The rebranding of Hillary Clinton

Phillip Rucker and Anne Gearan of the Washington Post have written an article called “The making of Hillary 5.0: Marketing wizards help reimagine Clinton brand.” They should have added, “Not a parody.”

In the context of this article, the word “brand” means “image.” I’m not sure how “brand” took the place of “image” in marketing-speak. I suppose it was because “image” sounds fake, whereas “brand” sounds solid. Actors have images; products have brands.

“Image,” in other words, was trying to reimagine its brand.

So, according to Rucker and Gearan, is Hillary Clinton. Naturally, some of the best marketing minds in America are assisting her. They compare her brand to a plethora of substantial consumer products: Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Budweiser, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo.

But these “brands” have held steady over the years. To be sure, Coke has been rebranded occasionally and McDonald’s is going through the process now. Hillary, though, has tried to change her image almost as often as she’s changed her hair style. That’s why the Post refers to the brand that’s being hatched now as Hillary 5.0.

The most sensible view expressed in the Post’s story is that of Republican advertising “guru” Fred Davis. He says that if Clinton’s rebranding “seems like a craven attempt to try to put fresh paint on an old house, then it will backfire.”

I don’t see how yet another attempt to reinvent Clinton at this late date could seem other than craven. With an old war horse candidate, “what you see is what you get” might be the best marketing approach. It’s telling that Team Clinton rejects this approach. You’ll get something better than what you’ve seen is their pitch.

Davis continues:

I think most voters are actually pretty intelligent, and they’ll see through any blatant attempt to change. Her only hope, to me, is not a rebranding, but it’s actual policy positions and ideas that are fresh and new — and because those are fresh and new, voters might think, ‘Wait a minute, I’m going to give her another chance.’ 

A few Democratic strategists apparently agree with Davis, but they are drowned out in the article by Clinton’s marketeers. And it is their voices, along with the commentary of Rucker and Gearan, that make the article worth reading for laughs. Here is a sampling (remember, this is not a parody):

Is Hillary Rodham Clinton a McDonald’s Big Mac or a Chipotle burrito bowl? A can of Bud or a bottle of Blue Moon? JCPenney or J. Crew?

Clinton and her image-makers are sketching ways to refresh the well-established brand for tomorrow’s marketplace. In their mission to present voters with a winning picture of the likely candidate, no detail is too big or too small — from her economic opportunity agenda to the design of the “H” in her future campaign logo.

“It’s exactly the same as selling an iPhone or a soft drink or a cereal,” said Peter Sealey, a longtime corporate marketing strategist. “She needs to use everything a brand has: a dominant color, a logo, a symbol. . . . The symbol of a Mercedes is a three-pointed star. The symbol of Coca-Cola is the contour bottle. The symbol of McDonald’s is the golden arches. What is Clinton’s symbol?”

How about cattle futures?

“The issue is: What is her promise?” [Sealy] said. “With Mercedes, it’s quality. With Volvo, it’s safety. With Coca-Cola, it’s refreshment. If you can get her promise down to one word, that’s the key.”

How about “plastic”?

Rushing and Spence ­co-founded the Purpose Institute, where Rushing’s title is “chief purposeologist” and the staffers act as “organizational therapists” uncovering the central purposes of their client organizations. Rushing said she is not working on the Clinton effort but that she envisions a Clinton brand built around years of experience. She said, “Everything emanates from, ‘What is Hillary’s purpose in the world?’”

Beats me. It used to be “stand by your man.”

“Refresh with the times is the issue McDonald’s is facing right now,” [another consultant] said. “It’s considered tired, and the marketplace has moved on. ”

Fabian Geyrhalter, a corporate branding consultant, also drew a parallel between McDonald’s and Clinton: “There has been a brand value proposition over so many years, and suddenly she needs to shift that legacy into Clinton 2016: ‘This is what I stand for now.’”

Now, Clinton purports to stand for helping the middle class. But considering her lavish speaking fees, her ties to wealthy oligarchs all over the world through the Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation, and her claim that she left the White House “flat broke,” Republicans have plenty of ammunition to contest that brand.

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