Books | Marketing: the health index of a democracy

Books | Marketing: the health index of a democracy

Since marketing is the engine behind economic development in any advanced consumer society, a direct link connects the success of marketing as a whole with the health of the democracy. Explaining this link—and showing how marketing and government complement each other—requires discussing many issues affecting consumers and citizens. To get to all the relevant issues, John Quelch and Katherine Jocz do meander a bit, but they make an innovative argument showing the benefits of linking democratic practices to the best practices of marketing.

Democracies are “political marketplaces" that elect government leaders. Members of the electorate are “political consumers", a democracy’s equivalent of market consumers. In a consumer marketplace—as in a democracy—people expect choice, open transactions, the ability to help shape the marketplace, access to pertinent information, open economic access (at least if you have money) and the ability to obtain what they need. Consumers tend to base their choices on acquiring things that improve their status or relationships, defend their values and help make the world more understandable. These forces also drive the purchase of goods and experiences, as do consumers’ perceptions about status and “the pursuit of happiness".

Historically, political candidates have borrowed heavily from contemporary marketing. Candidates have always used mass media marketing to reach the electorate with everything from buttons to TV ads. Andrew Jackson became a “man of the people" in his 1828 presidential campaign.

In 1840, the conservative Whigs sought to sell their upper class candidate, William Henry Harrison, as a simple man who drank hard cider, a favourite of the working class. Politicians build their brands by creating emotional bonds that are light on policy details. While this works in campaigning, it locks politicians in place. Unlike marketers, they are not free to develop new messages or change positions, lest they seem indecisive.

Politicians also can benefit from negative advertising, which is rare in consumer marketing. Negative ads work in politics since an election is based on getting a market share of voters, in contrast to consumer marketing’s goal of enlarging the entire pool of eligible “voters". Pepsi and Coca-Cola both benefit when more sodas enter the field, since that expands the market. When candidates compare themselves to other candidates, their intent is to attract voters at their competitor’s expense.

Like marketers, politicians value brand name recognition, since the high cost of becoming known and running for office is a barrier to entry for many hopefuls. Political parties have turned to brand type recognition to jump-start campaigns. While the consumer market also has barriers to entry, the difference is that buyers have frequent opportunities to make multiple choices among brands. That option doesn’t exist in US electoral politics, where races have single winners who serve for fixed terms.

Quelch and Jocz demonstrate that politics can distort the marketing process by injecting misrepresentation, half-truths and broken promises. Can politicians learn from marketers? Maybe, but getAbstract thinks this book is best suited for innovators in government, non-profit leaders, professional marketers and anyone who needs to sell a message to win—from a salesperson to an on-the-stump politician.

Rolf Dobelli is the chairman of getAbstract.