Political branding during the coronavirus pandemic
Chiara Torres-Spelosi on the 2020 US campaign: &# 171; Even protecting others from your germs is completely politicized&# 187;
How are candidates leveraging the power of the coronavirus pandemic for branding, and how is that affecting this year’s election campaigns? How was the innovation of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1952 election campaign, and how did it forever change the US election race? Who was the real prototype for the Madmen characters? What did micro-targeting at the end of the 20th century look like, and was it very different from today’s? Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, Professor of Law, Stetson University College of Law, ‘Political Brands’ author ). In her opinion, it is not surprising that with the current polarization of opinions in the United States, even the wearing of masks by participants in the presidential race turned out to be politicized..
Margot Gontard: Chiara, tell us how the candidates mainly finance their election campaigns? And what role does advertising produce play in this??
Chiara Torres-Spelosi: Most election campaigns in the United States are funded by private individuals. There are rare exceptions, but mostly candidates for elections, both local and federal, and presidential candidates need to contact donors and collect donations. One of the exceptions is if it so happens that you are initially rich, for example, if you are a billionaire. For example, Mike Bloomberg spent nearly a billion dollars on his failed Democratic nomination. So the total cost of the presidential race in the United States is estimated at $ 2.6 billion, with Mike Bloomberg’s campaign being estimated at $ 1 billion..
Andrew Young’s campaign headquarters said a quarter of their funding came from sales of the campaign’s promotional products. As for Donald Trump’s election campaign, in 2016 they raised a huge amount of money simply by selling baseball caps with the slogan “Make America Great Again”, in part because some of them were sometimes sold for $ 50 apiece, which is much higher than the cost price. It’s also a way to turn supporters of a candidate into walking billboards because they wear these caps all over the place and give the candidate the impression of being popular..
M.G .: Are there any restrictions in the field of advertising products of political election campaigns during the elections??
Ch. T-S .: Not. The regulation is very minor. The US Campaign Finance Act is governed by the First Amendment. The little that remains in our laws regarding money in US politics is the requirement to disclose information about the source of funding, that is, explain where you received the money, and where and on what you spent it. There is also the concept of a “direct contribution limit,” which means that an individual can only donate a limited amount of money to a federal candidate. In addition, each of the 50 states has their own laws governing the financing of local election campaigns. So if you run for governor, you will be subject to local laws. And if for president, then for federal.
M.G .: What innovative moves were encountered in terms of brand building in American election campaigns, and what was the success of Donald Trump’s branding during his 2016 campaign?
Ch.T.-S .: In my book Political Brands, where I discuss the use of branding technology, I start in 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first attempt at a presidential run was successful. I started in 1952 because Eisenhower was the first TV president and had advertising managers from Madison Avenue, the real prototypes of the Mad Men characters. In retrospect, it seems surprising that these managers felt that Eisenhower was bad at getting his message across. I think history has shown how wrong they were. But, as a result, they forced him to appear in very short commercials. Sometimes they only lasted 20 seconds and he only spoke one or two sentences. They played these videos all the time. It turned out to be incredibly effective, which is an example of the use of commercial branding technology that was then used to sell, say, toothpaste, soap, and everything else that was sold to Americans. After the Eisenhower campaign, this branding technique is used by all who run for president to this day. Advertising experts became a must on the campaign trail, and used bright fonts and repetitive message techniques to impress American voters..
Another major innovator in this area was Barack Obama during his first election campaign in 2007-2008. It had a large O-shaped logo depicting the American flag. This was different from what it was before. Typically, candidates made only nameplates or added the text “For President” under their last name, and Obama’s logo looked more like a corporate.
Donald Trump is a particularly talented candidate in the field of branding. Previously, he built his image for decades in the business environment. He is especially helped by the fact that he knows how to adhere to his main theses of the election campaign. This is a prime example of the use of branding techniques, where you simply repeat the thesis over and over again until it is fixed in the minds of people. For example, when he talked over and over again about the need to build a wall on the border with Mexico. And as a result, you fall into a kind of rhetorical trap, because even if you disagree with the original statement, you still have to discuss it..
Repetition breeds recognition, and recognition breeds trust. Research has shown that consumers trust the brands they hear the most about. Even when it’s obviously absurd. The classic example is cigarettes. American cigarette campaigns spent huge sums of money while still being able to buy advertisements on television. As a result, people believed that cigarettes were safe even though they could objectively cause lung cancer..
