The Clinton Brand: A Repositioning Challenge

The Clinton Brand: A Repositioning Challenge

Like most of us, Gregg Sibert and Jeff Ewen have been closely following (and occasionally enjoying) the unfolding spectacle of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Cynical as it sounds, marketing a candidate or platform has much in common with marketing anything. At the core of effort is a brand that needs to be defined, positioned and promoting.

From time to time between now and November, we’ll be looking at both campaigns through this filter. Below is our second installment. Enjoy!

In following the race for the White House over the last few weeks, we’ve noticed a recurring question from commentators on both ends of the political spectrum: With all the mistakes Donald Trump has made, why isn’t Hillary Clinton doing better in the polls?

As we noted in our August 1 blog, we don’t pretend to be political experts (in a previous life, I predicted a Herbert Hoover victory in 1932). However, we do have some expertise in branding, and we’ve been looking at politics — particularly presidential politics — through that lens.

So what’s wrong with the Clinton brand? In trying to answer questions like that, we find ourselves looking for analogies in the private sector, seeking insight from the rise and fall of well-known brands. Unfortunately for Secretary Clinton, the brand that keeps popping into our minds is Sears.

Once a powerhouse, the Sears brand seems to have drifted into that twilight region of age, distrust and irrelevance (we’ve seen the term “death spiral” in more than one article on the topic). The decline is partly due to social and economic forces beyond the company’s control, but it has been compounded by a deadeningly slow pace of change and a stubborn refusal to admit that anything is really wrong.

Is Sears a valid analogy? There are some uncomfortable parallels. Neither has succeeded in making their brands very relevant to millennials and other younger audiences. Both suffer from encrusted negative imagery built up over several decades, imagery which isn’t easy to shed. And it can be argued that both responded to their image problems by repeating the very behaviors that were at the root of those problems ­— Sears’ penchant for unimaginative merchandising and Clinton’s penchant for secrecy, for example.

Is the Clinton brand in a slow political “death spiral “? We think that would be carrying the Sears analogy too far. Polls indicate that there are still significant positive attributes associated with the brand, associations that can be leveraged to protect and even build electoral market share. It’s also important to remember that the short-term fortunes of a political brand can depend on the brand it is positioned against, a factor which, ironically, seems to be helping both candidates in this cycle.

Stay tuned.

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