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Hillary Clinton, the brand — and the search for latest rebrand

Today’s campaigns are all about brands because nobody thinks that we are smart enough to handle substance and ideas.

Monday’s Washington Post had a story about the marketing geniuses who are preparing the latest version of Hillary Clinton, the new rebranded brand, for the 2016 race that she may just possibly decide to run.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

How many times can the word “brand” come up in a story about the preparation of presidential campaign?

During the 1968 presidential campaign, a young writer named Joe McGinniss got insider access to the Madison Avenue geniuses who were involved in what we might call stage-managing the presidential campaign of Richard Nixon. Nixon had famously “lost” the 1960 presidential debates against John F. Kennedy not because of anything Nixon said but because he looked so much less appealing. Heading into 1968 the Nixon team was determined to learn the right lessons and created a nonsensical slogan — “the new Nixon” — to ask the public to take a fresh look at what nowadays we might call Nixon 2.0, the latest upgrade of a familiar product.

Basically, all McGinniss did was describe how Nixon’s media-savvy young advisers successfully sold the new product, but his book caused a major sensation because most Americans hadn’t gotten wise or cynical about triumph of marketing over substance in politics.

We’re past that now. If we were ever shocked or cynical about the similarity between the selling of the latest “new Coke” and the selling of the latest old-new candidate, we’ve all been wised up. Monday’s Washington Post had a story about the many, many marketing geniuses who are preparing Hillary Clinton, not the Hillary Clinton we’ve known since her husband first ran for president 23 years ago but the latest release, the new rebranded brand, for the 2016 race that she may just possibly decide to run.

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The headline: “The making of Hillary 5.0: Marketing wizards help re-imagine Clinton brand.”

Brand brand brand. That’s the word now. Also “branding,” and in the case of someone like Clinton who’s been around for a while, “rebranding.” The word “advertising” scarcely appears. That’s so 20th century (even though, as with all modern campaigns, more money will be spent on TV ads than anything else). It’s too limiting. It’s all marketing and branding now. The Clinton behemoth being assembled includes “Wendy Clark, who specializes in marketing age-old brands such as Coca-Cola to younger and more diverse customers.”

Including the headline and the photo caption, I count 23 appearances of “brand,” “branding,” and “rebranding” (including, it should be acknowledged, some people being quoted saying that rebranding Clinton is not the key but rather whether she has any new ideas, but trust me, this is not a story about substantive ideas). Nobody is dumb enough to think that we are smart enough to handle a campaign of substance or ideas.

Here are some examples from the piece:

“Clinton and her image-makers are sketching ways to refresh the well-established brand for tomorrow’s marketplace. In their mission to present voters with a winning picture of the likely candidate, no detail is too big or too small — from her economic opportunity agenda to the design of the ‘H’ in her future campaign logo….

“‘Look at Budweiser,’” said a former campaign adviser to President Obama, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly. ‘That’s what Hillary Clinton is. She’s not a microbrew. She’s one of the biggest, most powerful brands ever in the country, and recognizing that is important.’…

“Ahead of her campaign launch, Clinton has tapped some of the Democratic Party’s star strategists as well as two of corporate America’s branding wizards: Wendy Clark, who specializes in marketing age-old brands such as Coca-Cola to younger and more diverse customers; and Roy Spence, a decades-long Clinton friend who dreamed up the ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ anti-littering slogan as well as flashy ad campaigns for Southwest Airlines and Wal-Mart.

“…Spence and Clark have been credited with creating three-dimensional personalities around otherwise dull consumer brands. At Coca-Cola, Clark spearheaded the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign to put names such as Brittany and Zach on soda cans, a marketing move that boosted sales among millennials. Spence helped DoubleTree Hotels make the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies the chain serves guests upon check-in an icon for its sales pitch of warm comfort for beleaguered travelers….

“In 2008, however, Clinton’s rebranding went badly, starting with a misreading of the zeitgeist that had her stressing her commander-in-chief qualifications when the public preferred Obama’s promise of hope and change…”

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