Brands are Candidates: How to Win the Vote

Mike Shannon    Candidates Thumb

At the store.  On Facebook.  On a stock exchange.  In a newsroom.  On Capitol Hill.

Consumers are voting with their purchases. Citizens with a like or retweet.  Investors with their stock trades.  Policymakers with their legislative positions.  The media with its stories.  

Activists with their attacks.

And on and on.  All the time.  Every day.

A few years back, our firm pioneered the concept of thinking of brands as candidates and adapted best practices from the presidential campaign trail into corporate communications and advocacy.

The idea gained steam in 2014 when one of the world’s best known companies – Uber – declared itself a candidate, made a campaign-style approach central to its business strategy, and added former Obama advisor David Plouffe to its executive team. 

Under Plouffe’s leadership, Uber the candidate has begun:

Mobilizing its base of passionate users in regulatory fights across the country.

Deploying research and partnerships to drive home its message of safety and reliability and explain the company’s societal benefits (such as good jobs and reducing drunk driving).

Bringing in outside experts to review and strengthen privacy protocols, blunting attacks from its opposition.

These are three savvy political moves that all big brands should study and consider adapting to win votes in their own “elections.”

Here are three more that we’ve been talking with our clients about:

  1. Develop a fact-checking operation to push back against negative media stories and activist attacksWalmart did this in a creative way when it took a red pen to a New York Times op-ed. Recently Google used a classic political tactic – the gif – to counter a Wall Street Journal article.
  2. Bypass traditional media to tell your own story. The current White House has done this in spades, both by developing its own channels on platforms like Flickr and Medium and giving interviews to YouTube stars, Zillow and Amazon Singles. High-profile athletes are nowpublishing first-person pieces on Derek Jeter’s Player’s Tribune.
  3. Give your consumers a way to participate in and build your brand’s story. Doritos has done this for years through its Crash the Super Bowl ad making contest. And GoPro has led YouTube’s Brand Channel leaderboard by curating and sharing its customers’ videos.

With the 2016 presidential campaign in full swing, we’ll be watching the race closely for new ideas. Brands are indeed candidates. More soon.