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F.R. de Jongh (Felix)


10124470
Political Marketing
Dr. M. Moorman
Academic Essay
1495

March 11th, 2016

Over-Promising And Under-Delivering


How Market Orientation Opens Democracy To
Cynicism and Polarisation

Barack Obamas 2008 victory in the Presidential General Election was a landslide victory in
terms of the electoral vote, with 67.8% of the electors (365 out of 538) going the way of the
senator from Illinois. While these numbers show a convincing victory for Obama, the actual
votes were much closer with only 52.86% of the popular vote in favour of Obama versus
45.60% of his rival, Republican John McCain (Leip, 2012a). This discrepancy between the
electoral and popular vote is the largest between non-incumbent candidates in an election
since 1988 in which there was no viable independent candidate (ibid). Starting as the absolute
underdog, his eventual victory fuelled many research among political scholars vested in
political marketing.
Among the conclusions drawn, was the way the campaign was able to construct a
network of volunteers to communicate face-to-face with voters, creating long-term
relationships (Lees-Marshment, 2012). His campaign was the first to effectively use the
internet as a marketing and communication tool (Harris & Lock, 2010, Lees-Marshment,
2012), used platform-branding to appeal to non-democrats which resulted in a relatively high
brand equity (Lees-Marshment, 2014), explained by their excellent use of Needhams criteria
for successful brands: simple, unique, reassuring, aspirational, value-based and credible
(Needham, 2005; Lees-Marshment, 2014). On top of that, Obama had an unequalled financial
advantage over his opponent which was spent on creating a coherent advertising strategy
under control of his own campaign team, increasing the impact and effectiveness of the
advertisements. This was done by opting out of public spending, meaning the campaign had
full control over its finances (Franz & Ridout, 2010; Moorman & Neijens, 2012). Out of the
total 745 million dollar raised, 56.6% went to media-advertisements, while roughly 1.6%
went to market research. This number still amounts to 250% of the total sum McCain spent
on market research (Expenditures Breakdown, 2008 Cycle, 2013).

Obamas 2008 victory over the much more established McCain meant a shift in
political marketing practice, as deconstructed by Lees-Marshment in five points. The first
being a departure from researching voter demands and creating a marketing strategy towards
the co-creation of the resulting political product. Secondly, she found a change from a
market-oriented party wins all-mentality towards an openness to more situational strategic
options, in order to build long-term relationships with the electorate. Thirdly, Obamas
campaign volunteers were seen as an integral part of the campaign instead of mere foot
soldiers. This created a feeling of importance and pride for these volunteers resulting in more
enthusiasm in their campaigning. A fourth point sees the shift from aiming for short-term
sales, towards long-term, mutual, and interactive communication relationships. This does not
stop once the campaign is over, since the fifth point is the expansion of political marketing
into governing itself to deliver policy and leadership (Lees-Marshment, 2012).
In order to put this shift into context it is important to put previous conceptions into
detail. Three generally accepted forms in which a political party or candidate could establish
themselves existed. The first is the product-oriented approach, in which the political product
is convinced of its message to the point there is no room for electoral input to change the
message (Lees-Marshment, 2001). A sales-oriented party is more focussed on the voter, and
how the message conveyed will be received. Market research is herein used to devise a
strategy of convincing people the message the party conveys is what they need (ibid). The
third type is the market-oriented approach, which uses more intricate ways of market research
to create a message according to electoral demands such as the co-creation of the platform
(ibid). According to Lees-Marshment, the party which adapts its message best to market
research will most likely win the election (2001).
Empirical proof of this assessment is lacking (Omrod, 2011). A focus on audience
demands may instead lead to a near-sightedness, since the focus on marketing could result in

