Branding Cattle

Brian Cook

**Posted by ITT intern, Christopher Burrow** In 2000 Ralph Nader referred to Bush as "a corporation acting as a candidate", but the 2004 election proved that he is actually the first brand to be elected president. Not only did George Walker Bush win, he also successfully commandeered the 23rd letter of the alphabet as his logo. Branding is nothing new to marketing, but the use of modern marketing is new to politics. The early 1990???s brought a shift in marketing that sought to give meaning to a product that was unrelated to what a product did???think of beer commercials showing an exciting lifestyle, but not drunk people, or hangovers. Branding ???communicates something to people on another level, beyond a logical level,??? according to Andy Spade, of the Kate Spade company. Good branding appeals to emotion and creates what Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, calls "loyalty beyond reason." Many voters cited ???values??? as reason for voting for Bush and he has been strongly identified with religion despite his war making and the deception used to instigate his war agenda. The fact that Bush is not a member of a congregation and hasn???t attended regular services in years, while Kerry is a weekly churchgoer, was overshadowed by successful branding and marketing. Unlike most markets, politics offers limited choices, usually two and political ads are not bound by the same standards that are enforced in commercial advertising. ???We???re living in an age of branding,??? says Susan Tifft, a professor at Duke and former speechwriter for President Carter, who follows that campaigns, ?????try to be the first to make their brands stick.??? Bush???s ability to stay on message and be succinct was a major reason his message was absorbed by the public. As Frank Luntz, the Orwellian master of word usage whose hits include the "death tax", said regarding consistency of message, ???there's a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again, and then again and again and again and again, and about the time that you???re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.??? Bush and his administration repeated their position so often that the public believed it, even when it was completely wrong, as in the case of Saddam having been involved in 9/11. And the right wing media outlets acted as an echo chamber that was tantamount to a marketing blitz. With really only two choices for President it is a bit like Coke versus Pepsi. Interestingly enough, Read Montague, a neuroscientist, has been experimenting in a field called neuromarketing, which studies the brain???s responses to ads, brands and the like. Using fMRI to track blood flow in the brain he gave people ???The Pepsi Challenge??? and found that a culturally based brand image influences a behavioral choice, specifically, ?????that the hippocampus may participate in recalling cultural information that biases preference judgments.???

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Brian Cook was an editor at In These Times from 2003 to 2009. He now works on the editorial staff of Playboy magazine.
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