The Reptilian Brain
by Chuck Pettis
It has been fascinating to watch the 2004 U.S. Presidential race. From a branding perspective, there are some basic branding and positioning strategies being used by both Bush and Kerry that stand out when reading the media:
- Push the Reptilian Hot Buttons
- Attack or respond to attacks
- Keep it simple (KIS)
- Frame issues with "idealistic" names and simple messages
- Focus on the most important target audiences
- Get the right people on the bus
- Make every event count
While these aren't the only brand strategies being used in the Presidential race, they are all relevant to any political or issue campaign. In the update of this blog to come after the Presidential election, I'll cover the importance of consistent messaging, as well as my analysis of the election results.
A quick note regarding the format of this blog. Read the following sections and commentaries as stand-alone stories.some short, some longer. While a few of the articles are from an electronic source and have a web link, most of the articles come from a magazine or newspaper article and aren't viewable on the web. At some point in the future, I plan to integrate all the stories into a "best practices" paper on political branding.
Humans are the end-result of a long evolutionary process that has resulted in us having three brains:
The Reptilian brain is the animal part of our brain that is concerned with "survival" and "reproduction." The Reptilian brain reacts in a fight-or-flight or mating mode. It operates on purely a non-verbal "gut" level.
The Limbic brain is the mammal part of our brain having to do with "my children" and "higher" emotions, such as love, compassion, envy, and hope.
The Cortex Brain is part of our brain that is unique to humans. The Cortex brain is responsible for "rational" thought and keeping the other two brains under control. It likes numbers, facts, and "rational" decisions.
The Reptilian Brain will always win out over the Cortex Brain. We do not "reason" when our survival is at stake. Those in power often use this to their advantage. For example, when the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon were attacked on 9-11, our Reptilian Brain was strongly aroused and is still alert and afraid. The United States had been attacked by enemies. Our "survival" was at stake. We had to "fight back." President Bush declared war on terror. Then Bush very skillfully changed the enemy to Saddam Hussein and his "weapons of mass destruction." There was no rational debate in Congress or in the media about attacking Iraq. The attacks and threat to the USA by these "evil" enemies was perceived instinctually and the pushing of this "Reptilian hot button" produced fast and "unthinking" response.
To counter this Reptilian brain positioning (the survival of America is at stake), the Democrats need to counter by saying "America is not safer because we are in Iraq. Al Qaeda is the enemy, not Iraq. There were no 9-11 terrorists in Iraq and there were no weapons of mass destruction. Our real enemy is still at large. In fact, we are more at danger than we were before Sept. 11, 2001. This is directly the fault of George W. Bush."
The ideal persuasive message, position, cause, or product will speak to all three brains. When all three brains are in agreement and "spoken to," we feel happy and in harmony. When politicians formulate messages in such a way that they speak to all three brains, they win their campaigns.
Here is an example of the masterful use of the three brains in politics. Dick Cheney rebutted a recent comment by Sen. John Kerry about sensitivity in the war on terrorism by saying, "America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not one of them was won by being sensitive." Cheney's statement first appealed to the thinking, numbers-oriented Cortex brain ("too many wars") and then to the emotional Limbic brain ("for our wishes/hopes/ideals"), and then finally, the Reptilian brain ("...but not one of them was won by being sensitive.")
The comment brought immediate laughter, an emotional and involuntary response from the Limbic brain. Then Cheney spoke directly to the Reptilian brain, the most powerful part of our brain, the one which is always vigilantly guarding our survival. "Those that threaten us and kill innocents around the world," he said, "do not need to be treated more sensitively, they need to be destroyed."
Cheney took Kerry's comment out of context and achieved his goal by using the Reptilian hot button of survival, combined with ridicule. However, the Reptilian brain doesn't understand context; context is an abstract thought belonging to the Cortex brain.
Kerry's weak response? "It's sad they can only be negative." This message only communicates to the Cortex brain and did not address the Limbic nor the Reptilian brains.
