If Obama was a car brand, what would it be? According to a just released survey, he would be a posh BMW. John McCain, on the other hand, would have to conform with the more blue-collar – but extremely “real American” – Ford.
No wonder, then, that Obama would be driving that BMW as the übercool James Bond, while McCain would be thrusting away in a Ford pick-up as the red-blooded Jack Bauer. Well, at least that’s what respondents to the just released 2008 Presidential ImagePower survey say.
With voters striving to survive the barrage of polls and surveys thrown at them 24/7 by every media outlet, branding guru Landor and market research firm Penn, Schoen & Berland found a clever way to still get some of that ever-shortening attention span.
Forget all those dull questions like “who do you see as more trustful” or “which candidate do you regard as more reliable on the economy”. Right, like any of that really mattered. At the end of the day, people will vote for the candidate they like the most, and they choose it based on the narrative he has attached. The rest is just pointless babble.
In this consumerism-plagued world, what better way would there be to gauge the narrative attached to each candidate than to find out what brands people identify them with? So, in a repeat of the exercise premiered in 2004, the Presidential ImagePower survey now pitched Obama, McCain, Palin and Biden against a set of brands, in 15 categories, to see how people perceive them.
In most categories, the brands selected for each candidate reflect the common perceptions about both men. When asked to name some attributes for the candidates, people characterized the Democratic nominee as charming, approachable, compassionate, intelligent and unifying, while his GOP opponent was seen as strong, reliable and respected.
So, while Obama is a Google, McCain is a AOL. Where McCain is a Wall-Mart, Obama is a Target. There are also some similarities, with both candidates being identified with the game-changing Ipod, as well as with Starbucks and MySpace. Each of this brands is seen as transformative, and this is how both Obama and McCain are perceived. One being the eternal Republican maverick and the other the first black candidate to the presidency, there’s no great jolts there.
There are, however, some startling surprises. In almost half of the categories (7 out of 15), respondents attributed the same brands to Obama and… Sarah Palin! They are, for instance, both identified with Google and People Magazine. Will Palin be shocked to find herself in such, uh, “un-American” company?
The similarities are even more pronounced between McCain and the Democratic candidate to the vice-presidency, Joe Biden. They share brands in 12 of the 15 categories.
In a presidential race that is all about change, both tickets have strived to stake a claim to the concept. As Scott Siff, exec VP at Penn, Schoen & Berland explains, “this similarity in the candidates’ brand strategies also indicates that whichever candidate best achieves the positioning they are both trying to claim may well be the winner on November 4”.
According to branding laws, this should spell victory for Obama. The Democratic candidate, having been the first to position himself over the “change” axis, shall have the top-of-mind advantage – something very hard to beat.
However, before we start chanting “President Obama”, it must be pointed out that the 2008 results mirror the 2004 survey in identifying the Republican candidate with mass-market brands, whilst the Democrat is identified with premium ones. And we all know how that election turned out.
So, what to make of this? Will the top-of-mind rule award victory to the Democratic well-constructed narrative of change? Or will Palin’s “real America” come out on top at the end, and again push the red-blooded, down-to-earth guy all the way to the White House?