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August 9, 2006
America the Brand


Re-reading this article from two years ago, I was struck by how relevant it still is to world events happening today. Clearly, the idea that marketing is politics has taken root. In fact, it has evolved to where even military actions are now part of marketing with PR objectives being elevated above military ones. It is shocking that people would basically "sacrifice" human lives all for the purpose of essentially ensuring the placement of a pr story. Hezbollah firing rockets from civilian positions knowing full well that the inevitable counterattack will take innocent lives but feeling that the resulting PR coverage of "Israeli atrocities" would be worth more than those lives. Marketing is the most powerful force on earth. Its time that the United States and Israel and all of the other free nations get good at it, because right now the bad guys are proving to be the marketing experts, and the price has escalated to from approval ratings to human lives.

Originally posted on 10/20/2004:

I was thinking the other day about politics, and it occurred to me that all of it is nothing more than the marketing of people, ideas and policies. As we all know, America the brand is suffering right now. So how would we approach the situation if America were our client using established marketing principles that work for conventional products and services?

Why don't people like us anymore? Yes, they say that it’s all about our policies, but is there something deeper and more fundamental going on? Yes, I think it all started in 1991 at the end of the cold war. We may have celebrated just a bit too soon. That was the moment that we went from a two horse race where incidentally we were perceived as the good guys, to a virtual monopoly.

And we all know that no one likes monopolies.

Remember that our mentality is and has always been that of a challenger brand fighting to upset the status quo and give rights and opportunity back to the oppressed. It’s anathema to our national consciousness that people wouldn't perceive us to be any other way, but they do. It’s hard to be credible telling the underdog story when you are the most powerful entity in the world. It creates too much dissonance to be credible for most people. Put another way, Goliath was never known for his empathy. That's why people call us arrogant and imperialistic...it fits with the set of facts described above and explains why people don't like us or believe us.

The second big issue is the ideological battle. Communism is dead, but fundamentalist Muslim states are the new threat. Like all challenger brands, they profess to upset the status quo by taking power from the oppressors and transferring it to the common people. It is a very enticing proposition because their followers have little chance to win economic independence, but can gain spiritual superiority simply by following the doctrines set forth by its leaders. Clearly the way to fight this is to establish something like democracy in these regions so that people will have hope and a better life and won't see spirituality as their only savior.

But there is a problem. Democracy and America are inseparable. Democracy has become Goliath's idea, no longer something ‘of the people’. It’s tainted. So, what do we do?

What we have to now do is segment the market, because America unfortunately isn't going to appeal to everyone, and neither is democracy, at least not in the form we are peddling it. Its ironic that democracy is supposed to be empowering, but is being perceived as oppressive because of its association with us. What we really need is a new product. This 'new product' must be a new form of democracy that incorporates Muslim values. It must create Muslim advocates who will be as passionate about it as the fundamentalists are about their cause.

The problem is that we are hoping Muslim moderates will fight the extremists. It won't happen and has never happened because moderates don't fight anything.... if they did, they wouldn't be moderates. The 'new product' must be perceived as having grown up organically. It can't be associated with America or its credibility will be lost. Remember, muslimism itself is really an evolution of Christianity, and it uses many of the same ideas and symbols. But it wouldn't have caught on if it was positioned that way, and so must this new flavor of democracy. If we want democracy to flourish we have to let go of it. Let it evolve into something the muslims can own.

OK, now let’s turn our attention to a domestic issue, the presidential contest.

Bush as the brand leader must create a perceived risk in going with the 'unproven' candidate. Remember the saying ' No one ever got fired for hiring IBM.' The devil you know is a safe choice. That's why bush has started calling Kerry naive in his assessment of the candidates' many plans. Now Kerry on the other hand needs to act like a strong challenger brand. He has to be more innovative, more aggressive, and to promise a new and better way of doing things. If bush is IBM, Kerry is Apple. He is at his best when he talks about new ideas, like how to run an unconventional guerrilla war. This sort of thing plays into the perception that the brand leader is stuck in the past and unable to keep up with the times. These kinds of new ideas are Kerry's ipod.

That’s it for now. I hope to have proven something I’ve always believed - Namely, that everything in the world ultimately comes down to marketing.

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As co-chairman and co-founder of the kirshenbaum bond creative network, Jon Bond has built a network of companies that provide a complete range of marketing services. Along with Richard Kirshenbaum, Jon helped make Kenneth Cole and Snapple household names. Jon is also the co-author of "Under the Radar," which addresses how to reach today's consumers.
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