Apparently the presidential candidates missed the memo

Picture_7 The Iowa caucus of 2008 is history.  We all know who is viable, which messages resonated and which candidates need to re-tool.

But here’s what I know.  Not one of the candidates got the memo. 

What?  You haven’t seen it either?   Hmm.  Maybe it got bogged down with all the holiday cards and political post cards.  Okay…let me share it again.

TO:       Presidential Candidates of 2008

FROM:    The American people

SUBJ:    How we’d like to hear your message

DATE:    From now on

Thanks for caring about our votes.  Really. 

We appreciate that you want to share your ideas and vision for a different and better America.  But things have changed since the last election and we thought it was only fair to clue you in on how we’d like you to conduct your campaign.  Here are some key truths we’d like you to know.

We don’t want to be hunted down like rabid dogs:  The good old days of you being everywhere we look are over.   We want to decide when to listen.  Where to listen.  And who to listen to.  Stop sending your volunteers to knock on our doors.  Stop invading our homes with your stupid recorded messages.  Don’t force us to hide from you.

Frequency is one thing.  Overkill is another:  We all know the marketing maxim — tell them and then tell them again.  But know when enough is enough.  We don’t need a new postcard every day.  We don’t need to see the same commercial so often that we can recite it with you.  Show some fiscal responsibility and stop wasting your supporters’ money.

We do care about your plans.  But you can’t explain them in :30 TV spots:  TV spots are a great medium for generating an emotional response.  But we don’t want to just like you.  You’re not selling beer.  You are selling our future and our kids’ future.  We want to know what you’re going to do.   Tell us in detail.  Give us facts.  Not spun facts — real facts.  Be relevant or go home.

And you can’t use weasel words either:  As soon as we hear the standard political rhetoric, we start calling bull%$#*.   You see, we’ve been advertising consumers for too long.  We know all the tricks and we’ve stopped believing them.  A long time ago.  Talk straight. 

Sometimes we don’t need you to talk at all:  Give us places (websites, blogs, etc) where we can explore for ourselves.  Put real content there — not campaign highlights.  No fluff.  Just honest details about what you have done and what you want to accomplish.

A monologue is no longer acceptable:  We are tired of being talked to.  We want to talk back.  We actually want to initiate some conversations.  No matter who wins this election — you’ll be just fine.  But for many families and businesses — this is a make it or break it election.  We want to participate and we do not want to be ignored until you decide to talk at us again.

Leave the other guys alone:  You really should have gotten this one by now.  When you take a swing at an opponent, it makes you look scared and desperate.  Or like a bully.  either way — not so good for you.  If you don’t have anything important to say about yourself – then you probably need to just go home.

Be a good guest:  There are two kinds of guests.  Those you’re sad to see leave and those you can’t wait to wave goodbye to.   How did you leave your Iowa campaign headquarters today?  How will you leave the meeting halls in New Hampshire.  What would happen if you sent your volunteers to do some good once a week or month.  Read to some kids.  Feed the homeless.  Visit the elderly.  Not because there are cameras running but because you want to set a good example.   

Just try to be a real human being:  We are really looking for a candidate we can trust to speak for us.  We want to like you.  More important, we want to believe in you.  Stop thinking of every appearance as a "show" and every human being as a vote.   Tune out your advisors, stop worrying about the perfect sound bite, don’t give us the thumbs up and  goofy smile.   Just be real.

That’s it.  Easy stuff.  We’d really appreciate it if you’d give these ideas a spin.  Thanks for listening.  We really hope you’ll try it again soon.

P.S.  The same rules apply to your business and mine.  How many of these old school marketing sins are you guilty of?

14 comments on “Apparently the presidential candidates missed the memo

  1. AMEN! I was being hounded – on my CELL PHONE – up until about 6:15 last night… Have I had a call today? Nope.

    The caucus was fun. It was my first time, sorry to say. But it definitely won’t be my last.

  2. Tim Brunelle says:


    Thanks for this smart post. Visiting my in-laws in north Massachusetts over Xmas, I quickly felt pity for the residents of New Hampshire. After five political TV spots in a row — all of them saying much ado about nothing — we just stopped watching TV.


  3. Rush Nigut says:

    You raise some valid points like the barrage of mail and many phone calls but I must take issue with you on a few items.

    1) The candidates Web sites and blogs are hands down better than any election in history. They are doing exactly as you have said. I disagree that those sites are just full of fluff. Overall, I am impressed with the information on those sites.

    2) The candidates appeared to be decent guests. I noticed them serving the homeless, visiting shelters, participating in elementary school programs, etc. Sure the cameras were on at times but not always. For example, Chris Dodd taught a Character Counts lesson to my son’s class (without media and cameras) and also made a donation to the school upon his departure. Moreover, our economy benefited GREATLY from the this caucus. You can’t overlook that impact.

    3) I met various candidates and I never once believed they were not acting as a human being. Thumbs up and goofy smile? If you had that experience maybe you were meeting the wrong candidates?

  4. Andrew –

    The silence today is golden, isn’t it?


  5. Lewis,

    Very true. I’m not so much talking about the candidates themselves. They do their little “show up at a school” things. But they have amassed a huge group of volunteers to serve them. Why not use that workforce, just 5% of the time, to give back to the community you are temporarily calling home?

