Tag Archives: 2012 Election

Obama: the brand

Jim Messina was an undergraduate when he managed his first campaign, and has won every race since then. He’s now manager of the Obama reelection campaign and going to great lengths to maintain his record.

source: huffingtonpostMessina has purportedly read volumes of US election history, but he spent the first months before beginning the Obama campaign in earnest meeting not with successful senators and former campaign managers, but with CEOs and senior execs of Apple, Google, facebook, Zynga, and DreamWorks. While Obama looks for support from left side of the House and Senate, Messina’s also brought Stephen Spielberg and Vera Wang into the campaign. Messina’s campaign, he says, is more based on wunderkind business strategies (Zynga and facebook, for example) than any elections from previous centuries.

The most interesting part to me of Messina’s campaign is the part focused not on intellectual persuasion, but attachment-building via branding. To contrast this with Mitt Romney’s campaign, look at the merchandise pages of each of the candidates’ websites:

Romney’s store has:
2 types of bumper stickers
a window decal
2 buttons
4 different t-shirts (2 of the with just the semi-unrecognizable logo on them)
a baseball cap
a lapel pin, and
(regrettably) a heather grey quarter-zip-up sweatshirt

All of his products are on one page, and most of them look like print-screened logos on shirts from AC Moore.

Obama’s store includes:
iPhone cases,
Earth Day packs,
“I bark for Barack” magnets,
v-neck shirts for women under 45,
calendars,
yoga pants,
a $95 Monique Pean scarf,
a Vera Wang bag, a $95 “Thakoon Panichgul“, whatever that is,
dog bandanas,
dog sweaters,
Joe Biden mugs,
Obama jerseys,
rubber bracelets,
pint glasses,
aprons,
bangles,
cufflinks,
baby bibs,
grill spatulas,
soy candles,
golf divot tools,
and a six-pack cooler.

There’s also about a billion different types of tshirts, buttons, and bumper stickers, and a “for Obama” series: women for Obama, nurses for Obama, veterans for Obama, African Americans for Obama, Latinos for Obama, Hispanics for Obama, Asian American & Pacific Islanders for Obama, and environmentalists for Obama.

Romney’s shirts say, at most, “Romney” or “Believe” – one of Obama’s shirts says “Health Reform Still a BFD.” Granted, Romney is aiming at a different demographic (LL Bean fans, eg), but Obama’s 19 pages of merchandise make Romney’s 1 page look pitiful, from a branding point of view.

The Obama campaign’s brand-focused strategy is closely integrated with its other image-focused tactics: assigning Romney the cold, out-of-touch persona, for example.
While critics of the Bain capital narrative put out by the Obama campaign said that things like negativity and party inconsistency (Bill Clinton’s subsequent praise of Romney’s management skills, eg) rendered the move moot, an article in Bloomberg said that Messina may not have been so concerned about persuasion at that point: “Messina is adamant that the Bain attack succeeded among the uncommitted voters he’s concerned with, who ignore pundits and are only now beginning to form opinions of Romney.”

For a lot of voters, Romney’s business and managing experience are just off the table. The Bain Capital anti-campaign put on by the Obama team wasn’t so much a persuasion for some voters as an excuse to keep holding their current opinion. K street and the hill will argue about the relevance and logical holes in different arguments, and about the influence of different political figures voicing their opinions, but humans decide things more based on instinct than consideration, I think.

David Plouffe, a political strategist, commented: “When people say, ‘How’s the Bain thing playing?’ it doesn’t matter what the set of Morning Joe has to say about it.”

Voters’ behavior and attitudes are hugely dependent on their initial impressions of politicians. People will take things like the Bain story how they want to, based on what they’ve already consciously or unconsciously decided. And some might criticize the Obama campaign for putting a lot of money into what seems like frivilous merchandise, but things like brand and image aren’t meant to persuade – they’re meant to create a stronger identity and community within the already-present supporters. Such branding is what made Facebook, Google, and Apple such monstrosities – and they are precisely where Messina went for advice.

