Saturday, August 20, 2011

What Political Malware Might Look Like - Obama and the Democratic Party Brand

As someone who keeps up with politics and also spends a lot of time thinking about marketing, I've spent a lot of time reflecting on Barack Obama and his apparent disconnect from his Democratic party base. Here is a candidate and a brand who, after being elected with strong popularity and a broad base of support, has managed to transform that brand enthusiasm into a complete disconnect from his most passionate base. As the polls run these days, Obama's most electable advantage is that he is not a Republican.

Personally, I think that one fundamental problem is that you can't build enthusiastic brand loyalty and evangelism through mediocre me-to products and appealing to the lowest common denominator. Instead, you connect with passionate, energized audiences and they help drive broader loyalty. And that's probably why I was so struck by this story about Obama campaign staff criticizing activists and outspoken figures on the left --  

So here's a bigger question -- what if there an underlying identity implied by the Democratic party, a set of values and principles that represent the brand archetype? Perhaps they might even represent areas where compromise and concession are not acceptable, like Arthur Andersen's approach to accounting.
During the early years, it is reputed that Andersen was approached by an executive from a local rail utility to sign off on accounts containing flawed accounting, or else face the loss of a major client. Andersen refused in no uncertain terms, replying that there was "not enough money in the city of Chicago" to make him do it.
So what happens if you represent this brand, but the output and the message you communicate doesn't match those core values? When it comes to our computer, it's not uncommon to find software or applications that look like legitimate system components but that then produce unexpected or undesired results.
Malware, short for malicious software, consists of programming (code, scripts, active content, and other software) designed to disrupt or deny operation, gather information that leads to loss of privacy or exploitation, gain unauthorized access to system resources, and other abusive behavior. The expression is a general term used by computer professionals to mean a variety of forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software or program code.
But it's not just Democrats. Moderate Republicans might think of the Tea Party and the radical right as malware -- the Christine O'Donnell 2010 candidacy might be a good example of that. Of course, some might say that it isn't malware, that it isn't malicious; instead, it's merely the evolution of thought, philosophy, or values -- sort of an ideological regression to the mean.

It's too bad that we can't ask Arthur Andersen what he thinks. Having founded a brand based on the strong business principles, imagine what he might say about the evolution of his accounting firm's brand, falling so far as to be remembered more for criminally unprincipled accounting practices than those associated with his own name. He might think that his business had been consumed by malware.

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