There are two inseparable and essential elements in the effective management of a brand. The first is to present that brand well using all appropriate media. The second is to maintain consistency in the brand message over time. Note that in this shorthand I have not referred to the content of the product or service – what it actually does for the customer. I have assumed that this is a given – that the brand is fit for purpose, that it does the job that it is intended to do. If this is not the case then over time no amount of skilful presentation will matter – the consumer won’t buy a duff product. And politics is just the same.

If we look at the political world around us at the moment Americans are being bombarded with brand promotion messages for Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin and this will continue up to Election Day. There is no guarantee that any of these messages will be entirely legal, decent, honest and truthful or that they will accurately present the real beliefs of the candidates. I watched Robert Redford’s wonderful film “The Candidate” again last night and there was a real resonance in this thirty-five year old movie with Election 2008. Most striking was how Bill McKay’s true views on a variety of issues, honestly and openly expressed before he became a candidate, become utterly clouded and compromised by the time the election starts. Shades here of Obama and of McCain – and maybe of every aspiring President in history.

When neither candidate in a Presidential race on either side is the incumbent President or the current Vice President then the number of unknowns is multiplied and the opportunity for obfuscation and denial is greater. This year’s election is the first time since 1952 that this has been the case – in every election since the Eisenhower/Nixon v Stevenson/Sparkman battle of that year there has been at least one White House resident on one party’s ticket. The significance of this fact cannot be overstated. Try as he might it is proving impossible for Obama to tar the McCain/Palin ticket with the Bush/Cheney brush. The reason that both tickets can adopt change as a slogan of their brand positioning is that they bring no baggage with them from the previous administration. As we have seen this is the first time in 56 years that this has been the case!

For the spin doctors behind the two campaigns the absence of a White House background of any sort gives them huge presentational freedoms.  They can tune the messages to what they think the floating voter wants to hear, rather than having to defend (or promote) a candidate’s administrative track record. Similarly there is no “guilt by association” problem – something that undoubtedly cost Al Gore the Presidency in 2000 (and also Hubert Humphrey in 1968).   

In truth we have little evidence on which to base a judgment as to how good McCain or Obama would be in the White House as neither of them has spent any time there – or in any other National job for that matter – elected or otherwise. They are the least qualified candidates for more than 50 years in this regard – how this plays with the electorate (and how the promotional teams will choose to try and play it) is one of the more fascinating elements of this intriguing contest.

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