Mayor Peter Buttigieg, the “wunderkind” contender who presently can do no wrong, has some serious marketing issues as a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
His first obstacle is an inability to resonate with “people of color” and blue-collar voters. But he also shares something with the president whom he constantly admonishes. It’s his brand — let’s call it “Trump Low Voter Ceiling Syndrome (TLVC)!” As we’ve coined it, TLVC is a phenomenon that occurs when a candidate cannot rise above a significant numerical benchmark in polling against a certain voter segment, namely blue-collar voters.
Another problem for the good Mayor is his incessant — subtle but observable — attacks on those who disagree with him on “matters of faith” and for that matter, any issue for which the Mayor holds strong beliefs. This incalcitrant behavior underscores his youth and inexperience — “red-meat” for critics on both sides of the aisle. It is why Waylon Jennings adage that “old age and treachery always beats youth and skill” may be the epitaph that eventually dooms the Buttigieg campaign.
To be fair, this brand attribute of attacking the opposition with your views is a solid and salient example of utilizing “old school” campaigning — securing one’s base, which worked in a pre-social media environment.
Way back, one could virtually “say and do” anything before the public would ever notice. Today, however, that’s no longer the case. Anyone implementing such a strategy is engaging in a “fool’s errand!” Once a safe strategy, but no longer. The question has now become: “In today’s social media world, how does one explain away, something said to earn primary votes when it’s not nearly as appealing a message to the general electorate?” As the president and others have shown, there’s a contradictory tweet for everything. Social media has a long memory. Ignore that at your peril.
But Mayor Pete, ironically, may face an even more severe existential challenge. It’s one that the Mayor, his handlers, and his supporters like to promote — his intelligence.
The group-thinkers in his Campaign fail to question this brand label. And they should, because it may be positive among one segment of voters but offer significant negatives to another — namely blue collar workers.
Adlai Stevenson, the 1952 Democratic candidate against the Republican nominee, General Dwight Eisenhower, had a similar problem. Stevenson was branded early as an “Egghead” — a term defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as a “person with intellectual interests or pretensions: a brainy person.”
Unfortunately, most people prefer likeability over intelligence and that may be one of many factors in why Eisenhower was chosen over Stevenson. One could deduce that blue-collar voters admired Stevenson for his perceived outstanding intellect, but when all was said and done, they voted for the “war hero” Eisenhower, who was respected more than merely admired.
Perhaps at another time in our history, this moniker would not be perceived as adversely as it would be today. Especially after having been exposed to another presidential candidate — President Barack Obama, who many considered more intellectual than practical. Not a smart move when one considers the contrast of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But when you reflect on the contrasts between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, emphasizing intellect may not be the smartest strategy.
The zeitgeist for this election cycle is practical solutions rather than lofty pronouncements — a brand position that has anesthetized many a voter. It would be wise for any Democrat seeking the nomination to take note of this.
Mayor Pete has a great future. It’s just not now, first and foremost, because of the Mayor’s youth and inexperience, no matter how much he protests. Secondly, the electorate majority wants “action,” not ideological thinkers.
One thing he should consider if he wants to be a presidential contender in the years to come: It is always easier when you have marketing and branding in mind.
Dr. John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert, known as The Marketing Doctor. JT utilizes his doctoral skills in applied research psychology to analyze the issues and personalities of the day utilizing his marketing and branding lens. This provides his readers with additional insight needed to understand the “new normal” in politics, news, and culture. Dr. Tantillo is the OpEd writer for Political Vanguard. He is the author of "People Buy Brands, Not Companies,” and the Udemy course "Go Brand Yourself!" You can follow him on Twitter @marketingdoctor and at Facebook.com/dr.johntantillo. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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