Tag Archives: Mitt Romney

Presidential Debate Lesson — It’s the Metaphors, Stupid!

6 Oct


Sesame Street’s Big Bird

           Two men approached the presidential stage in Denver, but only one commanded it and walked off with a memorable message for the American voter to consider.  

             One of these men had a focused, clear message with passion and purpose.  The other appeared rhetorically disheveled.  If Aristotle were measuring the persuasive outcomes based upon authority, emotion and logic (ethos, pathos, logos) then Mitt Romney would have gone to the head of the class.

             One of the key takeaways from the first presidential debate is not necessarily how poorly President Obama may have performed, but why Mitt Romney was more effective and memorable in framing one of his key messages: government is too big. 

Presient Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney at the presidential debates, October 3, 2012.

             He did it with two metaphors.  The most powerful stands seven feet fall and eats bird seed.  The second, recast Washington as voodoo government.             When moderator Jim Lehrer tried to elicit a response from Romney on the size of government, here was his response:

 “I’m sorry Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS.  I love Big Bird.  I actually like you, too.  But I’m not gonna keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”

             His second most powerful message took a long-time democratic boogeyman—trickle-down economics—and turned in on its head.

 And what we’re seeing right now is, in my view is a trickle-down government approach which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working.”

        Psychological researchers have long established that people process and remember what they already know.   Ralph E. Reynolds of Iowa State University writing in the Journal of Educational Psychology strongly established how metaphorical writing vastly improved recall and understanding.  Likewise, Thomas J. Reynolds has published extensive works in the Journal of Advertising Research on how metaphorical references build stronger advertising messages.  The theory extends to political communication as well.  Eugene Miller of the University of Georgia notes that political rhetoric has always relied heavily on metaphors whether it’s assigning players to the president’s “team,” to creating programs such as the “New Deal,” “New Frontier,” or “War on Poverty.”  One of the most effective uses in a campaign came from Walter Mondale in 1984 when he blatantly stole a line from a Wendy’s hamburger commercial to describe rival Gary Hart’s domestic policies: “Where’s the beef?”  The metaphor was devastatingly effective.  Within weeks Hart’s campaign ended and Mondale won the democratic nomination. 

         In this new era of explosive mediated social dialog, the Big Bird metaphor has become an instant internet meme.  Within minutes of Romney’s reference, satirical Big Bird pages surfaced on Twitter and t-shirt designers went to their screen printers.  Internet searches for both Romney and Big Bird skyrocketed. (Figure 1)  By week’s end, the Big Bird reference even became material for Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.  

Figure 1: Google Trends web search volumes. RED-Mitt Romney, BLUE-Big Bird

           Mitt Romney’s chief goal in the coming weeks is to change the attitudes of the extremely narrow percentage of voters who have yet to make up their minds.  In the first debate, he’s given them two symbolic images to consider.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if come election day the chief lesson of the fall campaign didn’t come from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, but instead from an address on Sesame Street.

How Rick Santorum Pulled off the Iowa Caucus Upset

7 Jan

                The fall harvest in Iowa is long over, but GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum managed to winnow a few extra bushels—of votes.   The caucus night celebrations and day-after headlines that trumpted Mitt Romney as the victor have been nullified by a certification count that  awards Santorum the winner by a mere 34 votes.   The history books will record Mitt Romney as the loser of the Iowa Caucuses and cast Ron Paul as the candidate who finally gained legitimacy.  But, Santorum’s last minute surge will likely be studied by campaigns and political scientists for years to come.

GOP Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum

                From a marketing communications point of view, Santorum’s first place finish is a lesson in the importance positioning strategy, tactics and luck.  Santorum and his campaign successfully positioned himself as the social conservative who was consistently on message and disciplined enough to avoid mistakes.   In the words of my grandfather, a lifelong dairy farmer, Santorum avoided stepping in too many “sugar daddies.”  If you look at a perceptual strategy map of the major GOP candidates, Santorum carved out and maintained a unique position. (Figure 1)  He occupied the space on the map necessary for a candidate to succeed among Iowa’s GOP activists: consistently conservative and gaffe free.

Figure 1 - GOP Perceptual Map of Iowa Caucus Candidates

              It’s no accident that Romney, Santorum and Paul all finished in a near dead heat and everyone else as “also ran’s.”   That’s where a little bit of luck played a significant factor.  Michele Bachmann may have staked her claim as the most conservative candidate and an effective debater, but her perceived missteps on vaccines and other issues gravely affected her position on the perceptual map in the minds of voters.  Texas Governor Rick Perry, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich didn’t fare any better.

             Santorum’s finish is also remarkable given the fact that he had little to no brand awareness in Iowa.   His surge in the weeks leading up to the caucuses came as a result of what marketers call an effective execution of product news and product experience.  In other words, his campaign staff and volunteers were able to effectively reach party activists with a message of how he was different and relevant.   Furthermore, his personal appearances gave potential voters a chance to experience the candidate and size up his message against their own values. 

Figure 2 - Google Trends Data Leading up to Iowa Caucases

             In my most recent post, I noted how Ron Paul was far and away leading the pack in buzz.   This too is another essential marketing driver.  The metrics in Iowa as measured by Google Trends showed Santorum gaining more web searches in the days leading up to the caucuses. (Figure 2)  It’s an important metric because it shows that people are yearning to discover more about the candidate.  In the end, Santorum was perhaps able to convert or activate more of that buzz into votes than was Paul. 

             The challenge now for Santorum and his campaign is trying to compete in two new markets.  New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida are a long ways from the corn fields of Iowa.  Their voters have a different conservative value proposition will have their own perceptual map of where the candidates align.   In New Hampshire, every indication is that Mitt Romney has strong brand awareness and emotional bonds with GOP activists.  Those are powerful drivers for any challenger to overcome.  But Santorum clearly now has a degree of buzz.  What his campaign does with it and how it responds to the new scrutiny that will come could very well determine how long it takes for republicans to settle on a presidential nominee.

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