Yesterday, there was a fantastic discussion in the comments of the Rules Do Apply post about the branding of the political parties. I wanted to highlight some of that this morning because it really provides a great foundation for building further — for the Democratic party, and for progressive organizations around the country. And the different perspectives from the various folks who participated were what made it even more interesting.
Jane and I often say that we are really blessed with the best commenters on the web. It truly amazes me how often that gets proved to us — and this particular comment thread really proves that point.
Political parties are like brands in business.
Nike has a brand, a "personality:" winning. It’s also young and a little edgy in its self-conscious presentation.
Of course this is absurd. A corporation is not a personality, though corporations and organizations do have cultures. There are ugly dark sides to Nike’s culture, and I won’t get into them here (it’s a tangent).
People buy brands as a way of buying an identity, or at least, buying into one and declaring it by way of the brand’s label. Think of all those Apple people who rebel, as an identity, from Microsoft.
Political parties are brands.
The Republican brand as it has developed over the last 30 years is aggressive, masculine and "moral." They have built this branding image by promoting personalities and "policies" designed to be products that position the brand. These policies are not focused on governing but on brand placement, and as a way to wedge the competing brand.
In a two party system, you can only force dominance of your brand by rebranding your opposition in the worst possible light. They’ve been doing that for 30 years too.
So, essential to their attempt to brand themselves as strong, masculine, aggressive and "moral," they have done all they can to define Dems as wimps, charlatans, profligates and pansies. Add a heavy dose of racist code language, stir and repeat repeat repeat, and you have the history of the last 30 years.
For us to turn the tide, many have rightly pointed out that the Republicans could not have succeeded without cowing the media into submission. Notice that the 80’s were saturated with books and arguments about the liberal media.
That chestnut does not get the saturation it once did, since the media war has been won by their side. We’re just beginning to fight back now through citizen voices. The Internet has allowed for the wide dissemination of voices not controlled by corporate editors.
The Dem establishment has grown up in this last 30 years, and they don’t know the game. They’ve become veal on farms.
To rebrand, we must accept some things. One is mentioned above, that personality in a media age precedes policy. Policy is only meaningful insofar as it betokens personality.
To rebrand the party, we must
1 – fight, fight, fight
2 – be coordinated when we fight, because that’s the only way to connote strength
3 – play to personality before policy (Senators are bad at this. The Senate tends to bleach out passion, though Feingold is against the grain)
4 – Slash, burn and discredit their brand. We need as much of what I call "honest calumny" as we can get. Be brutal. We do it on this sight. It’s true the top carrier of our brand should be more sunny and affable in his or her personality, but he or she needs to be backed up by brutal attack dogs like us.
We can rebrand them as corrupt, aristocratic, incompetent, cowardly and dangerous (elements, for example, that all exist in the shooting story on some level). In fact, we must do this, if we are to win and change the 30 year tide.
We must rebrand ourselves as honest, public spirited, accountable, aggressive and tough. We can revive elements of the FDR brand but we can’t replay it without updates, in my opinion.
If we can do this, then the branding war will have turned around. In the long term, if we want to make policy matter more, then we must promote education. But the dumbing down of America has served the Republicans (don’t think they don’t know it), and it will take some time to redevelop the nation’s brain cells.
Then this from ck:
Excellent narrative analysis of the Branding issue. The problem for the Democrats is that narrative is useless, except in support of the ballistic soundbite.
Short version: anything longer than Nike’s "Just Do It" doesn’t cut it.
The other thing about politics, is that destroying the credibility of your opponent’s brand has much greater importance than it does it corporate marketeering. In politics and war, destroying the opposition is central to winning.
To that end, we need to use the lines of attack the GOP has handed us:
Republican Culture of Corruption = Legalized Bribery.
Republican Politicians = Institutionalized Incompetence.
And from cathy:
Why can’t we just say over and over the "corrupt republicans" every time we refer to them. And also write the "scandal ridden GOP" every time they are referred to in writing. Say and write those words together every time they are mentioned so that it sounds odd when they are not said or written together.
Then this from rwcole, which rang very true for me from my home in a very blue collar state like West Virginia:
Several years ago I heard a radio discussion of a study on "working men" that was quite interesting. I don’t remember who did it- and never actually read the thing- but it suggests that:
Working guys value competence- they think of themselves as able to "fix things" and look down their noses at people who can’t.
Working guys do not envy the wealthy- in many cases they think of em as lucky idiots who can’t even take care of their own houses, cars, and families.
Working guys value friends and families first- and other working guys. Many go to church- but church is not what drives them.
They worry about their kids if they have young kids and how to keep em from ending up in jail or the poorhouse.
They are ingenious- and can solve problems in a matter of minutes- they know that their bosses can’t..They are pretty proud of their COMPETENCE.
There is so much more discussion in the comments thread — and I wanted to continue the dialogue on this today, because it comes at a time when candidates are gearing up for the mid-term elections and for local elections around the country. And I’m interested in where we could take this — for the party and for the nation. I articulated some of this in my A Question of Doing What’s Right post back in January, and I’ve been stewing on a lot of this for the last month, trying to refine my own thoughts.
Maybe a good Monday morning brainstorm can shake something loose for all of us.
(photo: Chris Hays )