You are what you buy

You are what you buy

: Ken Mehlman, Bush campaign manager, reveals the bottom-line marketing strategy that led him to victory. It’s the exact same strategy that sells cars: market segmentation.

No, we are not a red v. blue nation. We are Volvo v. Lincoln nation.

“If you drive a Volvo and you do yoga, you are pretty much a Democrat,” Mr. Mehlman told an assembly of the nation’s Republican governors here. “If you drive a Lincoln or a BMW and you own a gun, you’re voting for George Bush.” …

“We did what Visa did,” Mr. Mehlman said. “We acquired a lot of consumer data. What magazine do you subscribe to? Do you own a gun? How often do the folks go to church? Where do you send your kids to school? Are you married?

“Based on that, we were able to develop an exact kind of consumer model that corporate America does every day to predict how people vote – not based on where they live but how they live,” he said. “That was critically important to our success.”

He said that is what led him to the conclusion that supporters of Mr. Kerry had a preference for Volvos over Lincolns, and yoga over guns.

In addition, Mr. Mehlman said the Bush campaign had moved beyond simply placing advertisements on traditional television and radio networks. For example, he said, Mr. Bush began placing advertisements on in-house networks at private gyms, guaranteeing a captive audience of what he described as receptive voters.

“Because our demographic studies and analysis showed us that a lot of young families get information not at the 7 o’clock news but at the 7 o’clock workout before they got home,” he said.

Politics is just a product, in this view.

  • Mike

    We saw those in-house gym commercials and complained to management.

  • Bush is also the first President with an MBA. Not that he ran the campaign, but what did you expect from this group?

  • This is somehow unexpected or wrong? We’re banging on about the ‘long tail’ and ongoing niche-ification abetted by citizens’ media, and somehow don’t expect political parties to figure this out as well? Where’d the jump from ‘Bush is stupid’ to ‘Bush is only allowed to be stupid’ come from?

  • Brian Perry

    I don’t think that seeing political campaigns as a product is wrong or bad. I think that this way of marketing politics is just a natural outgrowth of the increasing sophistication of demographic research.
    In fact, by targeting niches, the politicians and their advisors are taking a more realistic and “nuanced” view of the American public in all its diversity. However, as a conservative, I must admit I’m throwing them way off by driving a Subaru. However, on many other demographic counts they’d probably have me nailed.
    Corporations and politicians are on a never-ending quest to understand how people live, why they live that way and how to put a message in front of the right people. I say let the games begin- catch me if you can!

  • Brian Perry

    In fact, the next thing you know the Republicans may be marketing straight to the non-church attending, Subaru driving, cross-country skiing, pro-gun, keep abortion legal set! Where they’ll find me…I’m not sure. I guess here at Jeff’s blog?
    Then again, I guess I vote for them already, so on to the next prospect…

  • So Mr. Bush and Mr. Mehlman are soulless agents of corporate-style brainwashing?
    This view is insulting to the Bush team and to American voters at the same time.
    Pres. Bush is a good guy and a great leader. Ken Mehlman apparently is very good at his job, too. And we Americans have just conducted a great election.
    I’m sorry your guy lost, Jeff, but try to cheer up, life is good!

  • Robert

    Damn, me and Brian could almost start our own political party, except that he cross-country ski’s and I don’t…..
    Are you the Judean People’s Front?
    Piss off! We’re the People’s Front of Judea!
    And so on….

  • darms

    I live in the Austin, TX area & a friend noticed here that the vast majority of bar & restaurant teevees he sees are tuned to fox news. Coincidence?

  • Hey! I like yoga AND guns… how am I supposed to vote?

  • Roddy McCorley

    I’ve posted this elsewhere, but we lost essentially because we ran a good political campaign. We nominated a guy who was very qualified — maybe even uniquely qualified — and laid out reasonably full and sensible positions on the issues.
    Too bad for us, the GOP ran a good marketing campaign. They started with a strategy — or marketing plan, if you will — and plugged their candidate into it. Witness Bush’s purchase of a ranch so he could appear like something other than a child of privelege. He was sold like toothpaste, with “values” and “leadership” in place of “whiter teeth” and “fresher breath.”
    The good news is, we have to run a better marketing campaign. The bad news is, we have to run a better marketing campaign. The future of a great nation shouldn’t come down to jingles and slogans, but apparently it does. We don’t have to descend to their level, but we do need to find ways to make our truths as concise and peppy as their lies.
    It’s doable — if we decide to start. So far I have seen no statement from the Democratic leadership that indicates any awareness of this.