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Social Service and the 2012 Election

I was sitting at a meeting reviewing cases of indicted abusers – I intern at a social services office near my college, in the second poorest county in New York – and one case involved a man who had served a few months’ probation for abuse and then, upon release, committed a horridly violent act against the same victim. “We failed this kid,” an officer at the meeting said of the victim.

I like working in social services because it simultaneously disenchants and inspires me in regards to the mechanisms of helping people. I work in an office that gives legal and practical assistance to domestic violence victims, houses a women’s shelter, and runs a food pantry.

Many of our clients tell us that they don’t know what they would do without us, that we were their last chance, etc. After these cases, there is a sense that our tax dollars are being put to good use, as it were – that the social service is doing what a social service is supposed to do. But some clients aren’t as easily rewarding. Some are demanding and abrasive; their accounts of incidences don’t match police reports and they tell scattered and narcissistic stories, the verity of which crumble when anyone asks them to repeat a statement. We get people in our office who are clearly victims, but we also get the conniving, the liars, and people who file abuse complaints just to be vindictive. Our services are alternately treasured and taken advantage of.

Whatever the makeup of social service is, it is definitely not black and white; working with the logistics of public service enforces the fact that there are no clear cut cases, and that every policy is going to, at some point, meet an exception of the rule. Sometimes these exceptions are people; sometimes they are failed by the system. Sometimes (oftentimes) people seek to suck as many resources out of the public sphere as they are legally allotted. A general sense of entitlement pervades the population, which often means that public resources are given out at a competitive, first-come-first-serve basis.

But does the fact that the system is occasionally cheated discount the help it provides others? This is a question that must be asked in regards to every public service.

Charity is not so simple as shelling out money to the poor – though money helps, the uncomfortable truth is that anyone (of any class) who receives money will often not use it to their long term benefit or to that of society. The other danger of charity is the possibility of using monetary donation to excuse ourselves from any personal discomfort or investment. If we consider money the thing that solves the problem (and, believe me, it does help), we can ignore the ugly logistics of how and when and why to distribute it.

This is why any candidate who proposes “simple” tax plans (Herman Cainn, Rick Perry) ends up looking kind of foolish. Perry recently called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and called for the privatization of the whole thing. While basically everyone says that Social Security is pretty screwed up, much of Perry’s criticism of SS seems to be driven by a fad-like propensity for drastic calls for smaller Federal government, and the implications of such a trend on social services is worrisome.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, does have the advantage of actually sticking to his guns on the issues, it seems – but I can’t believe that his defense of less government in regard to social issues – that “increasing federal funding leaves fewer resources available for the voluntary provision of social services” – is practical at all. Calls for smaller federal government often cite the support of the power of state governments instead, but the basic philosophy seems like it would call for less state governments as well as federal.

Policy change is what is really effective. The problem is that there is no one policy change that will fix everything; social programs need to be constantly restructured to adapt to a changing society. This makes policy changes less flashy and more complicated than large donations or huge influxes of funding, and so they receive less public and political attention than they should. The logistics of helping people can be terribly complicated, and a perfect policy will never be implemented, but public assistance is still a noble, if not a glamorous, necessity for society.

Colbert Super PAC’s First Commercial

Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC released its first commercial in Iowa:

The ad encourages Iowans to write in Texas Governor Rick Perry (and to make the ad just unserious enough, Iowans are instructed to spell the name Parry, “the A is for America.” Good job, whoever had that idea.) in the Ames Straw Poll, which is a “nonbinding” political poll that has less democratic integrity than eeny meeny miney moe but is politically taken more seriously than the primary results of whatever states hold their primaries last.

Fun facts: Admission fee for the Ames Straw Poll is $30. From the Ames Straw Poll website: “Some folks say the Iowa Straw Poll is like the Iowa State Fair – but better because politics is involved.”1

1Iowans quoted here are hypothesized to have either meant “worse” instead of “better” or to not actually be human beings.