Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Brand Coherence

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Over at Steve's they're talking about these darn mild-mannered Democrats who never say anything mean and those terrific Republican rat bastards Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt and Dr. Bill Kristol who tell it like it is with their Lincoln Project and show us how the pros do it and why can't we have some more of that inside the party and I just don't know.

You know where.

I do know I specifically don't want Joe Biden to go around pretending to be a mean person, if only because—duh—he's not going to do it very well. And we're stuck with him, if you want to look at it that way, so there's not much point. But he has his virtues too, and they aren't doing too badly, if you've been looking at the polls. He's consistently ahead, 9.2 percentage points today, with an absolute majority (51.8% to Trump's 43.1%), meaning that even if the election were held today and Trump got all the undecided votes Biden would still have a majority (as we know that doesn't mean winning the presidency, but Samuel Tilden in 1876 was the only candidate who ever lost that way, with an edge of 50.9%, and it wasn't the Electoral College but his party literally selling him out), but that's not happening:

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News study has found no evidence, so far, of the kind of late surge toward President Trump among undecided voters that helped produce his unexpected wins in 2016.

This was a questionnaire survey of a sample of voters previously identified as undecided or only tentative in their support for one candidate or the other. Since September the number of truly undecided has dwindled from 31% t0 18%, and those who decided have turned in both directions, Biden slightly dominating.

These voters are only lightly connected to the nation’s political life and show lower levels of interest in the election than most other voter groups. Many are young men, political independents or people who don't feel strongly connected to a party.

Respondents weren't interested in the Supreme Court or the rash of agreements between Israel and some Arab countries, either, let alone the vagaries of Hunter Biden's putatively abandoned laptop: 

Voters in the study who backed Mr. Trump cited the economy as a reason for their decision, as well as taxation and a desire for less government. Those who backed Mr. Biden tended to cite the coronavirus pandemic, unhappiness with events of the past four years and a need to unite the country.

Exasperation was the feeling that came across most from the interviews, said Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster. "There is no sense of hope, optimism, vision, direction," he said.

He added: "If you’re an incumbent, it’s not good news that there is exasperation, because you’re the point person of that exasperation."

On 27 October 2016 Clinton was 45.7% to 39.9%—seven-point lead but far from a majority, and a good 9% of the voters still called themselves undecided Gary Johnson and a barely registering Jill Stein shared the balance). On Election Day she was still winning, but still not up to 46%, and the undecided number was still about 7%. I have a feeling we're not in 2016 any more, Toto.

"And a need to unite the country." Biden likes to evoke Obama's language of overcoming division, which some of us have been known to snicker at a bit, but it's not an ineffective approach, and it's also being used by very strong-looking Senate candidates like Mark Kelly, John Hickenlooper, Sara Gideon

Gideon said on Tuesday she sees Biden as the candidate “most able to bring the country together and to look into the future to address all the challenges we face.”

(imagine her opponent Susan Collins trying to sell that line on Trump), Reverend Raphael Warnock of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, Jaime Harrison (imagine his opponent Lindsey Graham...), and, well, everybody. That's what Democrats do (though David Brooks still hasn't noticed). Negative partisanship is still the driving emotion of this contest, but there's no real need to make people angrier than they already are to get them to vote. Especially since "all the partisanship" is one of the top things they're angry about. 

That's not to say you and I don't deserve our anger fix (that's what I'm here for, and on Twitter). But we already know we're voting! 

And I don't object at all to the circulation of the Lincoln Project ads, but I'm not sorry that it's Republicans who are putting them out. They aren't scoring any votes for Susan Collins or Lindsey Graham either. They're doing the normal Republican work of stopping people from voting by making them unhappy with their natural choice. They're being Republicans in the service, for a change, of good.

What I want to be talking about is branding strategy here, and the quest for a brand identity:

a visual and verbal communication system that conveys a company’s personality and purpose to their audience. The ingredients vary, but typically an identity consists of core communication strategies, messages, and tone; nomenclature; static and/or moving image standards; colors, fonts, and patterns; print and/or interactive design principles; and of course the logo(s). In short, it’s a set of communication tools, often served up with a how-to guide for maximum mileage. It reflects what you do, not just what you say.

As everybody is supposed to know by now, we don't win elections by our lists of policy proposals but by the constellation of emotions that go along with those two characteristics, personality and purpose, and I do mean of the organization, not of the individual candidate. I think this is a good way of thinking about it without the risk of being slick and dishonest the way branding normally is out in the commercial world, because it starts from the understanding that you really have a personality and a purpose (unlike Coca-Cola or Citibank), and the effort should be to convey it accurately, not to pretend it's something different.

I think those who get jealous of the Republican willingness to be nasty or "hard-hitting" are paying too little attention to brand consistency. Democrats' purpose is to become better people, and to make everything better, with liberty and justice for all, and we must never allow voters to lose sight of that because we don't want to get them confused; and I worry about giving the wrong impression by being worse people—by acting spiteful or cruel or greedy or dishonest, or by being careless and amoral theater critics, or by being self-righteous, pearl-clutching and jowl-woggling prigs. Republicans can and do do those things, fairly openly, because their historical brand has been in the frame of "I gotta be me", don't make anything better, to appeal to folks' natural desire to not change anything about themselves and assert that they're morally superior as they are. We shouldn't, even if it looks like fun, if only because we can't look as if we're trying to be Republicans—we won't be as good at it as they are.

I, on the other hand, am probably overly attached to brand consistency, which may lead to the kind of mummified message discipline we saw most of the time from the campaigns that didn't work from Mondale through Kerry, and probably Hillary Clinton as well. We should be aiming at brand coherence, as we do in our personal relationships, alternating lightness and seriousness, humor and indignation, anger and care, but because we're Democrats we should be righteous rather than self-righteous, satirists rather than insult comics, up-punchers rather than down-punchers, happy warriors rather than enraged combatants, etc. We shouldn't directly imitate the style of Steve Schmidt any more than we imitate the style of Trump.

And we shouldn't ask of Biden himself things he's not going to deliver. Nobody in the world is going to be the master of tones that Barack Obama is. Biden has his own virtues, as I was saying, and they are very considerable. He's intimate with an audience, like Bill Clinton, but not so aggressively eager: there's a humility to his address that makes you want to build him up. At the same time, also like Bill Clinton, he's really solid in his preparation, but not trying to dazzle you, and not even going to bother you with it unless you really want to know.

And tell me this doesn't work for you, in the last days:

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