  • Brian Perry

    To say that voters were fooled into voting for Bush by clever marketing is terrible thinking. You can market a sub-par product all day long for short term gains, but without substance to back it up, eventually sales will falter. Word of mouth will catch up with you. Think movies- the classic example being a hugely hyped movie that opens big and then immediately tanks as word gets out about how ripped off the viewers felt.
    On the other hand, a great product with little or no marketing savvy can become a huge hit. Quality sells, marketing or no, because people can feel quality in their gut. Their gut tells them to buy it, they do, and are satisfied, and thus are happy.
    I truly believe that people vote from the gut. All of the marketing, cable news, radio ads, debates- they all add up to and formulate a gut feeling within each voter. Some people form that gut feeling quite early, others require more time. Some apparently wait until the last minute. However, once that gut feeling is set, it’s the product of taking in and ranking hundreds of factors and pieces of information, and it’s in fact a very intelligent and measured way to arrive at a decision. In the end, a candidate rings true to your beliefs, and you vote for the candidate. I don’t think that any amount of clever marketing can conceal a weak candidate from this kind of sophistication.
    In my gut I knew that Kerry could not win, that he did not represent the majority of Americans. In my gut I knew that he was a weak candidate, and in my gut I knew that the majority of Americans agreed with me. The proof of my gut’s intelligence is in the pudding.
    The problem with Kerry was not the marketing, it was the product. Internalize this, or continue to try to sell the American public a product it doesn’t want. You already know how well that works…

  • Sorry Roddy, packaging alone ain’t gonna cut it.
    If you think 115 milion turned out to vote for the best advertising campaign, then you weren’t paying attention: it was fighting terror, occupying Iraq, and various domestic issues (jobs, taxes, health insurance, education) that were driving the electorate.
    If the Democratic leadership doesn’t get this, then the party will continue to head towards political doom.

  • Brian Perry

    Excellent! I guess there should be a “Subarus for Bush” club.
    As a matter of fact, here’s an interesting idea. Create a website where users can submit a self-made demographic list. Find others on the site who match your list right down to the last factor- subaru, coffee drinker, skier, watch South Park, for instance. Take the others who match and start your own affinity group. Market yourselves as testers for different products and political campaigns- become an expert of your own demo. Rake in cash for just being yourself.
    Robert, join my group- get yourself some skis and we’d be all set!

  • Heh, complaints! Just compare this well-thought out strategy to the after-election report on Kerry’s campaign, where Kerry labored mightily over every little decision, and staff had to take his cell phone away from him when he did lest he call up 100 people to tell them about it.
    This marketing strategy just goes to show… you had a bunch of smart Republicans against a bunch of angry Democrats. And you’re not at your smartest when you’re angry.
    If I were a Democrat, though, I would take this as a sign of hope: “there’s not really an emerging Republican majority; next time, we need to be less angry and more smart”.

  • Brian,
    Except for the fact that I wouldn’t vote for bush…
    I have two friends that I play in a band with. All of us drive Subarus ( although one just sold the Subaru and got a BMW, another supposedly pro bush car type ), are athiests, love guns, pro-choice, ( And incidentally, the other two people in my band are avid skiers… ) etc. and all of us think bush is scum. Of course, we thought Kerry was scum as well, but there you go.
    When the election is a choice between a douche and a turd sandwich. What difference does it make?
    I really don’t think that the people are divided along “Brands” as the article Jeff pointed at suggests. Just someone else trying to find a simple answer to a situation that doesn’t have one…
    Where’s Hari Sheldon when you need him?

  • Brian Perry

    Hello Robert,
    My mistake! I thought you were agreeing with my presidential preference as well from my above post. Didn’t mean to jump to conclusions, and I appreciate your clarifying.
    Is a Subaru a pro-Bush car? I have always thought that I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing driving around in mine, expect one thing, get another, etc. My count of Subarus sporting a pro-Bush sticker count is quite low- usually the bumper of a Subaru is a great place for me to do some “opposition research”.
    At any rate, I’d be happy to throw in with nearly any Subaru driver. They are to a person intelligent and reasonable people, as evidenced by our conversation here.

