The concept of “branding” has evolved through the centuries from a tool, a symbol of ownership, a mark of identity to a symbol of influence and power. Brand is derived from the word “Brandr”, a word from Ancient Norse meaning “to burn.” Around 950 A.D. a “brand” referred to a burning piece of wood. By the 1300s burning a piece of wood was used as a tool such as a torch. Cattle branding was introduced to the Americas in the 1500s by Spanish explorers. Individual ranches would each have their own exclusive mark so ownership could be determined if their animals were lost or stolen.
Fast forward to the 1960s advertisers were using mass media to play on people’s emotional needs more so than their functional ones. For example, a particular brand could make a person feel more desirable. Coke had several popular ads in this decade showing, young, attractive, fun-loving individuals drinking Coke. Slogans such as, Things Go Better with Coke accompanied the images. These commercials made consumers identify with the actors in the ads! And for that moment, while drinking coke, they became young, attractive, and fun-loving too! The purpose of the emotional appeal was to encourage identification by manipulation.
By the late 1990s the emotional benefits continued to be at the root of a new type of branding which now included people as goods. The focus became influencing people and can be clearly illustrated in politics. It is an emotional strategy and its function is to acquire power. We call this “political branding.”
In politics the primary purpose is to sway the majority of voters, so that candidates can win elections and advance their agendas. Political branding is a two-sided coin that influences people by using positive and negative strategies. Both sides of the coin seek the same result…the pursuit of power.
On the positive side candidates express themselves favorably with catchy slogans, powerful debates, and numerous appearances on TV and radio. Social media sites also provide a platform for politicians to interact with potential voters and publicize strategies of how they plan to improve voters’ lives.
The negative side of political branding can be just as effective. On this side of the coin, the candidate paints unfavorable images of opponents by calling them names based on physical attributes and pointing out their negative behaviors. If done successfully when voters see the challengers, they vote against them.
Repetition is the key to effective political branding. People remember what they hear frequently. Social media makes it possible for politicians to send their messages out to a newly enlarged audience in more ways than can newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV.
Instead of allowing politicians to manipulate your vote through branding, research candidates and pick your own winner. That is the only way to create your brand and retain your power.