Seth Godin, branding guru and author of — amongst other things — The Purple Cow, has done a fascinating analysis of the marketing lessons we can learn from the US elections. With South Africa’s own just around the corner, perhaps this is something that the ANC, DA and Shikota SANC SADC ???? parties can take note of.
Of most relevance to SA’s opposition parties are the following two nuggets:
Marketing is tribal.
Building a new tribe (in marketing and in politics) is time consuming and risky and expensive. Both [candidates] set out to do this.
[…] McCain made a momentous decision. He chose Sarah Palin, and did it for one huge reason: to embrace the Rove/Bush ‘base’. To lead a tribe that was already there, but not yet his. He was hoping for a side effect, which was to attract Hillary Clinton’s tribe, one that in that moment, was also leaderless.
Seen through the lens of tribes and marketing, this is a fascinating and risky event. Are people willing to suspend disbelief or suspicion and embrace a leader in order to maintain the energy of their tribe?
This is a real question for every marketer with an idea to sell. Do you find an existing tribe (Harley drivers, Manolo shoe buyers, frequent high-end restaurant diners) and try to co-opt them? Or do you try the more expensive and risky effort of building a brand new tribe? The good news is that if you succeed, you get a lot for your efforts. The bad news is that you’re likely to fail.
Yes, knowing who your constituency is — and how you’re going to attract them — is vital. The DA needs to expand on its minority base, while Shikota needs to prove to South Africans that they’re not just a bunch of embittered Mbeki-ites.
The other nugget is especially for the DA and the new ANC breakaway, both of whom must be mindful of the potential consequences negative campaigning:
Attack ads don’t always work. There’s a reason most product marketers don’t use attack ads. All they do is suppress sales of your opponent, they don’t help you. Since TV ads began, voter turnout has progressively decreased. That’s because the goal of attack ads is to keep your opponent’s voters from showing up. Both sides work to whittle down the other. In a winner-take-all game like a political election, this strategy is fine if it works.
So why didn’t the ads work this time?
The tribe that Obama built identified with him. Attacking him was like attacking them. They took it personally, and their outrage led to more donations and bigger turnout. This is the lucky situation Apple finds itself in as well. Attacking an Apple product is like attacking an Apple user.
The DA’s “Stop a Zuma 2/3 majority” ad campaign (coming to a Facebook profile and online mail account near you) is a scare tactic that might work with some voters, but could quite easily alienate others. It’s a gamble because it might not present a sufficient inducement to vote DA (after all you could vote for a trillion other parties to prevent a Zuma 66%). The DA’s brand promises — such as the economic, anti-crime and poverty-eradication initiatives tabled by the party — are surely a more effective means to garner support.
Read Godin’s whole post here. Come on, it’s worth it….