Caroline Kennedy — A Brand That Will Be Senator... And President

Brand Advisory

The Marketing Doctor says:

Caroline Kennedy A Brand That Will Be Senator President

Folks, there’s been a lot of talk about Caroline Kennedy and her prospects for becoming the next Senator from New York to replace Hilary Clinton… 

Now you know that I’m not a political guy, so some of you may be rolling your eyes saying, what do you know about politics?   

That’s the point, folks.  

The game has changed since the Obama brand entered the market two years ago, and the traditional approach of rolling out candidates through the media will not work in today’s brand new media landscape!

With that said, much of the talk has been short-sighted and downright offensive, overlooking the great strengths of both the Kennedy family brand and Caroline Kennedy’s own strengths.  

What we see right now is a kind of media pile-on.  They built her up as the inevitable choice to fill the seat, only to follow the story with the inevitable disillusionment.  

Despite this, the Marketing Doctor has prepared a prediction just in time for the New Year. 

If Caroline Kennedy doesn’t exit the field over the next few weeks, the dust will settle, and I believe we will witness the renewal of the Kennedy brand and the birth of a very powerful personal political brand.  And, yes, I’ll go so far as to say: Caroline Kennedy will be our first female president.  

Here’s why.

First, she will be a great senator for New York.  When her uncle ran for senator in Massachusetts, the campaign played off his middle name “Moore” in a slogan: “He Can Do More For Mass.”  

Well, Caroline can do more for New York than virtually anyone around.  The political class is being quick to pull her down, because the truth is that she brings a direct connection to the Obama White House that no one else in the running can.  She credits Obama with motivating her interest in public service and supported the Obama bid from the beginning.  As a result, she’s well positioned to help the new president navigate Congress.  Additionally, her family profile and own personal brand complements the “change” president that Obama aims to be.

Also, unlike Clinton, Kennedy has been living in New York since the early sixties and clearly identifies (and is identified) with her state, and thus will be an obvious and credible advocate for its needs. 

But most important, she is a Kennedy with a difference.  The media has been knocking her as unqualified, but, in fact, the most they can really say is that she isn’t media trained —and is that really a deficiency in a political climate that is embracing the “authentic” over the groomed (i.e., “Joe (Sarah Palin) Six Pack”)?   Of course not.

Caroline Kennedy’s verbal “you knows” can be trained out of her, but no one could conjure up her Harvard undergraduate and Columbia law degrees out of thin air —she earned them, and she also has a long and solid record of civic involvement.

Fact is, what Kennedy brings is the embodiment and realization of the Kennedy family brand.  Ted apparently called her the brightest of the bunch.  From a brand perspective, this means that Caroline has the promise of garnering public good will because of her legacy and then taking it into the future and to the next level.

Moreover, as I’ve said before, today’s politics uses what we in marketing call a “pull strategy” as opposed to a “push strategy.”  

Traditionally, push marketing was about getting the consumer (or the voter) to buy your product (or candidate) by having a third party push your product (or candidate) on the Target Market.  This cost a lot of money because in effect, these third parties had to be paid up-front, typically in the form of commission.

What we’re seeing these days is the revolutionary use of pull marketing.  Voters know what kind of candidate they want, and they are seeking that candidate out.  Ron Paul used pull marketing simply by being Ron Paul.  Obama did this as well.  

And Kennedy can do this for her Target Market.  

From a marketing perspective, this means that the candidate needs to harness demand rather than seek it out.  Ron Paul did this with his amazing Internet fundraising.  Obama used it to raise money and, even more impressively, with the unprecedented email and social networking machine he built. 

This is marketing as the new advertising —using a wide range of tools (including controlled adpublitizing and brand management) to build a brand rapidly —don’t forget Facebook, Caroline.  

A pull marketing strategy leap frogs over third parties and ultimately lets the brand go direct to the Target Market —in this case, the voter.  No longer will the well-placed story by the right reporter make or break a candidacy —the marketing landscape is just too wide and deep for that.

So who really cares what the chattering classes have to say?  

Kennedy combines the family brand of political skills, leadership and commitment to public service with her intelligence, charm and general likeability.  Do you know that she supposedly has a tatoo on the inside of her elbow… apparently acquired after having a few drinks with the boys (her cousins)?  So much for the snob charge. 

My guess is that if Kennedy manages to ride out the current wave of disapproval from the elites, we’ll see her odds improve dramatically over the next few weeks.  

A recent poll shows that 52% of Americans say she could handle the job; and some quarters of the media are beginning to realize what the people already seem to know: Caroline Kennedy isn’t a member of the political class or a self-promotionalist, and this is exactly why she’d be a refreshing choice for senator.  

It’s the Target Market she has to satisfy, and I think she’s already well on her way to doing that.  New Yorkers like their senators to be substantial personal brands rather than bureacrats or technocrats, and Caroline Kennedy is just that.

See this recent NY Times profile in which I detect the wind changing in her favor.  The reporter makes a telling observation.  He notes that Kennedy’s political style —cerebral, restrained and wry”— is reminiscent of another legendary New York figure (and senator).  That’s right, none other than Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Stay tuned.  We’ve only just started.

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


Once a family brand has established itself, building on its marketing power will have outsized benefits.


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