Kerry could have answered:
"How insensitive of Cheney to have all 1,000 (Cortex brain) dead American sons (Limbic brain) brought back in secret, late-night plane flights and to deny those soldiers who have given their lives for their country (Reptilian brain) the respect and honor they deserve upon their return to US soil."
"Those that insensitively name all those who disagree with US policy 'evil,' 'traitors,' or 'unpatriotic' are the ones we should fear. Those that insensitively condone inhumane torture of Iraq prisoners and imprison people without due process and legal representation are the ones we should fear."
In my opinion, most Democrats, through ignorance, have poorly utilized the three brains, so far. To its detriment, the Democratic party simply does not appear to understand that the Reptilian brain will always win in a so-called rational situation. When confronted with a "Reptilian attack," it is essential to respond appropriately at the Reptilian brain level or you lose "points" and "face."
The most powerful tool to hit all three brains is good-natured ridicule and put-down humor. Once people start laughing at you, the end is near. Ridicule connects to all three brains, causing lasting emotional impressions. The impact of ridicule lasts much longer than a rational fact-based response. As Czech author Milan Kundera wrote, "Mockery is a rust that corrodes as it touches."
John Edwards crafted a message with his "two Americas" frame that touches the voter's intellect (cortex brain), heart (limbic brain), and survival needs (reptilian brain). A few quotes from his speech (see link below):
One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a President.
What's more, by dividing us into two Americas, George Bush is hurting our economy, cheating our future, and undermining our very way of life.
If the current trend continues, one out of seven middle-class families with children will go bankrupt by the end of the decade.
- I've been fighting this fight my whole life.
And I still believe in an America where the son of a mill worker can beat the son of a president to win the White House in 2004!
Carefully chosen put-down humor would be a powerful strategy against George W. Bush - check out the George W. Bush "resume" link below. An effective advertising campaign that lightly ridicules Bush while clearly and accurately pointing out his failings could be devastating.
To see a perfect example of the Reptilian Brain in action, check out Schwarzenegger's speech at the Republican National Convention. A few choice quotes:
Today, the world no longer fears the Soviet Union and it is because of the United States of America!
And, ladies and gentlemen ...if you believe we must be fierce and relentless and terminate terrorism ... then you are a Republican!
To those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: "Don't be economic girlie men!"
Bush Ad Campaign Ready to Kick Off An Expensive Effort
The New York Times, March 4, 2004
The most expensive ad campaign in presidential history was launched by the Bush campaign. The ads portray Bush as a straightforward leader who stabilized the nation after September 11, 2001. Three of the four ads feature images of the smoldering, charred shell of the World Trade Center. These images have been burned into the collective consciousness of all US citizens and the world. They arouse feelings of grief, sadness, and the most powerful emotion: fear. The use of these images in a Presidential campaign is propaganda. This is an inappropriate and unethical use of these images. The International Association of Firefighters has challenged these ads as being self-serving in a time of national tragedy.
'Kennedy moment' tops Bush agenda
The Seattle Times, December 5, 2003
Late in 2003 and early 2004, President Bush tried to appeal for a national goal, similar to 1962 when then president John F. Kennedy called for the nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade. The incredible feat was accomplished in 1969.
I can still remember the fear in our country when the Soviet's launched Sputnik I. At that time, we were in the midst of a serious cold war with Russia and this moon landing was part of the plan to win that war. I can well remember the 1969 moon landing and the inspiration it gave to the US and the world.
Would such an ambitious national goal work today? Probably not, which is why the idea died a quick death.
Political Brand Strategy #2 - Attack or Respond to Attacks.
Suiting up for a Nasty Brawl
Advertising Age Magazine, March 8, 2004
Back in March, Ad Age predicted that the 2004 election battle was going to be nasty and brutal. They were right on. Both sides are highly polarized, very passionate and very angry.
In Bush's War Room, the Kerry Attack Squadron
The New York Times, July 14, 2004
Imagine President Bush's campaign aides watching 15 television monitoring every speech of John Kerry. On one occasion, even though none of the networks were carrying Mr. Kerry's entire speech (to a group of financial donors), the private-eye-like operatives had arranged for their own audio feed and were following Kerry's every word, ready to take advantage of any opportunity for attack.
