Skip to main content

Democratic Branding is Not an Oxymoron

After decades spent shooting themselves in the foot, Democrats are finally learning what Republicans have known for fifty years: marketing matters.

There’s a billboard up in Times Square — a huge red, white, and blue electronic display. High tech, high visibility, letters several stories high, spelling out:

“Thank You Joe Biden and Democrats.”

Imagine that. Democrats taking credit for something. Democrats letting people know who’s responsible for that cash in their pockets and those shots in their arms.

Admittedly, Times Square isn’t the media powerhouse it was pre-pandemic. But still. We’re talking Democrats. Democrats take blame better than credit. Or they used to. Now they seem to be doing real marketing. They’re putting out a coherent brand and they’re doing it with a degree of sophistication.

Yes, they’ve long had the technology side covered. Yes, they’ve long known how to micro-target the electorate and put out custom messages to each zip code, and yes, that stuff is important.

But up to now, the messages themselves have been mostly inept. They’ve always felt designed by committee, like all the life had been focus-grouped out of them. Often, they felt defensive, like liberal ideas needed to be apologized for.

But finally, the DNC seems to have learned that while reaching an audience is one thing, having something useful to say to that audience is quite another. And to that end, there’s interesting stuff going on.

The tagline — “Build Back Better” — is okay. It has a lot of good ingredients and somebody smart has thought through its multiple meanings. It acts like a good tagline should. It folds all the many ideas and messages going out there into one unifying brand message — without getting in the way. Despite feeling a little clunky, it works just fine.

That’s mostly because Democrats are making it work. They’re making the brand mean something. And they’re using it consistently, from Biden on down.

Jen Psaki is the perfect spokesperson. She articulates the brand in everything she says. She’s smarter than we are, she takes no bullshit from anyone, and she’s quick on her feet. In many ways, she’s already the public face of the Democrats.

And the cool thing is that the messages coming from her — and from the whole administration — aren’t empty. They’re all positive. They all come with promises and workable plans — real products that real people want. Vaccines, healthcare, infrastructure, economy, justice reform, jobs.

Then there’s this, from a highway in Wisconsin:

Right now, these billboards, customized by state, are popping up on major highways, telling motorists exactly which elected officials are delivering in a crisis. And which are not.

And here’s the thing about billboards. In the age of digital media — with all those ad-tech, AI-based, micro-targeted, marketing automation and analytics platforms — you might think the humble billboard is hopelessly low tech and out of touch. Not so.

Billboards can do something few other media can. They can penetrate the Fox bubble. They can talk directly to the Trump base.

Almost alone among media, billboards can reach multiple demographics with the same buy. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, if you drive on the highway, you’ll see a billboard. If you drive that way every day, you might see it every day. To some extent, you’re a captive audience. You can’t turn it off or switch the channel.

If you’re a Trump voter, seeing a billboard won’t sway you. It might even enrage you. But that’s fine. Democrats don’t need you to like the message, just see it. Preferably every day. Because you certainly won’t see it on Fox, and there’s something to be said for having Trump voters experience reality every now and then. Even if they can’t personally relate to it. What other medium can do that?

But Trump voters aren’t even the target for these particular billboards. The primary target, I’m guessing, is low-interest voters. People who think about politics once every four years, if at all. This is a large audience, filled with a lot of Republicans and independents, and even some Democrats — none of them paying much attention.

But a good billboard gets you to pay attention, if only for a few seconds. Will it make an impression? Will it make that same impression twenty times in a month? Who knows? But those impressions have value — advertisers pay good money for them.

And again, these billboards reach everybody who drives by. Which includes committed Democrats, many of whom would like to feel good about something they voted for. For a change. And calling out a jerk like Ron Johnson warms their hearts.

Remember, a big part of our current predicament stems from complacency, from Democrats’ chronic habit — only recently broken — of not showing up to vote. Democrats need constant reminding of what’s at stake. A good billboard is a small but effective way of doing that.

There’s lots of other good stuff going on, especially in the way Democrats are shaping their legislation while marketing it at the same time. It’s all designed to get people to buy in, to give them a stake in what’s happening.

But it’s also designed to put Republicans under pressure, to make them play defense. All the positive messaging shines a harsh light on the nonstop, over-the-top, bad faith obstruction that defines today’s GOP.

It shines an even harsher light on the filibuster. By their actions — especially their voter suppression schemes — Republicans are forcing that issue. A filibuster showdown is now inevitable, not because Democrats are pushing it, but because Republicans are daring them not to.

Which is one reason why the marketing is so important. People need to hear, not just that there’s good stuff in the pipeline, not just that there are real solutions being proposed, but also who’s standing in the way. We can’t just assume they know.

The differences between the parties couldn’t be more glaring, but that’s nothing new. What’s new is a serious effort — professional, coordinated, and strategic — to show voters what they’ve been missing. And why.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Because Things Just Aren’t Scary Enough

There’s been considerable buzz in the last week around an op-ed column in the Washington Post that purports to scare the shit out of you, but is a must-read nonetheless. It was written by Robert Kagan, an establishment policy expert, long associated with Republican administrations. Now divorced from the GOP, he has become an outspoken never-Trumper. The piece is both a dead-on analysis of our current moment in history and a dire warning for the very near future. While I don’t subscribe to all its assumptions, I find its basic premise disturbingly plausible, maybe even likely. The essay envisions a dystopian nightmare enveloping the 2024 presidential election, the culmination of a constitutional crisis that is clearly already in motion. As things stand now, Kagan says, the groundwork is almost in place for Trump to steal that election. Kagan insists that Trump will indeed be the candidate, that he will challenge the results if they don’t fall his way, and that this time he has

I’d Rather Not Be So Partisan

Since moving to my modest suburb outside Detroit, my interest in local politics has been marginal. I personally don’t have much skin in the game — no school-age children, no business interests to advocate for, no history in the community. I’m generally content to pay my taxes and enjoy the benefits of living in a relatively well-run town. Even so, as a citizen I feel responsible for knowing something about the people who run things. So while I don’t follow the workings of the city council, I do pay attention when its members are running for office, which happens in off-year elections every two years.  So this is the year, and, as expected, the front yards are abloom with lawn signs. I get to vote for three of the six candidates. The unspoken rule is that the election process is kept strictly non-partisan, so these candidates do not publicly divulge their party affiliations. Which almost makes sense. After all, the upkeep of our roads, sewers, power lines and other infrastructur

Inflation and the Supply Chain are Joined at the Hip

Back in the early eighties, inflation was on everyone’s mind. Prices on everything had been going up since the Vietnam War, and the country was caught in a vicious spiral of people and businesses getting rocked by higher prices, expecting them to go even higher, and raising prices in anticipation of them going still higher. Rinse and repeat. The expectation of higher prices drove prices higher. It was an eye-opening experience. The candy bar that cost a dime when I was a kid was suddenly 75 cents. My first mortgage carried a 12-percent interest rate adjustable every year, which meant it could’ve escalated to 18 percent in six years, a terrifying prospect. Luckily, interest rates peaked before that could happen, and the so-called Great Inflation of the seventies and eighties finally subsided. But ever since that time, big business has been obsessively paranoid about anything that smacks of inflation. Inflation cuts into their precious purchasing power. It degrades the value of t