Brand Republican Can Learn From 7-UP

By John TantilloMarketing and Brand Expert

Folks, I've been talking about the Democrats so much lately that I'm guilty of neglecting Brand Republican...

Unfortunately, Brand Republican is guilty of the same thing.

Bobby Jindal's shaky response to President Obama's speech a few weeks ago is just the tip of the branding iceberg. Next we saw Michael Steele's confused and confusing pronouncements on hot-button, traditionally core conservative issues like abortion. Still more recent is the Republican's populism in criticizing the AIG bonuses -a populism that might be understandable but is not really in keeping with the free-market spirit and history of the party.

Ronald Reagan

Essentially it's this: the Republican Brand is in a deep brand crisis. This is not the kind of brand crisis that comes from losing a few elections, making a few tactical mistakes, falling asleep at the political switch.

Nope. This is the kind of brand crisis that comes from a cumulative loss of brand identity, strategy and implementation.

Make no mistake: This is the kind of crisis that can sink a brand.

Here are some of the reasons why I am convinced that the Republicans aren't going to get their act together anytime soon, no matter how badly they want to:

1) There are no standout figures in the Republican Party who are unifiers. While there are several prominent "brand" representatives, none of them are comprehensive enough to unify the whole brand in a Reagan-like fashion. Jindal's problematic performance drove this point home and also drove home the related point that Republican's are almost too desperate for a standout, unifying figure. This desperation is leading to the too early anointing of leaders. The next Republican brand leader has to be unifying and even more important develop organically out of great personal/political strengths of an individual who meets the needs of the party and people.

2) In fact, many prominent Republicans are actually rejecting the party openly while remaining in it -- like Schwarzenegger, who in a recent interview relished the fact that the Republican Party was against some of his initiatives. This falls under the category of "A brand divided against itself cannot stand."

3) The Republicans are being reactive not proactive. The appointment of Michael Steele to lead the party, while perhaps a good choice as far as Steele's qualifications and character are concerned, appears to be a reactive choice since it seems a superficial response to another African-American's (Obama's) electoral success. What made this appointment worse was that Steele, now the top representative of the party, was not "on message." Wow. Add to this that Republicans have appeared to be reacting to Democrat initiatives in the legislative process and you've got another major problem. Bottom line: a growing brand is proactive, not reactive.

4) Republicans are in disarray in their beliefs and principles. Steele's interview again and, of course, his recent run-in and about-face with Rush Limbaugh. Also, we've got people like Lindsey Graham apparently ready to argue for bank nationalization -- something that even some Democrats think is too much government. And then you've got the various Republican governors -- all with different positions on whether or not to accept the stimulus.

5) Recent history in Britain gives us a sense of where this might go. Tony Blair took the steam out of the Conservatives there by agreeing with many things they advocated. As a result, the Conservatives became reactive, had no standout figures and have been languishing in disarray for almost a decade. They are only now beginning to regroup their brand.

6) Republicans lack a clear-cut vision of the future. Being the party of NO is simply not enough. This is like marketing a product because of what it is not instead of what it is. This strategy has been tried before. How about 7-Up...the "un-cola"? 7-Up might have gained some market share at first, but it never managed to gain too much momentum against Coke and Pepsi. Successful brands have clear-cut visions of the future that are positive, not negative. End of story. Reagan was not so much against big government as for small government and the wherewithal of the American people to make good choices if they were just left alone to do it. With a positive brand vision, consumers/voters know where the brand plans to go and grow. And because they know this, they become a part of the brand's growth through their support.

7) As a result, we might also be witnessing the end of Brand Republican and possibly one of those rare moments in American history when a third party emerges. It's not impossible, folks. Sometimes a brand simply can't be saved. Have you used Oxydol lately? Probably not. But Oxydol was once one of the most popular detergents of the 1930s -- one of those "inevitable" brands that dominated the marketplace. No brand is inevitable or unsinkable in either the supermarket or at the polls -- think about the Whigs. When Abraham Lincoln saw the writing on the wall about this increasingly "oppositional" party that was simply unable to build consensus, he left to join the newly formed Republican Party. Then a few years later Lincoln left the Republicans to run as a member of the National Union party in his second term. After all, how are the David Brookses of the Republican Party ever really going to reconcile with the Mike Huckabees? It's a big tent, but is it that big? Something might have to give.

I'd like to find something positive for this brand in the near future, but frankly, right now, I just can't. The recent CPAC meeting seemed to be more preaching to the converted than something that represented genuine rejuvenation and new direction.

My guess is that the party's best bet is #5, the British marketing model. It will take years, but through opposition and hard times we often get to know our brands best and clarify them for all to see and support. I've talked a lot about poli marketing. Poli marketing is using marketing to understand and master the political process. This is what the Republicans need desperately to do.

Brand Republican is a great brand and this doesn't have to be its final (marketing) chapter. Stay tuned.

And remember, it's always easier to understand politics when you keep marketing and branding in mind.