure, I'll say it - a white guy and a black guy running against a black guy and a white guy. It's balanced. When John McCain tried to crack the code, the best he could come up with was a train wreck called Sarah Palin. His choice was clearly a political ploy. But Cain's got the chops. This is no pander job. He's got what the public wants.

3. Both candidates are clearly defined, resulting in both Romney's and Cain's ability to speak in specifics while other candidates merely spout generalities, slogans and meaningless platitudes. If you notice, whenever Romney gets questioned, he lists a "seven point plan" in which he rattles off specific tactics along with the rationale for each. That's brilliant, considering that nobody - other than Cain - has managed to package his proposals in a clear and understandable manner. For his part, Cain promotes his "999" plan the way he promotes pizza toppings. Hokey, sure. But who cares? It's sensible, if not overly simplistic, and for once, avoids the old "baffle them with bullshit" serenade.

4. Both men are gregarious and centered, with Cain showing human traits of humor and self-confidence. Cain's appeal is in direct contrast to the icy, detached stage fright that most other candidates exude. For his part, Romney knows how to zig while other candidates zag: By allowing the other monkeys on the stage to jump about and pander to whatever political fad happens to be sweeping the nation this week, Romney merely stands calmly, allowing them to chase the right wing, which gives him the appearance of appearing moderate.

Put them all together and the combination of Romney and Cain isn't as far fetched as it may have seemed a month -- or evena week ago. And if you think that's too bizarre to happen, recall two other events that seemed even stranger:

Despite the conventional wisdom about "American racism," Barack Obama we resoundingly elected the first non-white president of the United States --and that Sarah Palin came as close as anyone feared to becoming its vice president.


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