John Tantillo's Brand Winner... And Loser: John Mayer and Dick Cheney

Brand Winner...
And Loser...

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week:   

Winner: John Mayer

Loser: Dick Cheney

This week the Marketing Doctor wades into controversial waters, but anything to show that the marketing lens even works in the murkiest of waters.

The Winner

John Mayer.

He said some incredibly vulgar and awful things in that now infamous Playboy interview…  So, how could he possibly be this week’s winner?

Simple. Did he do irreparable harm to his relationship with his Target Market?

Answer Yes, and you’ve got a loser. Answer No, and it’s no harm, no foul.

And the answer is No.

Here’s why.

John Mayer has built his career on “real” music that is supposed to convey real emotions and observations on life as his demographic lives it. The interview with Playboy, while reprehensible, can simply not be judged by the same yard stick you would use to judge a politician or a business person. Mayer is an entertainment/celebrity brand, and one that is expected to say things that aren’t palatable and might even be offensive. His yardstick, like so many (but not all) entertainment brands, is “being real.”

If he overshoots, he needs to apologize in a credible way (breaking down in tears on stage, surrounded by his fans, is credible, and he did this). Fact is, entertainment has long been filled with the personal disaster and bad behavior that is forgiven by the Target Market. (Rat Pack, anyone?)

An entertainment/celebrity brand is like a sports performance brand in that as long as good music/performance keeps being produced, the brand will stay strong. In fact, an entertainment brand has even more resiliency than a personal sports brand because someone like Mayer doesn’t really do corporate sponsorships.

Bottom line, Mayer’s first concern in this world of music piracy is filling big venues with devoted fans. He did this after the Playboy interview (the same night he delivered that tearful apology). Forget the general polls on whether Mayer’s brand is hurt: the crowd at the arena cheered and screamed his apology on.  

That’s his Target Market, and they buy the tickets. John Mayer is going to do just fine.

The Loser

I’m not someone who thinks former Vice President Dick Cheney was the villain many in the press have painted him as. In fact, I think history may very well vindicate many of the things that the Bush administration did in fighting a very difficult enemy.

But I’m not here to talk history. I’m here to talk marketing and, specifically, why it’s a very bad idea for Dick Cheney to keep putting himself in the spotlight if the Republicans want a chance to regain power anytime soon.

To put it bluntly and with all due respect, Vice President Cheney needs to let someone else do the talking. He needs to get off the stage. Certain brands will never make a comeback.

President Bush seems to understand the importance of exiting the stage and then staying off of it. He knows that, fairly or unfairly, his brand’s time has passed and does not add value to the quest to restore the Republicans to power.

History and reevaluation might change people’s opinions in the long run, but the only opinions that count right now are the voters’ opinions, and anyone being honest about that market knows that the Bush-Cheney legacy is widely perceived as toxic. This legacy alienates wide swathes of the electorate, which is just no good for a party that needs those numbers to stand a chance.  

One anecdotal “test” that shows just how deep these feelings run is that even those who are centrist and right-leaning often feel uncomfortable speaking up for the former administration in mixed political company. The Bush-Cheney legacy is just not socially defensible.

Every time Vice President Cheney opens his mouth, he gets the inevitable headline. In terms of drawing the nation’s attention to gaps in our defense, this may be good —but it also draws the nation’s attention away from the kind of promising Republican, pro-defense figures who should be rising in stature for a future presidential run.  

Every time Dick Cheney takes a strong policy position, it has the effect of anchoring the Republican party to the previous administration, which is a negative.  

The Republicans cannot simply be the party of the negative opposition now (i.e., saying they were right all along and that rejecting all Obama initiatives is the right thing to do). For the Republicans to win, they need to embrace a positive, forward-looking and ultimately hopeful platform that rebuts President Obama and the Democrats without being merely rejectionist.

With a wagon load of negative brand baggage, Vice President Cheney will not be able to achieve this. In a way, Cheney has found himself in the Kissinger, post-Vietnam dilemma. He is an exceptional man with perhaps more foreign policy experience than almost anyone —but also a man whose public performance poisons his party’s nationwide agenda. Kissinger skillfully navigated these waters until he could once again be publicly tapped for his gifts (and it took a long time.)

If the Republicans want to move forward and the former vice president wants this too, he should take a page from Kissinger’s playbook. Cheney can begin working behind the scenes to help ensure that our defense is secure and that the best candidate to lead the Republican party can emerge without a shadow. He can still lend his wisdom and tactical brilliance to the cause, but he must step away from the podium now.

It’s natural for the party faithful to want to honor and support the former vice president, but they must being to recognize that his public actions are hurting the party. For the Republican party to be successful nationwide, it needs to expand its Target Market (i.e. beyond those people for whom Cheney is not necessarily a negative) by reaching out to independents and even moderate Democrats, for whom Cheney and Bush are old and bad news.  

And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


Rather than trying to evaluate if a brand did well generally, always ask: Did it succeed or fail with its Target Market? Because in the end, that's all that matters for a brand.


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