Once upon a time the Kennedy family
It all started with Joe Kennedy, Sr. who was a pioneer in the art of political image-making. He was one of the first to admit that politicians could be sold such as celebrities, that sex appeal and glamor aspect were marketable political commodities, and that the press could be enlisted to cast a charismatic spell. Joe Kennedy, Sr. was a key element in his son John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s political campaigns. Indeed long before political expert and spin doctors talked of “political packaging” such as Bob Franklin, Joe shaped Jack’s picture more successfully than any Champs-Elysées. "We’re going to sell Jack like soap flakes" was his renowned quote before the 1946 election.
When Politics meets Marketing
When we use words like « Marketing » in connection with « Politics », most of people are anxious about electoral rigging and the worsening of the political practice. A real widespread panic. In fact, Marketing allows understanding the expectations and needs of citizens (consumers), and developing the right political candidate image (product) in response. If we draw a brief parallel between political marketing and mainstream marketing, we can willingly highlight at least two common concepts. First, the seller uses medias extensively, as the candidate in order to inform, remind and promote himself/herself. Moreover these two type of marketing use comparable tools such as diverse statistical and market research to study the market.
When Politics collides with Marketing
In spite of a true concord, there are many differences between political marketing and business marketing, related to characteristics of the “Politician-Product”, “Electorate-Customer” and “Vote-Purchase”: (Partial list)
“Politician-Product”: In politics, the Brand is symbolized by the Party and the quality depends on the story of the political candidate. I mean, if this man is a war hero, if she’s ever worked for NGO, etc. Candidates are not material good available to be owned but rather a multifaceted intangible product which the electorate can’t touch neither bring home. People play more and more on their physical appearance, their image, often at the expense of their political program. Moreover, in business products are usually available for purchase whenever and wherever – or almost – you want. For political products, it’s only every few years – time and place fixed by the constitution.
We have to underline the fact that in politics, communications and supply chain variables are linked, because the candidate sells himself/herself through his/her ideas and principles. This is political communications. This other kind of communications also asks for a relevant and appropriate strategy based on media. Thus, the party has to choose the most effective way to communicate and adapt it message according to the “electorate-customer”. This process includes a crucial choice: would the candidate share his/her private life on Medias? Pay attention, once done, it can’t reverse. (I’m sure that you remember of Lewinsky scandal, don’t you? Bad news for Bill Clinton!)
“Electorate-Customer”: Because candidates are not tangible product, people are under duress to make a choice and embrace the whole package. Voters have to live with the collective choice even though it may not have been their preference. (If you know a good After Sales Service in this case, let me know!). There is also a difference concerning the expectations of the “Electorate-Customer”. Indeed, the buyer of a material good or a service generally requires personal benefits enjoyed within a reasonable time period. For a lot of voters, this expectation to accumulate individual or early benefits from their act of voting is not on a point of order.
“Vote-Purchase”: As we saw before, voting choice, unlike any other purchasing decision, has no direct or indirect individual costs attached to it. As far as the victory party is concerned, in business you just need to focus on markets which bring you a good return on your investment; in politics the political candidate succeeds only if he obtains the biggest market share, in other words: the plurality of the votes. The last point is about the goal of the campaign. In fact, firms are seeking profit while parties are seeking power.
"My fellow Americans,
ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." -John F. Kennedy