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November 06, 2004

Remember New Coke

Call it "framing", "packaging", or "branding." Democrats are suddenly excited about marketing. I'm reading a lot of earnest pleas and stern admonitions to exploit primal narratives, origin myths, and touchstones of cultural identity.

I'm glad Democrats realize that 600-page prospecti don't win elections. I'm glad we're recognizing the importance of product positioning in our competitive marketplace of ideas. But let's not get carried away with our newfound zeal for the non-rational. Product positioning isn't rigorous argument, but it still has to make sense to your target market.

Branding is coherence and consistency--not just in a product's look and feel, but also in its core brand idea. Brands are powerful because they tell the consumer what to expect. Good brands consistently reinforce a coherent "personality" and appeal to a consistent set of values.

It's foolish to think that you can turn a brand on a dime. Say you've always been the party of abortion rights. An ethical advertising executive would laugh in your face if you suggested rebranding by criminalizing abortion. What, and throw away 30 years of brand equity? Go ahead, if you want to confuse your existing customers and enrage everyone else. It's called "pandering" and consumers hate it.

Imagine what would happen if leading brands took this route:

  • Tide is punk rawk
  • The new Dodge Ram is redolent of Old World sophistication
  • Viagra serious medicine for a serious condition, AND a gay club drug!
  • Wonks watch FOX News
  • Ralph Nader: A man's man's man
  • Detrol--the hippest overactive bladder drug you can buy
  • Free prunes with the purchase of any iPod
  • 50 Cent eats All-Bran, yo


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The most immediate consequence of becoming an anti-choice party would be to, at best, make these states bloody battlegrounds and, at worst, to make them reliably Republican again. So, the GOP starts out with TX, FL, NY, CA--it's hard to see how this ... [Read More]


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