M.G .: In 2016, we observed how technologies, in particular micro-targeting and the use of “big data,” allowed us to reach out to individual groups of voters and form not just one brand, but a whole range of micro-brands. Is it new and has it happened before?
Ch.T.-S .: At different times in history, micro-targeting has looked different. For example, in the late twentieth century, micro-targeting was carried out via mail. The candidate had one message, which he promoted in TV commercials, and another, which he sent by mail directly to individual voters, which, according to the candidate’s headquarters, succumbed to persuasion. This allowed politicians to take conflicting positions on key issues. In the digital space, since 2000, the use of micro-targeting has made it possible to more specifically target each individual voter, especially thanks to the Facebook platform..
Using it during the election campaign in 2016 made it possible for candidates to separately address different categories of American voters. For example, gun owners, who are a large constituency in America. The candidate could tell them what they wanted to hear and then turn to the arms control group and say the exact opposite. The same can be done with other sensitive issues of American politics, for example, at the same time addressing activists of the Black Lives Matters movement and people sympathetic to the Ku Klux Klan. You can simply vary what you say to suit each individual audience you are addressing. Taking this idea to the point of absurdity, you can have 300 million different messages aimed at every single American voter..
In Europe, there are some laws, for example, the “Right to be forgotten” (when a person has the right to demand that his personal data be removed from public access – ed. GA). There is no such thing in the USA. In Europe as a whole, personal ones are more secure than in the United States. In some respects, the US is a true “Wild West” in terms of digital platforms, and people are using it..
M.G .: Kanye West’s announcement of his intention to run for president of the United States was regarded by many as an attempt to further promote his own brand. Are there frequent cases in American political history when participation in the presidential election is used to promote a brand rather than actually to win an election??
Ch.T.-S .: There have been a number of political campaigns in history that looked more like a tour of advertising a candidate’s book. This is how I recall Herman Kane, who was a presidential candidate (from the Republican Party, in 2011 – ed.G.A.) a couple of election cycles ago, or the same Ben Carson (from the Republican Party, in 2016 – ed.G.A. ). Such candidates sell something, usually a book, which is the main motivation (to run for president – ed. G. A.). And Trump himself, according to his lawyer Michael Cohen, looked at his own campaign in 2016 as promoting his brand … Now Kanye West has announced that he is going to the presidency, while he missed most of the deadlines to get on the electoral lists in most US states. Even though he even held a meeting with voters, I believe that he is going to present his new album or some other commercial product and hopes that attention to his presidential campaign will help sales.
M.G .: Are there any trends in the branding of Democrats and Republicans that you observe from campaign to campaign??
Ch.T.-S .: Democratic presidential candidates use the slogan that they are “for change” year after year. In 1976, the slogan for a Jimmy Carter campaign commercial was “Leader. For a change. ” Bill Clinton’s slogan in 1992 was “For people, for change.” And in 2008, Barack Obama, the theme of the two primaries was “hope and change.” Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign does not focus on change, but one of his theses sounds like “Build better than it was”, which is also inherent in the idea of change.
A favorite theme used by Republicans in branding is nostalgia. In 1980, Ronald Reagan spoke in one of his commercials about the need to bring back the greatness of America. In 2000, George W. Bush’s campaign focused on restoring the dignity of the White House. Candidate Donald Trump borrowed the idea from Reagan and imprinted the slogan “Make America Great Again” on red baseball caps in 2016. President Trump continues to sell promotional items for his 2016 campaign in 2020 to fund his re-election campaign.
MG: Has the coronavirus influenced the candidates’ brand and campaign building this year? If so, how?
Ch.T.-S .: The main branding difference between Republicans and Democrats during the pandemic is the issue of wearing masks to stop the spread of COVID-19. Thus, the Democrats support the wearing of masks, the Republicans mostly defend their right not to do so. Thus, they are missing out on a key branding opportunity given how many Americans wear masks today. Biden’s campaign took advantage of this opportunity to sell masks that say “Biden” and sell badges that read “Wear a mask.”.
The president mostly doesn’t wear a mask. For the most part, Joe Biden, representing the anti-fire political pole, remains in his residence, and when he leaves, he always wears a mask. Thus, we are witnessing an unusual politicization of a health problem. But this reflects the political confrontation in the United States, when even trying to limit the spread of infection is a political act..