    Think how cool that would be.


  6. Tim,

    The candidates spent over $200 million dollars in Iowa over the past couple months. We could literally go 4-6 TV spots deep before we’d see a single non-caucus spot. Crazy times.

    I get what they are trying to do. I support their right to do it. But it is not smart marketing when your efforts irritate more than they persuade.


  7. Rush,

    First off — my real point was — hey regular marketers, learn from the candidates mistakes. Not all were as offensive as others but none of them would get above a “C” from me.

    I agree with you, some of the candidates have information rich websites. But most of them are hyped. Consumers want plain language that everyone can access and understand.

    As for the good deeds, see my comment to Lewis. I am not talking about the candidates themselves doing a photo op or being seen (camera or not) doing good work. I am saying, they had a small army here in Iowa. Why not donate some of that army’s time to make Iowa a little better.


  8. Robyn says:

    What a brilliant post, Drew. I can’t imagine living in Iowa and getting blitzed by so many candidates. You have the right antidote!

  9. Hey Drew…
    Good post….,
    I agreed with 90%… which is a lot for me.
    I would attack my opponent though. Richard the Second’s political strategy is no way to hold on to power. I would agree though that over-saturation is a major problem for contemporary marketing people. My own marketing experience and training came out of the Yellow Pages in NYC. My boss used to tell me… make another phone call every 30 second and if you get someone’s attention… keep conversations under five minutes and of course the sales ABC from Glengary Glen Ross. This worked great when we were the underdog Yellow Pages…, but when the company was sold to Yellow Book and our office was moved in to market for “The Black Book” we found ourselves dealing with a new type of audience. A very niche elite group of artists that wanted to know and intimately understand the salesman… (the rest is a sad history) Myself… I was excellent in marketing to a group of people who I needed to catch the attention… but in a small incestuous community of bohemians who I was trying to sell advertising to… I was less effective. While initially we sold better then anyone had before… within a year we had exhausted a very fragile market. It had nothing to do with behavior… it had to do with out calling patterns. We would call and harass till they would submit to our mercy. Sadly my boss began to abuse me… telling me that I pissed people off and he would often make Anti-semitic slurs. The reality was that we were not properly trained to shmooze into the art scene and there was too much sales office abuse to ever trully sound folksy and down to earth. We had simply over-saturated the art market with phone calls… My own name became the most feared phone call in the art world… and none of it was really my own fault. I had the vice-presidents gun to my head. It wasn’t my behavior that was the problem. The problem was our strategy…, sadly we were never able to work on these issues… and eventually I left the company. Looking back on it… it was a very hard and bizarre lesson. I was so strong and great at marketing a product that no one wanted or had ever heard of… and yet when given a four decade old product… I failed (might of also had something to do with the fact that the books never distributed in a very small market)… but the main lesson is… less is more and also: don’t make phone calls when your tired because you won’t be charming. Take your time… don’t piss off your audience. I am certain that I would not have the same problems today. I am still nursing the emotional wounds of humiliation… in being told that I was not doing my job right. It had nothing to do with me. It had something to do with management. Standing over your marketing people with a whip… in a small oversaturated niche market is a very bad idea. Looking back a year later… I still think I was in a bad catch 22.
    Getting back to your point though. It is very important to get all your ideas out. Not stupid sound bites. It is important to go into detail and have a conversation with your audience. When your boss has your parroting some brochure or sales card and screaming at you when you don’t get it. That is a very bad sign. Chances are if a marketing guy doesn’t get it… neither will the customers. I have heard that if a product could see itself they wouldn’t need sales people… but I fail to see advantages to selling vastly inferior products to begin with. I was young and needed a job… but I would never market the weak product again. Aaack…. I have to much real world experience in marketing to ever sound coherent…. but I’m speaking from a hands on experience not theory.

    About those smiles with the thumbs up photo opportunity… 99% of time when we are able to take advantage of someone it is because people think it would be too obvious for something to be scam. I remember the only time I was ever bamboozled in my 33 years in New York City. A guy came up to me on 42nd street and told me he needed to see my five dollar bill because he felt that it might not be real. I gave him the five because I thought that just would be too obvious. Well duh! I would take the obvious bet and kiss the baby and give the shit eating grin.

  10. Shama Hyder says:


    This is so well written. It put a smile on my face. Can we put this as a public service message on YouTube. I’d love to help!

  11. When you run for president, you’ve got my vote. I’m sure you’d have a few other people’s votes, too. 😉

    I second Shama’s vote for YouTube. It would be great to get this to a wider audience. You voice the frustrations of TV political marketing so eloquently — many people in a possible audience would be nodding their heads in agreement.

    Your post also reinforces the power of blogging. We voters don’t just have to talk amongst ourselves anymore about our frustrations with the voting process. We can get them out there on the Web, others can read them, ideas can spread, perhaps a media outlet can report on it. More communication is possible. Posts like this could have a real positive effect on the next Iowa Caucus. Thanks for your insight!

  12. KG,

    Thanks for your vote. I’d be happy to put this on YouTube if we could come up with an interesting way to do it.

    One more talking head video is not what the world needs!


  13. Drew — An interesting way to turn this into video format for YouTube… I’ll get back to you on that!

  14. KG,

    I’m open to any suggestions you might have.


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