January 8, 2008

An interesting but flawed process critique of the Clinton campaign

Over on DailyKos, webranding gives an interesting reason for Hillary Clinton’s marketing problems: He says bad decisions were inevitable because Mark Penn is both head pollster and head strategist — i.e., both the message crafter and the message tester. That is, webranding argues it was foreordained that polls would validate the strategy Mark Penn already decided on.

Implicit in this critique is the idea that one should test messages via polling. Now, up to a point I agree that’s a great idea. But political campaigns aren’t just about pitching to people’s preconceptions — they’re also about changing people’s minds. If Obama wins, it will only be because many people, cynical about change, started to believe it was possible. Ronald Reagan changed US politics for decades by convincing people to give up on the idea of government accomplishing much — and also by convincing them that the benefits of a vigorous-but-insecure entrepreneurial economy outweighed the drawbacks. If the Republicans upset the Democrats in November, it will probably be because they convinced many swing voters that various real or imagined threats (terrorists, immigrants, whatever) are dangerous enough to require more counter-aggression than those voters now think is called for.

The Clintons take a lot of grief for being highly poll-driven, and up to a point it’s served them well. So I imagine the critique has considerable validity. But I think it also misses a larger point — the best strategic marketing communicates what you can lead people to believe, not just what they already think.

Edit: Apparently weBranding has a capital B and also is named Tommy. This may be a more stable link to the same article.


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