The opportunity came and the team immediately sent an e-mail press release to hundreds of journalists, supporters and campaign surrogates noting the discrepancy. The release included not only the quote from the speech but another quote from a September 2003 speech. As a result, the quotation and its critique by the Bush War Room found its way into articles in several major newspapers and the Associated Press.
The idea of a war room is not a new concept. Companies and ad agencies do them all the time. The Bush war room is more technologically advanced. Actually, the idea to research statements used by the opponent and then release the information to the media was pioneered in 1992 by Bill Clinton in his campaign for the presidency. I recently heard Bill Clinton explain the idea on a TV talk show. Clinton said that any attack or inappropriate statement by the opponent should be seen as an publicity opportunity and immediately responded to in order to blunt the attack and shape voter perceptions.
The Bush war room is based on the attack strategy. The Bush team is using every opportunity to "brand" John Kerry as a political "flip-flopper" who frequently switches positions on important issues. A sign on the door of Bush's campaign communications office says: "It's the Hypocrisy, Stupid."
Here are some specific tactics used in the Bush War Room to discredit Sen. Kerry:
College students or recent graduates continually monitor not just television (cable, financial, C-span feeds and the major broadcast networks), but also politically oriented web sites. Any broadcast can be digitally recorded at a moment's notice.
Collect and analyze the key stories from morning newspapers.
Scan local newspapers for clues to planned appearances by John Kerry or John Edwards or their spokespersons and then arrange for a friendly state representative to appear to rebut Kerry.
Kerry's campaign also has a war room, but its effects were diluted early in the campaign when there were other contending Presidential candidates.
Moore's film's success stirs GOP unease
The Seattle Times, July 23, 2004
Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11" is an excellent example of combining attack with ridicule and mockery to denigrate an opponent. The popular mover made $94 million dollars by mid-July 2004. GOP consultant Scott Reed notes that if it moves 3 or 4 percent of voters, the movie will be a success. When my wife and I went to see it, we met a neighbor in the lobby afterwards. She said that she had voted for Bush in the last election, but this movie had made her unsure of voting for Bush again.
Speech orders: Short and relatively sweet
The Seattle Times Newspaper, July 26, 2004
Speeches at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004 followed several rules:
- Keep it short
- Stick to the message
- Keep it positive.
Speechwriters for speakers at the 2004 Democratic Convention were given a three-page memo titled "Procedures for Convention Speakers" prepared by Jack Corrigan, Kerry's main man for the conference. These speech rules were designed to appeal to undecided, middle-of-the-road, independent voters presumed to be tired of the negative politics and to provide them with more information about Kerry and his policies. A dozen speechwriters, working two shifts were on-call to revise the 160+ speeches. All speeches were asked to go easy on the Bush bashing.
Was this the right strategy? Time will tell. It's hard to go wrong with short, consistent messaging. I personally felt that Kerry should have attacked Bush at the convention. Look at the boost in polls and approval ratings that Bush got after the Republican National Convention. It's sad, but true: attacking opponents wins elections.
Kerry Moves to Contain Damage from Attacks on His War Record
The Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2004
Kerry's Vietnam war service is a central campaign theme for both sides. The attacks by the group "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" are believed to have harmed Mr. Kerry greatly, reducing the four-to five-percentage point lead he built after last month's Democratic Convention. The attacks are similar to those experienced by Sen. John McCain in the Republican presidential primary in 2000.
Kerry fights back over ads criticizing his Navy service
The Seattle Times Newspaper, August 20, 2004
Kerry has fought the attacks on his Vietnam war service by accusing President Bush of relying on a "front group" to "do his dirty work." "I am not going to let anyone question my commitment to defending America - then, now or ever," Kerry told the International Association of Fire Fighters in Boston.
