Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cost Lost in Translation

How do we weigh the price of a candidate?

In a chapter of my thesis (just drafted) I discuss some of the difficulties involved with translating the ideas of branding into the political sphere. One big problem is how to deal with the issue of cost. Money and votes just simply aren't the same and shouldn't be treated as such. An often-made assumption that, conceptually speaking, the monetary the cost of a product in the context of a consumer market can be understood as the equivalent of a vote in the political sphere is both overly simplistic and (dare I say) wrong; product cost = x does not correlate to candidate cost = one vote.

Consumers may vary on their willingness to purchase a specific brand based on several factors, one of which is how much they are willing or able to spend. Elections, on the other hand, create a level playing field where every citizen is afforded the same amount to spend. Further, with monetary transactions, there is an implicit exchange of value; a seller provides a product or service in exchange for its equivalent value in money. Yet, how can the cost of support in exchange for a vote be similarly evaluated? Therefore, the perceived cost of voting for a candidate must be derived from an entirely different set of criteria.

While it is certain that no candidate will line up with voters' on the issues a hundred percent of the time, most voters are still able to choose a candidate to support. Potential voters must weigh the aspects of each candidate’s platform, considering what positions they may agree or disagree with against the issues most important to them. This trade off, I believe, is where the true cost of a candidate is determined. For example, an undecided voter may disagree with a candidate who has come out against specific energy alternatives such as offshore drilling and nuclear power. However, social issues may be of much greater salience to the voter in question, causing him or her to continue supporting the candidate if their stance on social issues is in alignment with theirs. The voter is thus willing to bear the "cost" of dissatisfaction with the position on energy policy in exchange for a similar position on social issues that they value more. That is, voters weigh cost based on what they perceive as the “lesser of two evils” – though I hate this axiom and it certainly oversimplifies the point.

In some instances voters may feel that the cost of either candidate is to high when compared to the issues that are most salient to them, and in these instances may become disenchanted with the political process or explore 3rd party alternatives.

One benefit to explaining (political) price in this way, is that it opens the door for another application of brand theory. Like strong brands, well-developed political brands may exercise greater flexibility in terms of position preference the minds of consumers. Consumers with favorable feelings toward a candidate may be more willing to forgive or overlook paying a higher position cost for that candidate. That is, brand credibility has the power to decrease sensitivity to price, (Keller, 2003). Therefore, if a consumer is loyal to a particular candidate they will be more willing to accept the cost of unfavorable issue positions.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Meta Ad

While this was the lead story in April 3rds AAF SmartBrief, I want to weigh in with my thoughts all the same - and who knows, maybe you missed it. An article on (quoted below) discussed the unique meta ad approach of a new advertising campaign by Health Choice. I really like the idea they went with for the campaign; a behind the scenes look at the conversation between the spokesperso, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus, and her agent as they discuss the potential ad deal. It's not that new of an idea, and it feels a lot like The Office, but it's something that people really like right now.

Further, I think the whole meta ad idea ties into the conversation about problems in the industry concerning how people relate to and trust the messages they see in ads. As Luke Sullivan points out in the intro of "Hey Whipple, Squeeze This," people used to trust advertising, but it's no secrete that they don't anymore, in fact lots of people claim to despise it. And, these days Gallup polls regularly show advertising practitioners on par with car salesmen and members of Congress when it comes to least-trusted professions.

The point here is that any agency and client wants people to watch and believe their ads. But how can that be effectivly accomplished when, for some or many people, the credibility of message is already significantly hurt by the medium before we even see the first second of the ad? That's a pretty tough handycap to start with.

I suppose the truth of the matter is that it's not all that bad, not everyone thinks ads are lying and those that do still take in the message, even if with a grain of salt. But still credibility is an important issue all the same. We want ads to be trustworthy. It's something that most ads struggle with, and while I'm not sure if this Health Choice campaign will overcome it, I think it's a pretty good way to try.

'The premise of the commercials, which are directed by Christopher Guest (director of Spinal tap), is that Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is not really sure whether she wants to endorse Healthy Choice.

“It’s a ‘meta’ thing,” said Kathy Delaney, president and chief creative officer at Nitro, “advertising imitating life imitating advertising.”

The device enables the spots to convey information about Healthy Choice in a way that “never feel forced,” Ms. Delaney said, as Ms. Louis-Dreyfus and other characters discuss the reinvention,' ( via AAF SmartBrief).

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools Jokes by Brands

The Taco Liberty Bell 1996: The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke. The best line of the day came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale. Thinking on his feet, he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold. It would now be known, he said, as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

Virgin Cola’s Blue Cans 1996:
In 1996 Virgin Cola announced that in the interest of consumer safety it had integrated a new technology into its cans. When the cola passed its sell-by date, the liquid would react with the metal in the can, turning the can itself bright blue. Virgin warned that consumers should therefore avoid purchasing all blue cans. The joke was that Pepsi had recently unveiled its newly designed cans. They were bright blue.

The Left-Handed Whopper
Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a "Left-Handed Whopper" specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, "many others requested their own 'right handed' version."

Soy Bomb Lands Record Contrac1 1998:
Viewers of the February 1998 broadcast of the Grammys were surprised when a semi-naked man with the word 'Soy Bomb' scrawled on his chest danced out onto the stage during Bob Dylan's solo performance. The man (who was definitely not supposed to be there) was quickly escorted away by security guards. But a few months later, on April 1, Rhino Records proudly announced that it had signed Soy Bomb (as he was now known) to a two-year, six-album recording contract. Soy Bomb's first album would include covers of popular classics such as 'Dancing Machine' and 'You Dropped a Bomb on Me.' A spokesman for Rhino Records commented that they had been moved to offer Soy Bomb a contract because the experience of watching him dance had been for them "kind of like
when you eat too many Whoppers and you feel a little nauseous,
but you're so happy you ate them."

Bank Teller Fees 1999:
In 1999 the Savings Bank of Rockville placed an ad in the Connecticut Journal-Inquirer announcing that it would soon begin charging a $5 fee to customers who visited a live teller. The ad, which appeared on March 31, claimed that the fee was necessary in order to provide, "professional, caring and superior customer service." Although the ad was a joke, many customers failed to recognize it as such. One woman reportedly closed her account because of it. The bank then ran a second ad revealing that the initial ad was a joke. The bank manager commented that the first ad ironically "commits us to not charging such fees."

Miller Lite 2000:
In 2000 Miller Beer announced that it had struck an agreement with the town of Marfa, Texas to become the exclusive sponsor of the phenomenon known as the Marfa Mystery Lights. These are spherical lights which appear south of the town each evening, seeming to bounce around in the sky. They're variously rumored to be caused by ghosts, swamp gas, or uranium (though they're probably caused by the headlights from the nearby highway). Miller announced that under the terms of the agreement the Marfa Lights would be renamed the Miller Lites. The local paper, which was in on the joke, printed the news on its front page.

These were taken from