Forbes: New and Improved? the Presidency Ultimately May Not Be Buyable, but Candidates Do Rise and Fall According to the Principles of Marketing

By Bruce I. Newman. Bruce I. Newman is an associate professor of marketing "The Marketing of the President. " | The Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Forbes: New and Improved? the Presidency Ultimately May Not Be Buyable, but Candidates Do Rise and Fall According to the Principles of Marketing


Bruce I. Newman. Bruce I. Newman is an associate professor of marketing "The Marketing of the President. ", The Christian Science Monitor


THERE was talk early on in the campaign that candidates today can buy their way into the White House, that the presidency is simply a big auction - nonsense. Just look at what happened to the Steve Forbes candidacy. There is a world of difference between the buying and marketing of the presidency.

From a marketing perspective, the obvious question would be why Mr. Forbes plummeted in the polls so quickly. The answer is that marketing alone cannot ensure strong sales if either the product or image is perceived to be lacking.

Forbes's initial marketing success stemmed from his ability to anticipate the needs and desires of his target market - Republican primary voters. Forbes knew that people vote with their pocketbooks. Through his focus-group research, he developed his product - the flat-tax proposal. Forbes was able to convince voters of the merits of the flat tax - less money paid out to the government and more to keep for themselves.

Primary voters on election day are no different from consumers going into a showroom to buy a car or into a store to purchase a piece of furniture - they don't want to wait three months for delivery - they want it now.

In politics, as in business, an image must be tailored to the product. Just as Gatorade created the ideal image for its product by having Michael Jordan promote it, the flat-tax proposal only became popular after it was championed by Forbes. It was a brilliant marketing strategy. Here was a radically different candidate, not too polished, a little clumsy in public, promoting a radical message. Forbes successfully created an image of himself as a virtual outsider to Washington, truly the "un-politician." The country is in an anti-Washington mood, and voters are still looking for a candidate to fill the shoes of Colin Powell.

However, as Forbes moved up in the polls in Iowa, his competitors began to run their own negative commercials, bringing out the inherent flaws in his flat-tax proposal and raising doubts in voters' minds about Forbes's leadership abilities. Neither the product nor the image Forbes was marketing looked so good anymore.

As the barrage of negative advertising increased, Forbes complained that the Christian Coalition was working with the Dole campaign to discredit him. From a marketing perspective, the statement by Forbes was about as smart as McDonald's deciding not to allow children into its restaurants. …

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