How Politicians Fail at Marketing

November 2, 2010 at 7:37 AM 5 comments

Politics might not be an industry, but it relies on marketing, branding, communication and relationships as much as business does. This explains why politicians have never ranked lower in public opinion. Imagine if other industries marketed themselves the way politicians do, using this playbook:

Base Your Branding on Attacking the Opposition

Suppose Airline X spent its advertising budget telling everyone that “Airline Y promises to be on time, but they never are.” Airline Y responds with, “Airline X’s pilots believe that Tucson is in Nevada. Do you really trust them to get you to your destination?” You get the idea. A few months of this and the entire industry would go into a tailspin. Everyone’s brand would be tarnished. But this is business as usual for politics.

Avoid Conversations With Customers

Imagine a software company that never relied on its customers for any insights. Instead, the firm’s executives watched polls and gave speeches. Their only marketing efforts would be one-way non permission-based tactics like robocalls, online banner ads and TV spots. How would they do? Answer: they’d go out of business, or switch to politics, where this kind of pummeling is accepted. In politics, communication with customers (constituents) is asynchronous and rigid. Collecting customer insights to improve the product (legislation, governance) is irrelevant.

Never Admit Mistakes

Your telecom company still charges you for roaming 4 months after you’ve canceled it. When you point out the problem, the company says, “We categorically deny that levied any incorrect charges. In fact, the record clearly shows we have been giving you 25% off your bill for six years. This is all an effort by our competitor to distract you from the real issue: that they advocate taking away everyone’s phones and replacing them with tin cans and strings.”

The sad part is that this is no exaggeration. And no American industry could get away with this kind of marketing strategy. What do we do? Taking our business elsewhere is not an option. So it’s up to customers – the voters – to let this wayward industry know that it’s time to clean up their act.

Don’t forget to vote!


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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dr. Tom Bibey  |  November 2, 2010 at 8:12 AM

    Check out my post today.

    Dr. B

  • 2. Carri Bugbee  |  November 2, 2010 at 11:19 AM

    You make some excellent points. Unfortunately, I constantly hear pundits say that negative political ads really work — even though everyone hates them. I suppose the reason they do work is that most people aren’t all that informed and don’t make rational decisions. They hear something a few times, assume it’s true, and go with their “gut.” Just like a former president we had that made many, many poor decisions on our behalf.

    • 3. Thompson  |  November 2, 2010 at 2:57 PM

      Carri – Some pundits say that negative ads tend to suppress voter turnout in total, and little wonder. If the best you end up with is the lesser of two evils, that’s hardly a promise of quality.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • 4. Daniel M. Wood  |  November 2, 2010 at 10:58 PM

    I like your points here Thompson.
    The sad fact is that they are true. The saying “Crooked as a politician” exists exactly for the reasons you describe.

  • 5. Helio  |  November 13, 2010 at 8:23 PM

    Thompson, your examples are based on American market (and politicians as well) but it fits for Brazilian political world and the growing market of professional “gurus” (that we call “marqueteiros”) to create political campaigns based on “attacking the opposition”, “avoid conversations with customers” and “never admit mistakes”. In Japan, campaigns seems not to exist: we only see wall posters on designated spaces, with only pictures and names, all in the same size and no different appeal.


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Thompson Morrison

Thompson Morrison

About Thompson

As CEO of FUSE Insight, Thompson Morrison uses powerful new web interviewing technologies to help businesses better align their brand with the needs and aspirations of their customers. Learn more at


"The single most significant strategic strength that an organization can have is not a good strategic plan, but a commitment to strategic listening on the part of every member of the organization." -- Tom Peters



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