Hot on the heels of reports that Hillary Clinton has recruited a team of consumer marketing specialists to “help imagine Hillary 5.0,” a February 25 column by American Enterprise Institute fellow Jonah Goldberg suggests that in and of itself that act has already branded her.
“As she readies her second presidential campaign, Clinton has recruited consumer marketing specialists onto her team of trusted political advisers,” Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan report in the Washington Post, “to help imagine Hillary 5.0 — the rebranding of a first lady turned senator turned failed presidential candidate turned secretary of state turned likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.”
After a complicated tenure as first lady, Clinton reinvented herself as a potholes-and-pork senator from her adopted state of New York. Then she ran for president as a tough woman in the mold of Margaret Thatcher. Failing that, she had a careful run as the country’s top diplomat under Obama that allies believe raised her stature.
Perhaps her most significant rebranding came in 2000, when she became a popular elected official in her own right after her husband’s Monica Lewinsky scandal and after a controversial tenure as first lady. Clinton was ridiculed as a dilettante and a carpetbagger…
In 2008, however, Clinton’s rebranding went badly, starting with a misreading of the zeitgeist that had her stressing her commander-in-chief qualifications when the public preferred Obama’s promise of hope and change.
Clinton’s marketing specialists include Wendy Clark, on unpaid leave as Coca-Cola’s North American president of carbonated beverage brands and strategic planning, and Roy Spence, co-founder of the Texas advertising agency GSD&M, best known for its work on Southwest Airlines and Double Tree Hotels.
In addition to helping imagine ways to make a figure who, Goldberg notes, “has been on the public stage for nearly four decades,” come across as something new and different, these marketing experts are pondering other issues on which the fate of the nation hinges. One such issue will be “the design of the ‘H’ in her future campaign logo.” Don’t laugh. Look what a previous candidate did with the design of his “O.”
Another will be how she can state her promise in one word. According to corporate marketing strategist Peter Sealey, that’s the main campaign issue. “With Mercedes, it’s quality. With Volvo, it’s safety. With Coca-Cola, it’s refreshment. If you can get her promise down to one word, that’s the key,” he declared. Of course, none of those words is a promise or consumer benefit. They’re all product attributes. And a massive search for just the right product attribute may be seriously overthinking things. The winner of 2008’s election succeeded largely because of an obvious two-word attribute, namely, Not Bush. And if the results of Quinnipiac University polls conducted in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia this month are any indication, the winning two-word product attribute in 2016 may be Not Obama. When asked, “Would you like to see the next President generally continue with Barack Obama’s policies or change direction from Barack Obama’s policies”, just 34 percent of Iowans and Coloradans said they want the next president to move forward on Obama policies while just three in ten (31 percent) of Virginians said the same, reported Chris Cilizza in the Washington Post. But, he writes, Clinton’s “time as Secretary of State…make[s] it virtually impossible for Clinton to totally beat back the attack that voting for her represents a third term for Obama.”
That’s why, says Goldberg, “the Hillary Industrial Complex” will “have their work cut out for them.”
More than any other politician in American life today, Hillary Clinton is an ironic figure. When she does or says anything, friends and foes alike ask, “Why did she do that?” “What was she thinking?” No one takes Clinton at face value because it seems that, after decades of public life, even Clinton doesn’t really know who she is — or at least who she should be this time around.
Top Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf agrees. “I don’t think people are looking for someone who’s being reinvented or rebranded,” he told the Washington Post. “What are the new ideas? . . . It can’t be yesterday’s program.”
“The hitch,” says Goldberg, is that the rebranding effort “is itself a kind of branding.” While this may have worked for Richard Nixon back in the 1970s, poltical rebranding hasn’t been exactly famous for more recent successes. “Former Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist tried to rebrand himself as a liberal Democrat in his bid to get back his old job,” Goldberg writes. “He lost in large part because the only image that stuck was his craven political opportunism, not Charlie Crist 2.0.” And one word Hillary Clinton already owns in many voters’ minds, he says, is opportunism.
When she does or says anything, friends and foes alike ask, “Why did she do that?” “What was she thinking?” No one takes Clinton at face value because it seems that, after decades of public life, even Clinton doesn’t really know who she is — or at least who she should be this time around.
Public knowledge of Clinton’s rebranding efforts could open her to the appearance of inauthenticity and make her seem to be following French dramatist Jean Giraudoux’s famous advice that “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
An unnamed “former campaign adviser to President Obama” made doubts about the Hillary 5.0 rebranding bipartisan. “Look at Budweiser,” he told the Post. “That’s what Hillary Clinton is. She’s not a microbrew. She’s one of the biggest, most powerful brands ever in the country…”
When you consider that Budweiser’s share of market has gone from around 50 to around 12 percent since 1988, that its sales by volume have declined year after year for almost a quarter of a century, and that in 2013 (the last year for which complete figures are available) craft beers shipped 100,000 more barrels than Budweiser, those anonymous words may be music to Republican ears.