The Softer Side of John Kerry
AdWeek Magazine, March 8, 2004
Repositioning Kerry from a reserved upper-class Bostonian to a personable, yet strong Commander In Chief is one of the key branding strategies and challenges embraced by the Kerry team.
Senator Kerry is reported to show his soft side through Douglas Brinkley's book Tour of Duty that tells the story of how Kerry saved Jim Rassmann's life in Vietnam 35 years ago. Played up in television spots, Del Sandusky, the pilot steering the boat Kerry was on, says, "The decisions that he made saved our lives. He had unfailing instinct and unchallengeable leadership."
What Americans want in a President is a leader, someone who can make tough decisions, while still being one "of the people." The positioning of saving lives as being "soft" is wrong. Saving lives is about bravery and being strong, not soft. Americans want someone they can relate to, someone who embodies the archetype for leader.
Taking advantage of the stiff, upper-class perception of Kerry, President Bush regularly appears without a suit or tie, with his shirt sleeves rolled up, like a "regular guy" archetype.
With this in mind, Kerry should be acting and communicating the Leader/Ruler archetypal personality traits:
- Stable, established, solid reputation
- Efficient, productive
- Natural manager of people, organizer, leader
- Politically astute
- Ability to take decisive action
- In control, in charge, self-confident, create standards
- Like being out front, such as the biggest, best, most successful, etc.
Kerry should talk about:
- How skilled he is at matching people's abilities with the tasks to be done
- His experience in recruiting and managing high-quality people
- His leadership qualities
- His ability to take over if things look like they are getting out of hand
Kerry Ad Looks to Leverage Momentum From Convention
AdWeek Magazine, August 9, 2004
The design of John Kerry's campaign ads began hours after his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention when the Democratic National Committee and two media consultants met to cut the ad. His first one entitled "Strength" contains several of Kerry's applause lines such as "I defended my country as a young man, and I will defend it as president." Future ads will feature the themes from Kerry's acceptance speech: security, the economy and trust.
The DNC has recruited the political media consulting firms of AKP Media & Messaging in Chicago and Murphy Putnam Shorr & Partners in Alexandria, Va. to design the message.
Questions of Leadership Style
The Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2004
President Bush's leadership style is very dictatorial and he is not bashful about admitting it. On CNN, Bush said, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."
Bush's administration is known for little debate . Mr. Bush is the boss. Leaks and public disagreements are not tolerated. After policy has been established, it stays in place even if the initial assumptions are discovered to be false. The administration is also resolutely stubborn about not admitting mistakes.
1988: the making of the president
The Seattle Times Newspaper, July 12, 2004
In the 1988, George W. sharpened two skills that now brand his own campaigns and presidency: an ability to connect and mobilize evangelical Christians and a strategy of fearless, aggressive politics.
Before that campaign, George W. was aimless, moving from working in the oil industry to an unsuccessful run for Congress, back to the oil industry. It was when he turned 40 in 1986 that Bush stopped drinking, renewed his Christian faith, and returned to politics by plunging into his father's presidential bid.
In campaigning, the younger Bush showed a more aggressive style than his father. George Bush was more intent on governing the country than on politics; George W. relished the combative style of campaigning.
By stating unequivocally "Jesus Christ is my personal savior," George W. was accepted by conservative activists.
Political Brand Strategy #3 - Keep it simple (KIS)
Edwards' charm could help; lack of experience may hurt
The Seattle Times Newspaper, July 7, 2004
John Edwards' value to the Kerry campaign is gaining both votes in the South and blue-collar support. He is a smooth-talking Southerner comfortable with the ordinary man as Bill Clinton was and a complement to Kerry's style. Edwards speaks in short sentences, a skill acquired during his days as a personal-injury lawyer speaking to juries of everyday Americans.
The Gospel According to George
Newsweek Magazine, April 26, 2004
President Bush is a man who prefers to preach rather than answer questions during his press conferences. I watched one news conference where he "preached" quite a long time at the beginning continually using the fear and threat of terrorism to justify all his actions.
