see and hear politics with the eyes and ears of consumers."
-Michael Silverstein, author of Talking Politics and Professor of
Anthropology at University of Chicago
according to Silverstein, are no longer about issues - like advertising,
it's about images. The aura that surrounds the message conveys more
meaning than the actual words, the total encapsulating "message"
means more than the initial message
(notice the absence of the scare quotes on this one). It's not about
"just do it" - it's about Michael Jordon saying it (and
not some ninety year old woman), it's about him soaring to the goal
(and not the woman putting in her dentures), it's about the fast
paced editing of the video (not the slow movements of the woman).Sprite
claims Image is Nothing. But in fact, it's everything. And now,
it's not just confined to selling a can of soda, it's the key to
selling candidates for the President of the United States of America.
are two types of messages, says Silverstein: There is the message
and "the message." The message (without scare quotes)
is the conveyance of denotations, the actual words of "I like
pecans," plain and simple. "The message" (with scare
quotes) are like the connotations, everything that surrounds the
communication of those words: the who, what, when, where, and why.
Using the sentence "I like pecans" to explain "the
message" you would consider who is saying it (economic, social
background), how they say it (pih-caun or pee-can?), where and why
they said it (in the case of politics, are they thus supporting
farmers of these nuts and thus the agricultural industry in general?).
Silverstein argues that in modern day politics we think we want
the message (no scare quotes), i.e. just the issues, plain and simple.
But when it comes down to it, we really don't want the message.
As Silverstein points out, Al Gore was all about the message. He
had plenty of messages to communicate, but not enough "messages"
to give the public with which to identify. Bush, on the other hand,
did not have many messages (or at least not many he understood),
but when it came to "the messages" the public was enamored.
We are more concerned with the meaning that surrounds the message;
we are more interested in "the message." It isn't the
issues, it's what those issues stand for and the extraneous issues
they create by existing. Another famous author spoke of messages,
ah yes, Marshal McLuhan. If we think about this in context of Marshall
McLuhan's grand contribution of "the medium is the message,"
the medium in Silverstein's definition would be the person who delivers
the message. The person is "the message." Everything they
encapsulate, from social class to grammatical pronunciation makes
meaning. It creates "the message" that people can identify
with to understand and classify the message (no scare quotes) in
context. Silverstein concludes (although not so simply) that it
was "the message" not the message (no scare quotes) that
landed Bush in the White House.
other words, people (and by people of course we mean the 47.9% and
5 Supreme Court Justices that voted for Bush) wanted to identify
with "the message" like they would an ad - "I'm a
Ford Bronco type of guy!" In essence Bush, Gore, and almost
all other policitical leaders in the spotlight become their own
brand. Coke vs. Pepsi becomes Newt Gingrich vs. John Kerry.
this is the case, what would happen if we actually employed the
components of branding in the advertising world to that of the political
world? Obviously, politics and advertising has already entered each
others realm, but in terms of using the same strategy. One of the
leading advertising agencies in the world uses a strategy called
"Brand Footprint." It goes something like this:
"The Brand Footprint is Momentum's unique tool for defining
a brand's essence. The Brand Footprint is a coherent statement
of a brand's meaning and personality.
the brand "means". What the brand "means" is
what a brand gets credit for in the eyes of consumers - its reputation
across a number of key dimensions. For example, Bayer means aspirin,
doctor recommended, and prevention against heart attacks.
the brand "is". What the brand "is" is how we
would describe the brand's dominant personality traits - generally
those that correspond to its principal meanings. For example, Bayer
is experienced, safe, and versatile. "
established brands, the Footprint is built around existing positive
associations. For some brands, however, there may be a need to add
or adjust meanings to allow for expansion or make the brand more
let's try sending Dubya through this brand footprint process:
start with the "facts" (why is everything in scare quotes?!):
C-average student at Yale, former Governer of Texas, funded by Interst
groups such as the Religious Right, dad former Pres.
What do these facts mean though? It depends on how you want them
to be perceived.
C-average student at Yale:
MEANS not the brightest in his class, grades not biggest priority,
proves daddy's money and prestige landed him a spot in the entering
IS stupid, partier, lazy.
But that's not what people voted for, perhaps Bush's consultants
forsaw this and did their own "projected Brand Footprint"
- a prescription if you will to adjust and improve perceptions.
C-average student at Yale.
MEANS ivy-league educated, more to life than studying, resourceful
of father's connections.
IS educated, fun-loving, resourceful.
about that for a make-over Dubya?
it's time to move on to the line of Democrats waiting and willing
to replace the boots under the Oval Office desk with their own.
they have what it takes? Does it matter? Maybe they just need a
new boot to step in line with, or what those in the know like to
call a brand new footprint.