What can advertising and politics learn from one another?
Editor's Note: The Yahoo! Advertising blog recently asked several agency leaders one question: "What are some key trends you're seeing in political advertising this election season?" Here is the response from Tom Denari, President and Principal of Young & Laramore, who talks about the lessons that politicos and advertisers can learn from one another—where both have gone wildly wrong, but also what the best do right.
At first glance, it might seem difficult to find what advertisers and politicos can learn from one another One could say that both advertising and politics are broken, victims of an age in which we have too much information at our fingertips, too often. It's a culture where anyone can criticize anything at any time, making all of us less willing to take a stand; less willing to take a chance; and less willing to stay the course. We're a society, and an industry, that has completely lost the concept of discipline, patience and commitment.
The great leaders of our time—as well as the great brands—took time to develop and take hold. President Ronald Reagan's brand was, by no means, an overnight success. Nor was Apple's or even Starbucks'. Reagan's job approval rating fell below 40% during his first term, but he overcame serious questions about his age and mental capacity to win 49 of 50 states in his re-election in 1984.
No matter your political preferences, it's hard to dispute that Reagan became a strong "brand" that's become even strongerwith the passing of time. Likewise, Apple stumbled through the early '90s with mediocre products and failed initiatives until Steve Jobs resurrected the brand upon his return. And Starbucks was a niche, regional brand for years before its uniquely strong blends and expensive indulgences gained mass popularity.
Staying the course
Whether it's the result of the stock market, the speed of innovation and technology, or even the Millennials who all received trophies during their youth sports years just for participating, our current culture expects immediate success. Today, too many politicians and brands have driven themselves into a ditch because they over-steered and ultimately lost control. They saw some polling numbers that either drew them to emphasize an insignificant issue too intently, or guided them away from a difficult one. Or, a particular product or ad didn't test well in a focus group—which meant it never saw the light of day.
Reagan. Apple. Starbucks. What all three of these "brands" have in common was steady, unwavering leadership. And while Reagan didn't have to deal with a 24-hour news cycle or the blogosphere questioning every move, he was a strong leader who was generally perceived as being consistent in his approach and his ideology. Apple lost its way in the late '80s to mid-'90s without a strong leader. And with Starbucks, Howard Schultz essentially willed the four-dollar-cup-of-coffee-house phenomenon upon the U.S.—a concept that would have surely died in a focus group. ("How likely are you to spend $3.87 on a cup of coffee, every single day?")
One word: Leadership
What both advertising and politics can learn from each other is that success is usually difficult, slow and often results from strong, consistent leadership. Leadership that isn't deterred by the latest polling data, yesterday's sales numbers, an attack from a political news channel, or an ill-conceived research methodology that's only designed to cover someone's ass.
Both can learn that brands and politicians will have success if they have a grounded, consistent point of view, as well as the discipline to focus on the long term. Discipline is difficult, because it often means giving something up. It means sometimes saying "No" to a short-term opportunity. And, it means that you have to have the guts to stand firm when a few don't agree or don't buy what you're selling.
Ultimately, brands and politicians would do well to take the time to establish a solid point of view that they can believe in, and then simply stick with it. And, while it might take more than a few days, weeks, or even years; consistent, strong leadership will win the day—and likely the election.
— The Team