George Bush divides the world and the presidential campaign into two distinct arenas: those who believe in Bush's policies/vision and "non-believers." Faith is the essence of his (and Dick Cheney's) war leadership. When asked if George W. consulted his father before invading Iraq, Bush demurred and referred to a "higher father" to whom he appealed to. The Iraqi war is framed as a war where "God is on our side." Read Bob Woodward's new book "Plan of Attack" to understand more of the inner thinking of the Bush decision to invade Iraq. Bush seems to have depended on divine guidance rather than the considered opinions of top advisors.
Manichaean, a conflict between good and evil, describes Bush's war strategy. Bush suggests that any criticism of the war by Kerry and the Democrats is disrespectful of the troops in Iraq and even treasonous. In his new book, "Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency," Senator Robert Byrd quotes Nazi leader Herman Goering's advice to rulers who want to increase their power, "Whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship, all you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
With God As His Co-Pilot
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 22, 2004
President Bush combines a conservative Christian outlook with his political agenda and patriotic duty to create a black and white, in or out framework. This "God is on my side" self-proclaimed Christian righteousness uses strategic messaging and communications specially targeted to the mass media.
Research by David Domke, University of Washington professor of Communication, identified four strategies:
- Simplistic, black-and-white conceptions of the political landscape
- Calls for urgent action on administration policies as part of the fight against terrorism.
- Declarations about the will of God for America and its principles
- Claims that dissent from the administration is unpatriotic and a threat
This approach creates the perception that with Bush, "Either you are with us, or you are against God." This message is reinforced by the news media. In an analysis of more than 300 editorials, Mr. Domke found only two that criticized the administration's description of the campaign against terrorism as a struggle of good vs. evil. This is a major failure of the American press.
Mr. Domke concludes with a warning: "Noble ideals such as freedom and liberty are clearly worth pursuing, but the administration promoted those concepts with its left hand while using its right hand to treat others - including many U.S. citizens - in an authoritarian, dismissive manner."
Designing a Better Presidential Daily Brief
The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2004
Every day the President of the United States gets a written daily briefing. The release of the original Bin Laden Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) shows some common communications mistakes, such as long paragraphs, lack of bullet points, and no emphasis on important information.
Everyone, especially the President, is busy these days. To make it easy to skim for important points, experts recommend the use of color, summary information, clear titles, large and readable fonts, bullet points, color, and a scheme for logically presenting and prioritizing information.
Campaign A Race to Define Kerry
The Seattle Times, May 10, 2004
Political positioning usually involves finding a weakness in the opponent and exaggerating it through simplistic messages.
Bush commercials since March 2004 by position Kerry as a "flip-flopper" and charge that Kerry:
- Plans to raise taxes
- Voted against body armor for combat troops
- Opposed weapons needed to win the war on terror
- Supports a gas-tax increase
- Would weaken the Patriot Act's ability to arrest terrorists and defend America
Kerry's ad campaign positions Bush as creating "Two Americans" and as:
- Wanting to reverse the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, in essence allowing corporations to write our environmental laws.
- Wanting to select "anti-choice justices" to a Supreme Court that "is just one vote away from outlawing a woman's right to choose."
Political Brand Strategy #4 - Frame issues with "idealistic" names and simple messages
Patriot Act rebounds politically
The Seattle Times, April 26, 2004
The Bush team is great at coming up with names that seem to represent the high moral ground. The " Patriot Act" is an excellent example of this. Although cited as an intrusion on civil rights by the Democrats, the Patriot Act has emerged as a foundation of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign.
Here are the objectionable parts of the Act:
- Gives officials more powers in search and seizures and in sharing information
- Allows secret searches in which the authorities delay notifying a suspect
- Allows the attorney general to detain any non-citizen believed to be a national security risk.
Political Brand Strategy #5 - Focus on the most important target audiences
In any branding campaign, the most important decision is the selection of the "target audience." With companies, the goal is usually to find the 20% of customers that provide 80% of revenues and profits. In politics, the top-two target audiences are: current supporters (something that the Republicans scored high on at their National Convention in August); and undecided voters.
