The Toothpaste Factor

If you know what you’re looking for, reading the professional “how-to” business press is an excellent way to track reality. It often beats the conventional corporate “news” sources.

Take the recent Advertising Age piece by Elizabeth Wilner, “VP of Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks and analyzes broadcast TV advertising content, placement and spend.” Wilner recounts her recent conversation about political marketing with “a semi-retired political strategist who helped engineer one of the more imaginative blue-chip marketing campaigns of this century.”

At base, my friend offered, selling a candidate is no different from selling toothpaste.

Let’s start with market share. A brand of toothpaste can succeed with a small share, but in a two-candidate race, even a 49.9% share is a loss, plain and simple. Put another way, for toothpaste, the difference between 49.9% and 50.1% is nothing. In politics, it’s everything.

Political advertisements are patches in a crazy quilt, created and targeted to stitch together diverse audiences into a coalition that comprises the winning market share.

Naturally, Wilner and her friend never stop to wonder whether political marketing is compatible in any way with democracy. They couldn’t do that, of course, because the obvious answer is “NO.”