  • Heh.
    My inlaws have 2 subarus. A forester and an outback. Both sport Vietnam Veterans Against John Fonda Kerry stickers.
    I used to drive a Saab. Sold it and take public transportation now. I proudly voted and campaigned for George Bush, and even if I didn’t think he was the best (and most honest) politician in decades I would have still worked for him.
    Why? Because John Kerry is neither qualified for the position nor did he lay out clear and reasonable positions.
    Sorry, Rodney, but to say this traitorous lout who was simply a non factor in washington for 20+ years is qualified is ludicrous. Furthermore, his positions were anything but clear and those positions he held on important issues are hardly sensible – Unilateral negotiations with North Korea?? Supplying Iran with good nuclear materials so they would stop making bad nuclear materials? Kissing up to France, our oldest enemy? Trusting Kofi Annan and his corrupt UN buddies (who just recieved a vote of no confidence from the UN Staff) to protect the world?
    Sorry Rodney, its this wholly discredited liberal worldview that would even try to justify these positions as sensible that will doom the Democrats to electoral defeat for many many more years to come.

  • Desert Donkey

    Volvo or Lincoln ….
    … either way FORD gets your money.
    (…. or Mercury, Land Rover, Jaguar, Mazda)
    I am a liberal, work at a university and am aware of the image these things have to some. I drive a big Oldmobile station wagon, a motorcycle which changes every year, a Miata and a Nissan Murano, and at one time a White Western Star semi full of gravel up and down logging roads.
    I also wear Birkenstocks when conditions permit.
    You can count on me to vote for the most liberal Democrat in any race, because my highest priority is economic fairness which has nothing to do with cars, tree hugging, latte’s or other totems of liberalism in some people’s minds.

  • weboy

    I’m fascinated that Jeff J. and others find the Mehlman comments shocking or inappropriate. If anything, to me, they suggest what the Dems should have been doing and didn’t – identifying who their most likely voters were, and targeting messages to them.
    Political advertising is some of the most expensive, wasteful, badly produced stuff ever. That the GOP figured out, even if only in a rudimentary way, how to identify and target its likely demographics should give a Dem pause. Why aren’t we doing that? Given the people I know in NYC in marketing, there’s a wealth of talent waiting for the call. And if people find it distasteful or “slick” or unnerving, well, try not to let advertising influence you so much, that’s a healthy start. But the reality is marketing already has moved onto finding the best audience for the right message for quite a while now. The parties should put a little effort into doing the same.

  • Weboy:
    I did not say that I found this shocking or inappropriate. You said that. I didn’t. You are, as we used to say in San Francisco, projecting. Don’t misquote me, please.

  • Karl

    The closing line to your post is:
    “Politics is just a product, in this view.”
    I could argue at length that this is not a fair characterization of the comments you quoted. But I’ll give you the capsule summary. The original story is about the GOPs efforts in voter registration and GOTV. Your post takes them out of context by applying them to politics generally and implicitly imputing that view to people like Mehlman. But at the very least, you should not be the least bit surprised at weboy’s reading.

  • Create a website where users can submit a self-made demographic list. Find others on the site who match your list right down to the last factor- subaru, coffee drinker, skier, watch South Park, for instance. Take the others who match and start your own affinity group. Market yourselves as testers for different products and political campaigns- become an expert of your own demo. Rake in cash for just being yourself.
    Except for the politics part, isn’t that what eharmony does?
    And does that mean that Brian and Robert should start dating?

  • Just a question.
    “Politics is just a product, in his view.”
    It is true, don’t you think so?

  • AH

    Yes, an outcome here is the decision to “purchase” a “product” with a vote. And that’s what many voters distrusted about liberals in the context of the 2004 election. That is, the liberals’ own distrust of knowing and doing what it takes to get the best result possible.
    And yes, Jeff, “Politics is just a product, in this view,” suggests that outside “this view,” politics is not “just a product,” but something more principled and less reductionistic, implicitly perhaps a higher calling than these fiendishly logical robotic Republicans acknowledge.
    While Mr. Mehlman was assembling this “very bottom-line characterization,” The Other Guy windsurfed in flowered lycra for photogs, and his staff squabbled. Where’s the Waldo in this picture who you really want to run the country? 60 million voters have answered.

  • cepedalibre

    marketing is about discovering what you need (market research), creating a solution (product), communicating the solution for your need (we