Undecided Voter Becoming Focus of Both Parties
The New York Times, June 11, 2004
Undecided voters account for approximately 5 percent of the voting public. The archetypal swing voter is a white, married woman living in the suburbs. "She" is younger, lower-income and less educated than the electorate. Her key issues: the environment; abortion rights; she thinks the nation is heading in the wrong direction; is concerned about the draft; and doesn't trust the candidates' advertisements.
Can Kerry Make The Sale?
Newsweek Magazine, August 2, 2004
Swing voters are the target market. Kerry must shape his message to sell them and it won't be easy. They are diverse and as a block, much smaller than earlier presidential campaigns. According to Matt Dowd (strategist for the Bush-Cheney Re-election Campaign), nearly two-thirds of all voters in 1992 were up for grabs; this year, by his estimate, only 17 percent are. Their profile is: female, white, married, working at one or more jobs and earning a middle income. Many are Hispanic. They generally pay less attention to politics than others do, and are influenced more by fleeting impressions of character than by party identity, ideology or specific proposals.
Ad placement reflects Bush, Kerry strategies
The Seattle Times Newspaper, July 18, 2004
Critical differences in the target audience for each presidential candidate's advertising campaigns are noted in the selection of shows where their advertisements appear . The Bush campaign places its ads around crime shows such as "Cops", "Law & Order", and "JAG;" these are chosen to attract Republican men. The Kerry campaign places it ads around shows with softer themes such as "Judge Judy," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Late Show with David Lettermen."
The largest ad battle is for the hearts and minds of the elderly and women. Both candidates' top ten shows include programs on NBC, local newscasts and shows such as "Oprah," "Wheel of Fortune," and "Dr. Phil," all shows that appeal to women and those over 55.
Voters Are Harder to Reach As Media Outlets Multiply
The Washington Post, June 16, 2004
In the 1990s, a political ad would air a minimum of five times. Today that ad would air at least 12 times. The change is due to the fact that viewers can now choose from over 100 TV channels. This change is reflected in the other traditional mediums - mail, phones, the internet and polls. More channels mean less message repetition, which means less message retention. For example, phone-based polls are less effective today as calls are blocked via caller ID, refused as telemarketing, or unavailable as an unlisted telephone numbers. Plus, the increased use of cell numbers further reduces the incidence of completed calls because pollsters aren't allowed to call anyone who has to pay for the in coming call. (Too bad that rule doesn't apply to email and junk faxes!) It is common now for pollsters to make seven or eight calls to complete one survey. At BrandSolutions, we find surveys getting tougher due to corporate rules about taking surveys, internal email filters for email surveys, reluctance to provide email lists due to spam worries, and people are just more busy now than they used to be.
The Few Decide for the Many
BusinessWeek Magazine, June 14, 2004
Voter participation is down to 54.5% - 139th among countries with democratic elections. This is due in part to the disenchantment of the American democratic process: our popular vote selects a candidate but the real winner is chosen by the Electoral College. Therefore, candidates select those states whose ballots are undecided. These states are termed the battleground states.
For example, campaign rhetoric reviews the decline of US manufacturing. Why? The seven industrial battleground states with 79 electoral votes will affect the election. Washington and Oregon are also sought after: a high-tech family in the suburbs of Seattle or Portland is among the most sought after voter and hence receive attention in many focus groups and direct mail solicitations.
The most critical battleground states are Florida, Ohio and Missouri. No Republican has been elected without carrying Ohio; no Democrat has been elected without carrying Florida.
Candidates Face Sprawling and Complex Electoral Map
The New York Times, May 12, 2004
In counting electoral votes, both President Bush and Senator John Kerry are in the largest and most complex electoral voting contests in 20 years. Sixteen "swing" states (Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington State and Wisconsin) were won by either Al Gore or Mr. Bush by six percentage points or less in 2000. The five most important states include: Florida, Ohio and Missouri, which Mr. Bush won, and Pennsylvania and Iowa, which Mr. Gore won.
