Last week, the right got lucky.
Really lucky, as pressure from lobbyists and staunchly conservative home bases for many Republican and a few Democratic senators combined to defeat the President's controversial gun control bill. And now, they find themselves in an even more dangerous position than before; one where it would be all too easy to become complacent, to chalk one superficial win up as an indication of the strength of their overall strategy. The truth however, is much more grim. Despite a top-to-bottom revamp of the party’s platform aimed at making them more appealing to key minority demographics, the GOP continues to fall behind the left in reaching voters and we only need to look at the nation’s top brands to figure out why.
Elephant in bubble, Image Credit: Shutterstock
Whether we like it or not, voters are consumers and when it comes to politics the public figures they choose to represent them are another commodity on the auction block, a product on store shelves.
All the gurus agree, marketing in America has changed; storytelling is the new marketing black. It can be seen in the success of companies like Apple and TOMS shoes, where, as Simon Sinek puts it, the "why" is espoused before the what and how. TOMS, for instance, believes in having a pair of shoes on every child in the world. They just happen to make comfortable, stylish shoes through the purchase of which you can help make that belief a reality. And it works. In his book, the founder of TOMS himself, Blake Mycoskie, recounts a study that was completed at Carnegie Mellon University. After taking a survey that participants thought was the study itself, they were compensated with five dollars and given one of two pieces of information on the well-known Save The Children initiative. One sheet of information contained hard facts and statistics only, the other told the story of one child who happened to represent the target demographic Save The Children serves, and at the end of each was a request for donations. The participants who received the story were moved to give more than twice as much as those who had received the fact-filled letter. Facts and statistics have their place, the story of the child wasn't devoid of them completely, but in a society where we've become accustomed to what Mycoskie calls "conscious capitalism" it's increasingly important for those bits of information to be woven into the arc of a good story if we want to move people to action. So, while it's nice to see party platform catching up with social sentiment, an updated ideology won't be enough to capture significant gains in public office without a revamped narrative.
Sure, liberal policies often lend themselves more readily to story-centric marketing efforts -- Sandra Fluke put a familiar face on the fight for contraceptive coverage and Jose Antonio Vargas served as a very real reminder of the hard-working immigrants that can be caught in the crossfire of immigration reform -- but that’s no excuse for the right to be missing this boat entirely. With the exception of Joe The Plumber, who has since largely become a pop culture joke and media scapegoat, the right has struggled to bring unifying figures to the forefront of their policy crusades -- even where convenient and convincing alliances exist. While the left had no problem trotting out anti-gun Sandy Hook parents in the wake of the school shooting there earlier this year, the right failed to show adequate support for Mark Mattioli, a man with the audacity to speak up for the second amendment even as he struggled to choke back tears over the loss of his son.
Last week’s luck may have come at just the right time, but this week, as immigration takes center stage on Capitol Hill, there’s a tremendous opportunity for the Grand Old Party to accomplish both their coveted rebrand -- making GOP synonymous with the Growth & Opportunity Party -- and wade into new marketing waters as they tell the stories of Americans who would benefit from a more secure border and immigrants who would be granted a path to citizenship. There is, after all, a very convenient and very raw story at hand.
As the nation continues to slowly heal the wounds inflicted by terrorists who just so happened to be immigrants, the way in which the right chooses to spin that story will be a true test of their party's new face. There's a real danger here to make it all about the negative, to use the immigrants-cum-terrorists faces as the main characters in this story. It's a danger we've already seen talking heads and certain loud conservatives toying with, and one that would more likely result in the right being tuned out yet again, rather than their message reaching voters loud and clear. Because as much as voters like a story, it has to be a good one. Americans are as burned out on cynacism and pessimism as they are boring marketing campaigns. It's up to politicians to craft something that can hold their attention and if the right doesn't get with the program the left and the rest of this great capitalist nation are going to run away without them, stories in hand.
Because whatever Republicans decide, one thing is for certain: as mid-term elections loom and front-runners for the next presidency begin to wiggle their toes in the inevitable waters of a dual-primary election season, continuing to ignore the power of a good story will lose the right seats in every single election regardless of how socially progressive their party platform becomes.
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