Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Conservative branding

Jerry Stratton, March 15, 2013

Yesterday, Ace of the award-winning Ace of Spades HQ wrote On Branding and Self-Ghettoization:

We tend to brand ourselves—and worse yet, we’ve internalized this to the point where we think of ourselves this way—as “the conservative alternative.”

We need start branding ourselves as, and thinking of ourselves as, the Universal Default.

This is how leftists do it and they’re quite effective at it. On every cable TV show we see a debate between an “expert” and a “conservative.” The “expert” is actually liberal but he insists on not being branded as such, so he becomes just “the expert.”

Whenever I get involved in a discussion about marketing, I always think of David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising. Ogilvy is especially relevant for this election cycle because he’s a huge proponent of boring, workmanlike direct mail campaigns over flashy television campaigns. By most accounts, direct mail is a big part of how President Obama won re-election despite going into the election with high disapproval ratings. He just used email and texts rather than (or, more likely, in addition to) postal mail ads.

When I went to verify something Ogilvy talked about—the use of Latin to sell cooking stoves to people who would like to think they’re in the group that can speak Latin, even if they’re not—I also ran across a couple of things that really stood out for me.

What’s your big idea?

Unless your advertising contains a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night.

This is important: because the “big idea” of conservative ideals is important. And the big idea sells well. People tend to be very much in favor of not passing massive debt onto our children; they tend to be very much in favor of making their own decisions instead of having decisions made for them by government bureaucrats. They tend to be very much in favor of effective self-defense. It’s the details that get twisted, and too often conservative candidates and conservative spokespeople are all-too-willing to get tangled up in the weeds when guided there by the liberal media.

A rule of thumb is that you should always be saying yes, and convincing the voter to say yes. Telling women it’s wrong to abort a baby who’s the result of a rape is not going to help the baby and is not going to get that woman’s vote. Telling women that they should be able to effectively fight back against rapists1 and that rapists should go to jail for a long, long time so that they won’t rape again, that’s a yes.2

Less rapists = yes; accepting rape and just aborting the baby = no.

Make the product the hero

Whenever you can, make the product itself the hero of your advertising.

Part of the problem is that conservatives don’t want to get into politics. They want to do something useful. So they might be experts at budgets or at medicine or at running a business, but they’re not experts at politics. Making the politician the hero is usually going to fail. Sometimes, you’ll get a Reagan, but I wonder if even Reagan could have survived the media onslaught today.

The solution is to make the ideals the hero. This was the beauty and strength of the tea party movement, and it certainly seemed to produce results in 2010.

Democrats also do this all the time. The choice they often present is their ideals vs. an opposing person, rather than a choice of two ideals. They never present a choice between unlimited unemployment payments and a sound future for the next generation. It’s a choice between unlimited unemployment payments and that evil Republican. Republicans often complain that Democrats who go bad don’t have to pay for their crimes in the media, but conservatives do. This is why: because Democrats don’t care about the person, they care about the votes that person makes. There is no way that someone who did what Ted Kennedy did could survive as a conservative, but he had a great career on the left. The same, more recently, happened with Elizabeth Warren. She’d have been scalped if she’d been a conservative.

Voting for Joe Schmo who used to own a business and is now stumbling through a campaign = no; voting for fiscal sanity = yes.

‘The positively good’

Ogilvy quotes Joel Raphaelson:

In the past, just about every advertiser has assumed that in order to sell his goods he has to convince consumers that his product is superior to his competitor’s.

This may not be necessary. It may be sufficient to convince consumers that your product is positively good. If the consumer feels certain that your product is good and feels uncertain about your competitor’s, he will buy yours.

Nearly the entire thrust of the media’s campaign in 2012 was to avoid any news that would make people uncertain about President Obama (forbidding the rescue of the Benghazi ambassador, the Fast and Furious program for selling rifles to Mexican drug cartels), and constantly repeat any news that might make people uncertain about Governor Romney.

But Romney didn’t help. There were great stories running around the conservative blogosphere about the genuinely nice things he has done for people. He was too modest to use them.

