With the election looming, and Obama and Romney neck and neck in the polls, each is trying to maintain momentum in his base and influence the undecided voters out there – especially in swing states. But something critical has been missing. Throughout this drawn-out campaign, both candidates have lacked a single clear idea that voters can rally behind, a true brand strategy. Instead, it’s been an election season filled with attacks, memes and rhetoric, like Romney’s “binders full of women,” but no emotional core.
In a recent blog post, “The Election in a Word,” Daniel Pink talks about how in the final days before the election, both campaigns are trying to keep a single, simple idea in voters’ minds. With Obama, “Forward” is appearing in almost every speech, photo or sound bite, and with Romney it’s the platitude “Believe in America.” Both are hollow, because it seems as though they’re being forced on voters, and because they seem to be more about de-positioning the other candidate than delivering an idea for the future.
The rules for political communication have changed drastically. In the past, campaigns like Reagan’s “Morning in America” could frame a candidate emotionally instead of rationally, and broadcast this emotion through television advertising, essentially the only game in town. Contrast that with Obama’s message of “Hope” from the 2008 election. Shepard Fairey’s iconic “hope” image didn’t come from brand experts and political strategists, but from the groundswell of political dissatisfaction with the status quo. It spread virally across the social media landscape in part because the Obama campaign so deftly took advantage of the message of “hope,” and in part because people connected with it. It was a clear idea, and it spread because it connected emotionally.
In today’s world, it’s no longer effective to simply craft a positioning and stay on message – you need to connect with voters emotionally, so that they’ll spread your message for you.