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Presidential Positioning

June 10th, 2008

So now we know it’ll be Obama vs. McCain in November. There has been a feeling that this match-up would be something new and exciting – not “politics as usual” – because these two candidates have generally conducted themselves as politicians who try to elevate the level of discourse, rather than getting down and dirty.

But, we seem to be slipping off the high road. First, Obama ripped into McCain yesterday for his economic proposals. Then, today, McCain ripped back.


Now, it’s not unusual for candidates to be sniping at each other. But it does seem notable that these two candidates have started so early. Because both, especially Obama, certainly seem to want to be branded as high-minded individuals who can change the current environment in the nation’s capitol.

Basically, they want to appear Presidential. They want to position themselves as being worthy of the Oval Office.

In political campaigns, positioning is critical. It’s also hard to figure out who has claimed the winning position until after Election Day, when it often seems so blindingly obvious. In retrospect, it’s clear Ronald Reagan would beat Jimmy Carter and that Bill Clinton’s “bridge to the 21st century” was better than Bob Dole’s “bridge to the past.”

Positioning is not an internal exercise. It is, by definition, a clear drawing of the distinctions between two competitors. The victor is usually the one who heightens customer perception of the brand’s superiority. But you must be true to your brand, or else you risk losing “brand potency.” And then you lose. And in electoral politics, you don’t usually get mulligans.

So if these candidates are striving to be higher on the high road—they need to be true to that brand and avoid the temptation to go on the attack.

Posted Under: Media & Journalism
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