Marketing Thought

Misunderstanding Political Marketing

Bruce Philp’s article in the July [2014] issue of Canadian Business criticizes political marketing for being “hollow and disingenuous”. I think this is misunderstanding political marketing.

Political Marketing Is Not Just Political Communications

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, Yet, 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.

Misunderstanding Political Marketing As Amoral

Secondly, he states that strategists are “proudly amoral”. This may be true for some consultants. Yet, this is not true 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. This makes the other side wrong (even evil). Imagine you believe passionately, for example, that you are trying to help sick people get healthcare. Or maybe you are preserving a citizen’s basic freedoms. If so you can more easily justify strong tactics. An opponent may want to keep an embarrassing secret to themselves. Still, 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.

Demonizing Is Wrong

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 Orwell’s 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.

Set The Creature On Political Marketing. Photo By Alexas Fotos From

Philp also claims that “everything is forgotten” after election day. Politicians often find it hard to deliver. They can try to ignore the more challenging promises. But really are promises forgotten? Failed promises are dredged up constantly by all sides. One need only think of the elder Bush and “no new taxes” to see how promises can return to haunt politicians. Politicians often obsess over their failed promises. They certainly do over their rival’s failed promises.

My main problem with Philp’s analysis is that it is so superficial. Designed merely to resonate with the reader’s prejudice. It is not to educate or inform. He ignores the competitive structure of the market. No mention of the winner takes all format, the high stakes, and the complexity of assessing achievements. Instead, he blames political consultants for problems. I’m personally not a fan of “bad man” explanations for complex social phenomena. Such explanations are usually pretty vacuous.

For more on political marketing see herehere, and here.

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

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