Tag Archives: going negative

Political Brand Management – Going Negative

I generally tend to keep politics out of this blog, but I just read an interesting piece entitled “How Negative Advertising Works (and When It Doesn’t)” by John Quelch was included in this week’s issue of HBS Working Knowledge.  Since my comment on the article will likely be edited shortened (brevity is not my forte), I’m including it here with a couple of links to materials mentioned in my comment (because I can’t pass up a chance to plug my favorite author):

I think that the key here is this :

“Unlike politicians, companies hardly ever run negative ads. Pepsi ads don’t tear down Coke; they build the brand image of Pepsi. Why? Because a tit-for-tat war of words would turn off consumers of both brands. And sales growth, not just market share, is what puts money in shareholders’ pockets.”

David Foster Wallace wrote an essay included in “Consider the Lobster” that is about to be reissued as a book called “McCain’s Promise” in which he talked at length about the impetus for political incumbents to go negative – going negative effectively turns off voters, shrinking the potential voter pool and favoring the candidate with a strong brand and deep coffers. Since new voters generally support the ‘outsider’ candidate, going negative usually starts with the incumbent, putting the challenger in a lose/lose (look weak by not fighting back, or fight back and open yourself up to charges of having gone negative yourself).

Thus generally creating the ‘better of two evils’ situation in which people choose not to vote as a form of protest.  Which generally favors the incumbent, and allows even more money and effort to be spent on getting the party faithful out to the polls, because the undecided have been neutralized/disenfranchised/exhausted by the negative tedium of the campaign.  Which explains why the far right and far left hold so much sway in the political process despite most Americans self-identifying as moderate – most Americans also don’t vote, and those that can be counted on to vote are at the poles (pun half-intended).

As Professor Quelch notes, Coke and Pepsi would prefer to grow the market, not shrink it in order to destroy competitors and gain market share.  Even the Pepsi Challenge must have been somewhat welcomed by Coke, as its underlying message was “drink cola and find the one you like.”

One final sidenote – the Democratic primary this year is particularly interesting, as the ‘outsider’ candidate with less name/brand recognition has become the candidate with much deeper pockets.