John Tantillo´s Brand Winner And Loser: John McCain and Cash For Clunkers

Brand Winner…

   And Loser

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week:   

Winner: John McCain   

Loser: Cash For Clunkers

Folks, this week some brief points.

The Winner

John McCain, the anti-pork maverick, is back.

Here’s this week’s Wall Street Journal profile for proof. The writer doesn’t mince words:

If you thought that the senior senator from Arizona would ride off into the political sunset last November, inconsolable after losing his bid for the presidency, think again. He’s over it. And he’s as energized and spry as ever I’ve known him.

McCain’s brand is about fighting the excesses of the political process and the corrupting forces that he believes weaken our country. His brand is characterized by Forward Motion: a potent, but elusive, force that attracts people to a person or a product. He is a fighter.

In some ways, his presidential campaign can be seen as a failed attempt at a brand extension that never made much sense in the first place. 

After all, could a maverick ever really get as much done as President as he could as Senator?

For those of you who think this question is ridiculous, just compare John McCain’s Twitter account to the White House’s. 

That’s right. The formerly technology-averse McCain has 1.1 million followers on Twitter  —almost 300,000 more than the White House.

What’s happened here? 

It wasn’t too long ago —during the campaign—that everyone, myself included, was talking about the incredible and historically unprecedented communication advantage Barack Obama and his internet-savvy team would have once he got to the White House, what with that impressive email list, etc. 

Basically, I think the answer is this: new media can provide the small and the unbureaucratic with outsized marketing advantages, but this advantage doesn’t translate to the established and already plugged-in or the top-heavy and protocol-centered. 

In other words, the institutionality of the White House has killed the Obama new media advantage. Tradition, a pre-existing communications apparatus and the sheer scope of running a presidency is getting in the way.

That is why the Barack Obama new media campaign has not become the new media White House.

But for a permanent outsider like John McCain, who doesn’t need to worry too much about dotting every rhetorical “i” and crossing every diplomatic “t,” Twitter and whatever other new media comes along will become a major tool in promoting his brand.

It is, as the Senator said, “a phenomenal way of communicating.”  Especially for a brand that is true to itself and knows the essentials of real marketing like McCain clearly does.

The Loser

Cash for Clunkers.

You couldn’t have a better name for the program, and in this sense Cash for Clunkers is a winner.

The name is a clear statement of the program’s intent. 

Unfortunately, the other elements of brand marketing were not put in place.

The result: when the inevitable demand generated by the easily remembered moniker hit, all hell broke loose.

A quote from an auto dealer, courtesy of The New York Times, sums it up: “We’ve been unable to get on the Web site,” he said. “It’s chaotic — the site has been overwhelmed with dealers all over the country applying.”

Apparently, the chaos also extends to confusion about the rules and eligibility.

Of course, there aren’t only logistical problems, there are emergency funding issues as well, which only contributed to the confusion and have fed doubts as to whether everyone would be able to enjoy the benefits.

This is bad marketing. Plain and simple. This is little different from the KFC giveaway debacle a few months ago.

Real marketing is thorough and continuous. Real marketing is thought out beginning to end. Real marketing is about management. 

Of course, real marketing can and must be responsive —but to unforeseen problems or circumstances.  Confusing rules, or a spike in demand that leads to websites not working, are not unforeseen problems, but the result of an incomplete marketing strategy.

Solid brand management is the difference between a flash in the pan and a fire that keeps generating heat.

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


A great sales promotion is ultimately a Brand Loser if it´s not guided by solid brand management.


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  • 8/10/2009 3:48 PM Jeff Dover wrote:
    I don't know Doc. This Arizona Republican thinks that, branding aside, the Senator will be lucky to win the next Republican primary here.
    Reply to this

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