In 2000, Florida was the scene of a bitter and drawn-out presidential fight. This campaign year will be no different: both parties must have this state. The Bush campaign realizes they can no longer count on the state to vote Republican. While Democrats outnumber the Republicans, there are many Black voters who are angry over the 2000 election. They could turn out in greater numbers this year. Everyone, including Hispanic voters, will pay more attention to advertising.
Jim Innocenzi, a Washington political media consultant, predicts that seven of every eight ad minutes of TV programming will be on politics, especially in Orlando and Tampa.
Does Your Vote Matter?
BusinessWeek Magazine, June 14, 2004
Gerrymandering by the major political parties redraw congressional district lines and reduce political competition. This election year only 35 seats out of 435 are up for re-election. The consequence is growing voter cynicism and reduced voter participation (only 54.5% turnout in Presidential elections). We may be witnessing the decline of true democracy in America.
The Very, Very Personal is the Political
The New York Times Magazine, February 15, 2004
Databases that include the name of every one of the 168 million registered voters in the country, are cross-indexed with phone numbers, addresses, voting history, etc. are owned by both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee.
The goal? To draw people into the voting booth through the issues, or through the one issue, that they care about. The databases and its accompanying statistical tools enable the campaign manager to target the voter who will listen to their political message.
This information has been gleaned from the following sources (to name only a few):
- State voter-registration rolls
- Census reports
- Consumer data-mining companies
- Direct marketing vendors
- Canvassers by phone or doorstep
- Subscriber lists
- Mortgage data
- Product warranty information
These sources are used to create individualized messages for each voter and determine which voters to spend more time with.
Checking Out Candidates' Sites
The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2004
The web is now an important medium to win over undecided voters and their donations as well as to reinforce committed voters. Check out Bush's and Kerry's web sites.
Political Brand Strategy #6 - Get the right people on the bus
In the book, Good to Great, Jim Collins outlines the traits that define the most successful companies in America. One of those principles is to "get the right people on the bus," to get the right people on your team (and get the wrong people off your team). In politics, endorsements (for and against), affiliations, issues, and association with voter groups and interest groups are also important.
The Junior Varsity
Newsweek Magazine, July 12, 2004
The 48 million potential votes from those under 30 could make the difference this election. These young voters are much more involved this election year than any in the past. Eight in 10 (according to a NEWSWEEK GENext Poll) say the outcome of this presidential election matters "a lot." In general, they are pessimistic about President Bush's overall performance and in particular about the war in Iraq.
Two young voters that I know personally are both very emotionally involved in this election. One, for the first time in his life, contributed money - to both Kerry's campaign and to Moveon.org. The second is concerned about the loss of our freedoms and the potential emergence of a fascist society.
Put On Your Party Shirt
The Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2004
The increase in political involvement by the teenager and 20-somethings is opening a new market for political fashion. In America, the T-shirt has always stood as a countercultural billboard and now during an election year, it resumes its place in front of the voting public. Here are places where you can buy your favorite candidate's line of clothing and accessories!
Voter Drives Tap Pop Culture To Get Young People to Polls
The Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2004
If you are young and a music fan, then Music for America is looking for you. Their message? Vote in the presidential election. Pop music culture is the world of young undecided voters; political campaigners are out in force to recruit them.
Bush Faces Challenge From Scientists
The Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2004
A community of scientists is beginning a political campaign to depose President Bush. They believe the administration has misrepresented scientific facts to fit its policies on global warming, sex education and stem-cell research to name a few. In June, 48 Nobel Prize winners publicly endorsed Sen. John Kerry's presidential bid; thousands of researchers signed a statement condemning the President's record on science. A group of senior scientists launched "Scientists and Engineers for John Kerry" with a goal of rousing voters in battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. These states have large hospitals, research campuses and medical institutions with employees in the tens of thousands who are potential voters.
Who Funded That Negative Ad?
The Wall Street Journal, July 7, 2004
New, unaffiliated political groups are becoming a major political force. These groups were created after the passage of the 2002 campaign-finance-reform law and are transforming campaign-advertising strategies.
