Tantillo's Brand Winner... And Loser: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Sarah Palin

Brand Winner…

   And Loser

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week:   

Winner: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Loser: Sarah Palin

Folks, this week we focus the marketing lens on one disturbing figure in the news and one controversial lady from the Great White North. 

But the marketing lens is rugged and, more important, it must be used to deliver some insights where both of these brands are concerned. Without further ado:

The Winner

It saddens me greatly that this monster, this genuinely evil man who has caused so much suffering, has just been made the brand winner of the week, thanks to the United States Government.

But there’s no other conclusion. 

This man’s core brand characteristics could not be more clear-cut: he is in open war with everything America stands for. He has positioned himself as a leader of a movement, an icon and a gathering point for the likeminded. He has never stopped promoting his brand and has done what every “successful” personal brand does: he has stayed entirely consistent. 

Bottom line: you know what you’re getting whenever and wherever you encounter this brand.

And that is why what the United States has done this week, giving him such a high profile trial, is so bad for us and so good for him.

They say luck favors the prepared. In branding, luck (read: external events) favors the well-prepared brand. 

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the quintessential well-prepared brand. He is always ready for his moment in the spotlight, and Eric Holder has just switched that spotlight on.

The Great Satan has decided to take him seriously, and his brand is ready.

Will he fail to impress you and me? Of course. He will never come across as anything but a monster to those of us who value life, treasure the American way and remember what he did and what he would do if given half the chance.

But we are not his Target Market. 

His Target Market is scattered across the world, in dormitory rooms in the West and marketplace cafes in dusty, hopeless places. They are the disenchanted, the fanatical, the sociopathic, the “true” believers, and they will hang on every word of Khalid’s Great PSA to the world, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

The Loser

I want to preface my criticism with this: Sarah Palin is a great and formidable personal brand. She has surprised us with her grit, determination and charisma before and may very well surprise us again.

But Going Rogue is a brand-losing decision in the short-term and possibly puts a nail in the coffin of the political aspirations of the lady from Alaska.

Here’s why.

Sarah Palin is simply not moving beyond her niche market, and this book, with its dissection of the last campaign, does little in the way of creating forward motion, which is essential to her future success.

After all, when Sarah Palin burst onto the scene, she really did burst in the best possible way. Here was a woman outside the typical political mode. A new kind of old-fashioned feminist, with a great personal story, a great family to back up her promise and most of all, the kind of forward motion that McCain lacked.

All that has been lost now.

In its place is a polarizing figure who still appeals to her core supporters but has little hope of winning over the 60% of voters who said in recent polls that she is not qualified to be President.

There are also real brand obstacles now. In politics, things do get personal, and Palin’s family —originally a great asset— has become a liability for her brand after the Bristol Palin/Levi Johnston business. 

But much more important and damaging was Palin’s decision to resign from the governorship. This will be extremely hard for her brand to overcome And to clarify what I wrote in July about Palin resigning the governorship: while the pundits are wrong that Palin's decision instantly dooms her political future, the traditional political analysis isn't without merit. After all, if Palin doesn't make her message as to why she left the job resonate with her market (the reasons I analyzed in that post), then she faces an uphill slog, especially in the heat of battle, when opponents will call her a "quitter" and ask, "If she quit once, why won't she quit again?"

But marketers must have hope, and if anyone can pull off a re-alignment of her brand, it is Sarah Palin. The first step would be to gradually move toward political viability by way of winning over those groups who aren’t in her market right now but must be if she is to have a chance. 

One way to do this would be to show that she is learning the kinds of things a would-be President needs to know. Going Rogue aside, she seems to have begun this process with her first major international speech in Hong Kong at the end of September.

So to change the old tune: accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative and start messing a little bit more with Mr. In-Between. (That’s her Target Market!)

And remember, the business of politics and the business of life is always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


Luck favors the prepared and consistent brand.


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  • 3/8/2010 2:41 AM Brand Armour wrote:
    Sarah Palin is the loser at present, she is very ambitious and does have age on her side. She is building her brand, as over the years the name is ingrained, and if there are a couple of glitches along the way the most recent, good memory tends to exclipse all that has come before. The old saying of "There is no such thing as bad advertising" springs to mind here.
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