Brand Winners... And Losers: General Electric and John McCain

Brand Winners…

 And Losers

The Marketing Doctor says:

Winner: General Electric

Loser: John McCain

Folks, it’s been another busy week, but marketing and branding standards must be observed despite the rough weather (financial, political and otherwise).  Still, I had to wait until Saturday for the dust to settle.  Here are my picks:

The Winner:

Last week, I picked GM for its decision to stop filling the Super Bowl advertising coffers —it might not save the company, but it was a winning marketing decision.  

This week, the winning playing field is even rockier, and the closest thing to a marketing winner that I see is another American corporate great: General Electric.

Why GE?  

Sure there was the Iran flap a while back, but in the face of this current financial crisis, GE reminds us that a great brand is built over time (106 years in GE’s case).  

There’s been a lot of talk about the Great Depression and whether we’re entering another one… well, GE weathered the Great Depression, and it’s poised to weather (and prosper) in whatever environment is coming next (its earnings were down, but after the announcement, its stock finished up).

Warren Buffett, a great appraiser of value, bought in recently, weighing in on the bright future he believes this company has.

But most of all, GE is this week’s marketing winner because it shows that marketing is behind long-term success.  

GE supplies what its Target Markets need, whether big energy projects or entertainment (NBC Universal).  Like that other great marketing stalwart, P&G, GE has built its brand by listening to its Target Market and constantly adapting.  (Just a few months ago I weighed in on their savvy decision to get out of the appliance business.)

And they keep innovating and stay true to their motto “Imagination at Work.”  Their work on printing “light” is getting a lot of attention and may replace the light bulb (see that story here).

My only doubts about GE are GE Capital, which has been described as a “black box” for earnings and might cause trouble for the company in the future…  and if it does, which would be a shame, the Marketing Doctor will say this: should GE Capital ever have been part of this grand brand to begin with?  Is it “Imagination at Work,” or the kind of brand extension that has little to do with a company’s core?

The Loser:

I, like many people, have substantial respect for the career and person of this week’s marketing loser.  He’s no loser in the larger sense of the word, but John McCain has lost — perhaps irreparably— his brand and marketing message.

Perhaps there’s no better evidence that John McCain is in marketing hot water than his loss of conservatives like Christopher Buckley (William F. Buckley’s son), who has now publicly endorsed Obama.

Buckley writes this about the McCain of late: “His positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises…”

One of these unrealistic promises (and changes of position) came during the last debate, when McCain shocked many of his would-be supporters by suggesting that the Federal Government should buy peoples’ bad mortgages and arrange better payment terms.

Now there’s nothing wrong with rational government intervention in the markets, but this one really came out of left field.

Not surprisingly, for many in his Target Market this was an absolute outrage (the National Review was up in arms), since it suggested that “small” government John McCain had made an about-face and was suddenly embracing “big” government policies.  

But what McCain’s proposal really confirmed was that John McCain has a serious marketing problem.  It’s more than just coherence; it’s about forgetting your Target Market.

The folks at the National Review aren’t his only Target Market, but even Joe Six Pack is probably going to be shocked when his candidate becomes even more “big” government than his Democratic rival.  

The McCain campaign of the past few weeks can only be called chaotic and reactionary and, unfortunately for this brand, that impression reinforces some of the beliefs about McCain’s impulsiveness that he was trying to move beyond.  Oh, John, to thy own brand be true!

At this point, it’s hard to imagine anything the McCain brand can do to stem the damage. 

Serious marketing damage like this takes time to repair, and the McCain brand has less than a month.  

My only marketing suggestion would be for McCain to stop reacting.  (The rush to Washington to work on the bailout bill backfired).  His principled stand last Friday in the face of an angry crowd intent on tearing down Barack Obama was more in line with the real John McCain brand —it just might not be enough at this point.  Great job, John!  That’s being true to your brand.

And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


Marketing is essential to understanding your brand and promoting its health and future.


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