The funds for these independent groups come from wealthy donors, labor unions and corporations. Moveon.org and the Media Fund, the largest of the Democratic groups, have spent about $50 million combined on commercials critical of President Bush's education, economic and Iraq policies. These commercials have supposedly freed Democratic nominee John Kerry to accentuate the positive and his biography in his commercials.
Churches get word from Bush campaign
The Seattle Times Newspaper, July 2, 2004
The Bush-Cheney re-election campaign sends a "to-do" list to religious volunteers in America asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives. The list even sets a timeframe for the duties to be accomplished. This plan of action may violate tax rules that prohibit churches from engaging in partisan activity. The Bush-Cheney campaign maintains that its "religious-outreach program" is legal.
In June the IRS sent a definitive letter to both the Republican and Democratic national committees reminding them of the law. Religious organizations are allowed to sponsor debates, distribute voter guides and conduct voter-registration drives. But these efforts must not show a preference for or against one candidate or party.
Bush's team lives up to its name
Advertising Age, April 12, 2004
Maverick Media is the team working on the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign. Its members are composition of political strategists and Madison Avenue vets. They include Alex Castelianos (crafted the negative ads against Vice President Gore in '00), Mark McKinnon (former county-and-western songwriter), Stuart Stevens (former Hollywood scriptwriter), Vada Hill (senior VP-marketing for Fannie Mae, and the ex-marketing director of Taco Bell), and Frank Guerra (principal in Hispanic political shop Guerra DeBerry Coody of San Antonio) among others.
Behind Dean Surge: A Gang of Bloggers and Webmasters
The Wall Street Journal, October 14, 2003
Presidential candidate Howard Dean transformed political fund raising by utilizing the Internet. Half of his $25 million campaign fund was built from small donations over the web. While Howard Dean didn't get the Democratic nomination, he is the one who "tipped" the use of the internet by politicians to raise money. Check out the links below to see how the Kerry and Bush campaigns are using their web sites to raise money and position themselves. Who do you think is doing the better job?
MoveOn.org Preps Ads With A Little Help From Its Friends.
AdWeek Magazine, January 5, 2004
Moveon.org is using the Internet in new and creative ways to attack President Bush and push the liberal and democratic agenda. It has mobilized nearly 2.4 million members via a grassroots model of discussion; it could change the structure of American politics and political marketing.
Moveon.org anti-Bush spot succeeds on strong strategy.
Advertising Age, January 19, 2004
Moveon.org made history with their advertising contest to find the best anti-Bush ad. The winning ad that you can view below was refused by CBS.
How the Internet is Changing Politics
AdWeek Magazine, January 26, 2004
The potential for galvanizing political campaigns is now a reality on the Web. The web now is a major means of fundraising, organizing, community-building, marketing and getting-out-the-vote. It was first successfully used by Sen. John McCain R-Ariz. when he accomplished a huge online fundraising blitz after his upset victory in the 2000 New Hampshire primary. Then Howard Dean utilized the Internet to become the leading candidate of the Democratic Party in seven short months. Candidate John Kerry hosted virtual town meetings in the form of live Web chats.
Political Brand Strategy #7 - Make every event count
Operation Serenade: Laying Groundwork for Reagan's Funeral
The Wall Street Journal, June 10, 2004
Everything around any US President is bigger than life. One example is the major media event surrounding Ronald Regan's funeral. Codenamed "Operation Serenade," the Regan funeral plans began in 1989 and the tempo picked up in 1994 when the 83-year-old Mr. Regan announced that he had Alzheimer's disease. The advance planning team met twice a year to go through the plans and update them to ensure an memorable "grand finale" to President Regan's career.
Bush Coordinating War on Terror With Election
The Daily Mislead Email, July 8, 2004
According to New Republic magazine, the Bush Administration now requests international allies to coordinate arrests of al Qaeda terrorists to coincide with key U.S. political events thereby maximizing political benefits for the President.
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