Thursday, November 6, 2008

What killed McCain? A lousy brand.

The economic fallout may have been the final nail in John McCain’s campaign coffin (come on, John: “The fundamentals of our economy are strong”?), but McCain was ensuring his burial long before that. He was ensuring it through poor branding.

At the beginning, McCain defined himself singularly as an American war hero, a patriot who sacrificed and put “country first.” Though some found that to be a dubious means of self identification (yours truly among them), it was, no doubt, compelling to many. But once Obama’s star began to rise, McCain largely abandoned this brand identity and began a dizzying process of knee-jerk reactions that aimed to contain Obama’s celebrity while maintaining JayMack’s competitiveness.

When Obama’s message of CHANGE was becoming wildly popular, McCain also became the candidate for change — in a “me, too” sort of way; he rebranded himself as the “Maverick,” a reference to a TV show from the 1950s (huh? who you targeting there?). When Obama defeated Hillary and there was some uncertainly as to where her supporters might migrate, McCain panicked to gather them and nominated Sarah Palin as his running mate (insert your own joke here). When Obama was getting traction with a tax plan that would “help working Americans,” McCain summoned Joe the Plumber. (On NPR’s Radio Times yesterday, Chris Mottola, a media consultant for the McCain campaign, was asked to explain the rationale for that strategy. “You throw a lot of things against the wall and see what sticks,” he answered. Really, sir? I mean, really?)

Bottom line: Rather than branding himself as a unique candidate with qualities that would have attracted some voters and alienated others, McCain instead wound up branding himself as Obama Lite/Warped/Old.

Behold the result.

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