Misunderstanding Political Marketing

Bruce Philp’s article in the July issue of Canadian Business criticizes political marketing for being “hollow and disingenuous”.

I wasn’t impressed. Firstly, I think Philp is equating political marketing with political communications. This is a strange thing for a brand strategy consultant to do. Branding goes way beyond communications but for some reason Philp thinks that political marketing goes no deeper than communications. I’m surprised that anyone in branding would embrace such a narrow definition of marketing.

Secondly, he state that strategists are “proudly amoral”. This may be true for some consultants but not for the vast majority of practitioners I know. Indeed I’d argue that one reason why mud is thrown around in politics is precisely because of moral motivations. People in politics often believe that their side is moral, making the other side wrong (even evil). If you believe passionately, for example you are trying to help sick people get healthcare or preserve a citizen’s basic freedoms, you can more easily justify strong tactics. An opponent may want to keep an embarrassing secret to themselves but is it wrong to reveal this secret if it helps discredit the opponent and achieve your worthy goal? Such logic can have nasty consequences but surely isn’t amoral.

Philp’s says “it may be fashionable these days to demonize corporate marketing” (Philp, 2014, page 28). I agree demonizing is wrong so why does Philp do it to political marketing? It reminds me of 1984 — the broken hero screams to torture his lover instead of himself. Philp seems to be screaming, “do it to political marketing”, in the hope that people will leave commercial marketing alone.

Philp also claims that “everything is forgotten” after election day. Politicians often find it hard to deliver and can try to ignore the more challenging promises but forgotten? Failed promises are dredged up constantly — one need only think of the elder Bush and “no new taxes” to see how promises can return to haunt politicians.

My main problem with Philp’s analysis is that it so superficial. Designed merely to resonate with the reader’s prejudice not educate or inform. He ignores the competitive structure of the market, winner takes all format, the high stakes, and the complexity of assessing achievements and instead blames political consultants for problems. I’m personally not a fan of “bad man” explanations for complex social phenomenon.

Read: Bruce Philp (2014) Vote Count Chocula in 2014, Canadian Business, July 2104, Page 28.