passing over what the electorate really needs (Levitt, 1960; Omrod, 2011). As senator Warren
Rudman eloquently stated during the Iran-Contra hearings after remarking that, at the time,
polls were heavily against military intervention and government inaction reflected public
opinion, adding the American people have a Constitutional right to be wrong (Converse,
1987: p. s23). In the eighties, politicians did not use market research to devise a marketing
strategy, since survey data at the time was understood to be too unreliable. It was mainly used
to maximize the opportunity for (re-)election to circumnavigate issues the electorate was
vehemently against (ibid). As Converse rightly concluded in 1987, a greater sensitivity
towards the public opinion does not improve the quality of governance. Letting public
opinion influence policy is detrimental to democracy (ibid).
However, due to technological advancements, collecting and interpreting large
amounts of data has become both easier and cheaper. Nowadays, people apply themselves
online to take part in surveys with data instantly becoming part of databases which perform
the calculations instantly. This means the results of market research increased in reliability,
but also became a much more attractive option for political marketing strategists, increasing
dependence on market research over time. But, Converses reservations about using
marketing research in the creation of the political product have not been resolved. To
illustrate, only 43% of republican voters see climate change as a serious issue, with only 22%
of them wanting politicians should do more about it (Gass, 2015). Adapting such data into the
political product on such issues has far-reaching negative effects.
The market-oriented approach tries to appease the largest amount of voters possible
by devising a strategy that would resonate with the public (Lees-Marshment, 2001). While
this approach has achieved notable success, it only works when the electorate is content. In
times of (economic) crisis, when harsh measures are necessary in order to save the economy,
a market-oriented approach runs the risk of over-promising and under-delivering by being

purposefully too optimistic. Eventually, this creates an undercurrent of discontent and a lack
of faith in the ability for politicians to deliver on their promises (Ryan, n.d.). As information
about campaigns and political marketing becomes easier to access, the electorate begins to
learn which marketing tools are used and is able to detect when they are being marketed to.
Combined, this leads to the notion that political candidates only say what is necessary to be
elected, without having the intention of following through on these promises. This perceived
lack of authenticity, an important factor in creating success for politicians (Needham, 2005;
Lees-Marshment, 2012), breeds political cynicism among both sides of the political spectrum
resulting in an increasing partisan gap and accompanying polarisation (Stolberg, 2013),
making people like Trump serious presidential candidates as a means of protest.
Political marketing is an unhealthy race to the bottom. The learning effect means that
political marketing is subject to diminishing returns. What might work in a campaign will be
less effective in the next, prompting strategists to look for more drastic marketing options to
position the product. This is exemplified when comparing Obamas 2012 re-election run to
his 2008 landslide victory. McCains highest approval rating was 67% in March 2008
(Newport, 2008), while Romney topped at 50% in May 2012 (Jones, 2012). Even though
McCain was regarded more favourable, Romneys campaign came closer to defeating Obama
in both popular and electoral vote-tallies with 47.15% and 38.3% respectively (Leip, 2012b).
It is a fair assumption to make that Obamas less convincing 2012 victory was due to
disillusioned voters, too cynical to become enthused caused by under-delivery on his
campaign promises and lack of a fresh, inspiring marketing campaign.
The shift in political marketing Lees-Marshment describes was not a voluntary
change. Marketing strategists have to come up with new ways of convincing the people that
the political product is worthy of their vote. Once a marketing ploy is used it will not net the
same positive results. It might even be cause for disdain among already sceptical voters,

looking to confirm their suspicions that politicians are all the same. A market-oriented
approach would not be a successful strategy in 2008 after the housing market collapse in
2007. Obamas campaign team recognized this and came up with a new solution that paid off,
as a campaign-team should always determine what type of campaign will be used
(Strmbck, 2007).
Whether this shift holds for the coming decades remains to be seen. The democratic
preliminaries are currently between Clinton and Sanders, market-orientation vs. productorientation. While Clinton is aiming for the moderate voters, Sanders uses a more radical
socialist rhetoric. Neither seems able to unite the insurgent and insider members of the
democratic party the way Obama could (Rospars, 2016). It certainly does not help the
market-oriented candidate has been caught flip-flopping following updated polls proving
her opponents views were more popular, adapting these views in her program (Kliegman,
2016). People need genuine authenticity, driving them into the hands of product-oriented
populists like Trump and Sanders. They wont tolerate another over-promising, underdelivering president, whose campaign promises were mere fabrications to sound good on the
ballot.

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