The world is a complicated place, and people don’t like complexity. Marketers can succeed if they can simplify the decision process. This is one reason brands are so powerful: a strong brand simplifies choice.
With this idea in mind, the fall presidential election is shaping up to be complicated for Joe Biden.
One of my favorite pieces of advertising of all time was a spot run by George Bush in his election battle with John Kerry. The spot, Ashley’s Story, told the story of a Bush visit to Lebanon, Ohio, where he hugged Ashley Faulkner, a teen who lost her mother in the World Trade Center attack. In the ad, Ashley explains, “He’s the most powerful man in the world, and all he wants to do is make sure I’m safe, that I’m OK.” Her father notes, “What I saw was what I want to see in the heart and soul of the man who sits in the highest elected office in our country.” You can watch the ad here.
The spot ran in days just before the election, and simplified the choice. Why vote for George Bush? Because he will keep us safe. At a time when the country was still reeling from the 9/11 disaster and worried about terrorism, the message worked. It defined his brand. While Bush wasn’t an endearing character, the message was crisp enough, and the benefit strong enough, to bring in votes. You can read more about the spot here.
I suspect Donald Trump’s marketing team sees a similar branding opportunity. The idea is pretty simple: turn the election into a referendum on the police.
Recent protests have rightfully called for policing reforms, as well as a broader push for justice and equality. The language, however, has taken a complex turn, with many people calling for the defunding of local police forces. The actual proposal is very complicated but it sounds pretty simple.
For Trump, this is a huge opportunity. If you frame the election as a clear choice about whether or not we should have police officers, Trump can win.
Perhaps his message will go like this: “I support having a police force. I am against crime, looting and lawlessness. If you want to get rid of the police, well, vote for Joe Biden. See how well that works out.”
This is a pretty compelling message, the sort of simple message he used in the last election, a pitch he that might convince people who don’t like Trump, and probably will tell pollsters they would never support such an uncouth rascal, to vote for him in the end.
Joe Biden needs to be careful he doesn’t let Trump frame the election in such a fashion and define his brand. In particular, he needs to put words around how he would approach policing. He can’t give up the law and order position, but he also needs a message that will resonate with his supporters and everyone fighting for change.
Biden clearly knows this is a dangerous road, and he has not declared his support for defunding police.
There is nothing more important for Joe Biden than finding a different way to frame this election and his brand. If he doesn’t, Trump can turn the election into a simple question about the police and win another victory that will shock the world.