Four more years and the power of political speech

Thursday night at the Democratic Convention


After the dystopian GOP convention in Tampa, the Democrats pulled off a brilliant performance in Charlotte this past week. From start to finish, it was a work of art, burnished with expert staging, exceptional production values and a line-up of compelling speakers who spoke with one voice and reassured the faithful that hope and change were still America’s best way forward to prosperity and a better future.

Conventions are the ultimate marketing exercise. For an incumbent seeking re-election, it’s “what have you done for me lately” and “why should I vote for you again.” And it’s the job of the candidate to prove why he (and, hopefully one day, she) is worth the brand loyalty and why s/he deserves another look, another vote of confidence, another leap of faith.

For the opposing party, it’s the shiny new thing versus the old. Like any product intro, it’s fresh faces and seductive claims. And, for this year’s GOP, a stunning display of meanness and a platform that would not pass even minimal “truth in advertising” standards.

The Democratic Convention was a master class in messaging. It was John F. Kennedy 2.0: Ask not what your government can do for you, but what you and your government can do together to make a better world. The ultimate brand promise of community and empowerment that is, especially those who feel dis-empowered by forces beyond their control, especially effective.

I think it was advertising analyst, commentator and writer, Bob Garfield, who said you never see Burger King attack McDonalds. BK may promote the superiority of its flame-broiled burgers, but it will never libel the McDo brand. Why? Because it would destroy the fast food category. It would sow distrust and dislike and no one would ever buy a burger and fries again.

With its personal attacks on the president, policy attacks on “Washington” and efforts to restrict minority voting (through ersatz anti-voter fraud initiatives), the Republican leadership has very nearly destroyed the category of civic engagement.

The ultimate comeback kids—the Democrats—made “citizenship” cool again. The stories they told embraced and energized a dispirited electorate and the President himself– humbled, vulnerable, human–may be “the reason why ‘Register To Vote’ searches doubled on Google.” 

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