Although I work on primarily political campaigns, I try to read as much as I can about “real” advertising, since the political consulting industry can sometimes get a bit static. We tend to use the same ideas over and over because they usually work – and no one wants to go out on a limb (especially clients) and try some crazy new idea and lose and be “the guy who sank the campaign with the weird idea.”
That’s unfortunate, because to reach people today you have to speak their pop culture “language” and compete with thousands of messages from “real” advertisers. If you always hit them with “red white and blue,” they tune out. At the same time, unlike “real” advertisers, we can’t sell 365 days of the year so the tendency to stay the course is understandable.
One of my favorite places to catch up on all things ad and design related are the Under Consideration constellation of websites, and in particular, their Brand New blog which chronicles the retooling of corporate logos and brand identity.
Most recently, they wrote about the remake of the Life Savers logo and packaging which was fascinating. Almost everyone knows what Life Savers are – little hard candies that haven’t change that much for decades. Thus, how do simple sugary candies stand out in an era where everything marketed has to be “xtreme” or “totally awesome” and as loud as possible?
The folks at Wrigley’s figured it out – rather than compete on the same level as all the trendy fad candies, coming up with zany flavors, they decided to play to their strength – simplicity. In a crowded aisle full of colorful packaging the Life Savers candy bags – with their simple depiction of just one BIG picture of the candy – stand out.
In politics, sometimes you have to do the same thing to win and get your message out. There was a school of thought (especially in Democratic circles) that to win against the “other side” one had to pre-empt them on “their” issues by making them “yours” as well, so you couldn’t be attacked – you were “innoculated.” (Just take a trip in the Wayback Machine to 1984 and 1988, and you can see why people thought this might be a good idea.)
While that strategy might have made sense in the late 80s and early 90s, as it was with folks like former DLC chairman Bill Clinton when they ran for President, it’s not entirely foolproof. If politicians compete to be more and more alike, the result is often mushy rhetoric that sounds “phony” to the average voter.
Sometimes if you really want to distinguish yourself and your message, you have to stop competing with your opponent on their terms, and redefine the argument to your strengths instead. Plus it has the added benefit of being a bit more honest.
It’s funny how a piece of candy can teach you a lesson about politics. The question is, which Presidential candidates are learning the lesson, and which aren’t?
I guess we’ll see on Tuesday! Don’t forget to vote!
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