|January 15, 2005||EDITORIAL ARCHIVES|
Marketing Failure as Success: The "George W. Bush" Story
Note: This marks the fifteenth of 20 consecutive editorials BuzzFlash will be publishing through January 20th.
A BUZZFLASH EDITORIAL
In this series of 20 editorials leading up to the lavish Bush Coronation, you are seeing some themes repeated. For instance, ever since journalist Joe McGinniss went undercover and wrote "The Selling of the President" about the Nixon campaign, the Republicans have turned to Madison Avenue, Hollywood producers, and political dirty tricksters to market their candidates. (Although one could argue that Gerald Ford and Bob Dole didn't listen as well to their handlers. It wasn't their style.)
Ronald Reagan was the epitome of the packaged candidate. He was an actor turned television marketer turned political product. He was the perfect candidate to be branded, marketed and sold to the public like, well, a Hollywood star. He was the actor as candidate. It marked the full ascent of the entertainment and political worlds merging into an indistinguishable crossover profession. Could a man "act" his way through 8 years of the Presidency of the United States of America? Reagan proved that the answer was an emphatic "yes."
Our thoughts returned to this subject when BuzzFlash received a promotional catalogue for upcoming books that included the intriguing title, "All Marketers are Liars, But Great Marketers Tell Stories We Want to Believe." And we thought to ourselves: Forget the useless political pundits, here is a book that gets down to the essence of the Bush Administration's ability to fool at least half of the American public. No, the book isn't meant as a political tome. It's written by one of those authors/lecturers who makes his living as a "marketing guru."
But politics is included in the author's definition of marketing "a story." This is something that is intrinsic to the master prevaricator and cynic of modern political history, Karl Rove.
Here's what the write up on the book (which won't be out until May) says:
Since Rove and Bush hooked up in Texas, before George ran for Governor, he has meticulously and unscrupulously created a "story" for Bush -- even though it was one that ran counter clockwise to the truth.
But isn't that the point of marketing: "What matters is whether the consumer believes your story." Perception is everything. Otherwise, no one could sell the $225 Pumas -- or Reagan or Bush for that matter.
We are talking about something besides religious faith here. We are talking about faith in a biography (even if it is manufactured out of whole cloth and contrary to reality) that sells the man. We are talking about creating stories about wars on "evildoers" that are like real-life versions of "Star Wars," where good and evil are so simply defined. We are talking about being able to create a story about Iraq that a recent University of Maryland study showed ended up in 72% of Bush's supporters still believing that there were WMD's in Iraq and 75% believing that Iraq was providing substantial support for Al Qaeda.
The Republicans can create their stories about their candidates for President -- and other offices -- because, in large part, the Democratic leadership doesn't challenge the validity of the stories, even though they are 90% fiction and 10% fact. In large part, the Democratic leadership enables the story telling of the Republican campaigns by not questioning the legitimacy of the claims made in the stories that are pedaled. Just look at the Iraq sub-story as an example, let alone Bush's career as a business failure and draft evader.
Furthermore, because Democrats won't aggressively attack the story telling and marketing of Republicans, they fall vulnerable to their own stories being shattered apart.
As we have mentioned, John Kerry had a splendid convention and won his three debates, but his campaign had been asleep at the wheel when Kerry was getting tagged as a flip-flopper by the Bush campaign in the spring of 2004: and his strongest asset, his heroic Vietnam service, was blown apart by a few vengeful, lying Republican partisans, known to BuzzFlash readers as the Swift Boat Liars.
The Bush campaign shot enough holes in John Kerry's story to make it look like Swiss Cheese to undecided and swing voters. In the battle of stories, Kerry's ship was sunk.
So here is our post-mortem on the Kerry Campaign. He had a great story to tell, but he squandered the opportunity on two accounts. You have to be prepared to vigorously defend your story and be alert to all potential attacks. You have to go on the attack against your opponent's story and drive up his negatives early. You have to define him, as we urged Kerry early in 2004, before he defines you.
"Great marketers tell stories we want to believe."
And great American Presidential stories can't be written in caution and timidity. They need to be brawny, aggressive, repetitious and tenacious.
And they can't succeed, if, simultaneously, the Democratic Party is enabling and providing credibility to the story of the opposition candidate. If you don't denounce the lies of the opposition, they are perceived as truth by many Americans.
At some point, you have to put on the boxing gloves, because people aren't going to elect a candidate that they believe is weaker than the opposition.
You must come from a position of strength to assure the American citizen that you can protect them, because that is what they want and need to believe at this point in time.
And to do that, you must also definitively show how the opponent is not protecting them, is in fact endangering them and the nation through his incompetence and lies.
There really isn't a choice in marketing a presidential candidate in these modern times.
"Tell us a story we want to believe."
It is the basis of both faith and politics.
A BUZZFLASH EDITORIAL