Nor did it help that, when the media tried to cover for Obama on Benghazi during the debates, Romney basically caved. That’s a problem when the media starts taking sides, but he should have been ready for it: Candy Crowley announced ahead of time she’d be taking sides. But it’s also a problem when pointing out the negatives of your opponent. As true as they might be, they’re more easily deflected because they are about someone else.

Don’t ask for voters to vote against the other candidate. Ask them to vote for you—or better, for your ideals.

Voting against the other candidate = probably not; voting for a good idea = yes.

Repeat your winners

If you are lucky enough to write a good advertisement, repeat it until it stops selling. Scores of good advertisements have been discarded before they lost their potency.”

Replace advertisement with idea. Good conservative ideas should be repeated. One of the major failings of Republicans under George Bush is that they didn’t repeat their winners. Reining in the Fed, putting social security back on track, these were good ideas, but they silently tried them, hit opposition from Democrats, and then stopped. And you can move to a higher level, too. Federalism is a winning idea; keep applying it to more lower-level ideas until it stops working! Removing gun control gets you more votes? Remove more gun control!

Getting government out of our lives is a big idea, so keep doing it. Don’t stop just because you’re in the government now.

Appeal to the aspirational

Most people aspire to be thought of as smart, caring people. So make sure your campaigns assure people that they are smart and caring. This was the central point of Ace’s post, and it’s one he’s been talking about for at least a few months now. The left’s talking heads are designed for the low-information voter. They make it easy to nod your head in agreement, confident that you are part of the smart, caring in-crowd. Conservative talking heads are about numbers and reality, which doesn’t bend for the low-information voter’s feelings. But conservative solutions are in fact smart and caring. It’s smart to save for the future. It’s caring to leave future generations a financially-sound country.

But don’t just say it. Include your listeners as part of the smart and caring people who already agree with you.

Ogilvy doesn’t connect that explicitly with this story, but it’s basically what the appeal is:

My brother Francis wrote a letter in Greek to the headmasters of private schools, selling cooking stoves. When some wrote back that they could not read Greek, he sent them another letter—in Latin. This produced orders.

You need to include the potential voter in the “smart set” that you’ve set up just for them.

What does it mean?

In any attempt at branding, conservatives are at a disadvantage, because the branding will be filtered through a liberal media.

It’s a hard slog. Conservatives do run on the positively good, but the media reports on other things. Conservatives have been the party of the future for a long time—it’s conservatives, now, who want a sustainable economy to pass on to our children, and the left who wants to keep adding onto spending and pretend that cuts in the increase of spending are devastating cuts to basic services.

Ads like Debt Limit USA’s Guide To American Federal Debt Made Easy are brilliant, and they have their place, but to a very strong extent they’re preaching to the choir. Yes, there’s a big idea, but the product is not the hero. In a sense, the hero of that satirical ad is the kid, who sacrifices her own future to finance her father’s extravagant lifestyle. It doesn’t provide anything positively good; it points out the dangers of the current way of doing things, but doesn’t provide the alternative (other than asking voters for a tax increase, which is not a viable solution). And for that reason, it’s only aspirational if the viewer takes the time to come up with their own solution.

  1. What’s the big idea?
  2. Where is the hero? It better be you or your idea.
  3. Does it promote a positive good that people can say, yes to?
  4. Does it include the potential voter among the knowledgeable, those who recognize the positive good?

Ace also goes on to point out that most conservative organizations somehow have “conservative” in their name; very few leftist organizations have a variation on “left” or even “liberal”. FreedomWorks is a great name. The American Conservative Union, well, probably not so much. No matter what good work it does, its audience is inherently limited by its name.

“Most advocacy campaigns are too little and too late. They are addressed to the wrong audience, lack a defined purpose, don’t go on long enough, are weak in craftsmanship, and advocate a hopeless cause. So they fail.”

In response to Republican principles: When John Deere starts losing the tractor business, they don’t say “let’s make ice cream”. They make better tractors.

  1. From a commenter at Ace of Spades:

    “Equality. It’s what guns are for.” — Synova (“A Rapist’s View of the World: Joss Whedon and Firefly”)

  2. Except for rapists themselves, of course.

  1. <- Republican copyright reform
  2. Conservative pot ->