Ok, so politics being what it is, let’s forget for a moment that every single politician has to work the same tired lines, the same tired conferences, speeches, dinners, fund-raisers, blue-haired broads and every other possible cliché of the season, and what do you have?
You see, when elections happen, they aren’t discreet. Parties are called “Political Machines” for a reason. The smaller elected offices have the time, and more importantly, the need, to actually meet their constituents face-to-face. Those elected help those above them by throwing support uphill, and that’s Capitol Hill. (An aside: I grew up in Helena, MT and went to Capital High School and always wondered about the apparently bi-ness of ‘capital-as-money’ and ‘capital-as-center-of-political-power’ versus the extremely stodgy ‘capitol: it’s good to be the king!’ which is only, apparently for seats of political power. When asking teachers, they just wondered if it was a pun that we had “Capital Hill Mall”, but I digress.)
Anyway, so the small fish meet with people, convince them that the larger fish are doing good, support the larger fish, and those larger fish support still larger fish and those fish still larger fish all the way until you have Moby Dick Cheney, the biggest of the supporting fish, supporting the President Ahab Bush. And it works, for those bigger fish.
But what about those smaller fish? What of the smallest? Well, now it gets interesting.
You see, the smallest don’t have the same issues as their slightly larger cousins. The truly small-town, local elected official is a neighbor in the smallest of the small. People know her, or him, and opinions aren’t really based on speeches or platforms, they can be formed on bizarre things like yard care habits or overuse of Hawaiian and/or plaid prints. Regardless, they know their neighbors, and if they like them, they tend to vote for them. Things are good.
The races that have slightly larger fish have it really rough, tho. Consider them the middle-class fish, or, because I hate typing out names like that, MCF. The MCF have an unwritten mandate to support their chosen party’s machine. They are asked to be at and meet with and speak to and debate for or against and with by whom and where this why that for what ever – yeesh! And they are given just a basic set of tools to use to win their races. Affording a complete marketing team, to handle the branding and production, while those with degrees in Poli-Sci work on how to counter the enemies messages is beyond most of these campaigns. Of course, if asked, a political-hopeful chooses having a Poli-Sci over a Marketing Pro. I’d think that someone would point out that consistently being on the defensive with someone else makes you look weak but apparently that’s not the case.
So we come to it. Small race. Small budgets. Small budgets, every dime has to go to something important, it cannot be wasted.
But let’s take a step back and define waste. If you do logos that use the same imagery as everyone else, if you print letterhead using the same font and colors as everyone else, if you produce cloned materials for your race and you end up looking like everyone else, who are you? Are you, you? Or are you everyone else?
Good design isn’t a waste. Especially if you’re lucky enough to have a name that isn’t simple or homophonic to an everyday word (although in this case, that isn’t good luck, but in most others it is). You need to create something different, you need to stand out. Not in a “she’s the lady in red when everybody else is wearing tan” Fran Drescher’s The Nanny way, but in a strong, capable, bright, charming, witty, and leading way. And that’s called BRANDING!!
I am dealing, albeit once removed, with push-back from people who think that having a sign that has just words and no style and looks like every other yard sign for every other race that affects this area will be just fine, and it’s really bizarre. It’s not like they are saying the concept I presented was bad, they are just saying the money is better spent elsewhere. If that’s the case, then please tell me why every business, including the businesses run by these slightly-dimmer-than-average-bulbs who are acting this way, have at least some branding?
There is a good reason that the corner store has a name, that the law office downtown in the hi-rise has letterhead and business cards that match, and that everyone from the Girl Scouts to G.E. have marketing people – because they are needed, not waste. Good marketing can make all the difference in the world. Especially in politics.
For politicians, every sound-bite counts. Every mention means something. Every chance to be seen as an individual instead of lesser member of a nationwide group is needed. In MCF races, getting press time is next to impossible. A seat in the House of the Legislature of Montana isn’t news for anyone outside that district unless it’s some ‘human interest‘ piece, like when a 17-year-old runs for the seat. Otherwise, it’s just another person trying to get elected. Most people who have to vote for that seat, who are being represented by that person, don’t know anything about that person. Not name, not sex, not age-range, nothing. Which is why these politicians can’t count on any vote to show and actually cast a vote, and correctly. Yet you want to look like everyone else? Huh?
Why not hire someone to create a simple yet working brand. It’s slightly different, but not whacky. It’s got a clean look that brings in some key elements, it works with your fairly popular first name as the gimmick to get people to remember you, and it’s not hokey or dated. It’s also easy to combine with a web presence that is easy for people to remember because it’s clever. It gives you a starting point that no one else has. You’re going to be heard now because your campaign is outside the herd. (HA!) If you aren’t as slick as Bill Clinton (and you aren’t, get over it) you have to find a way into your own space to show who you are, to connect with people, to have a voice, and to get elected.
Or you can be like everyone else, and then struggle, fight, stress out, over-work yourself and when you finally do get recognized by the press it will be either you had some tragedy or other, the old Human Interest story, or because you screwed up in some way. Most likely it’ll be the screw-up that gets you into the press the first time. And it won’t be a big one, but you still can’t afford it, because you’d be “the person who did this” instead of having a handle on how you are seen. Oh, that handle on how you’re seen is called BRANDING.
Good branding is simple – make yourself look smart without trying to make others look dumb – in fact, make them look smart, too. For elections, that’s easy. Everyone else is jumping off the bridge, so if you decide to just walk across, you look pretty damn smart, but, let’s face it, you were only doing what you knew was right, regardless of the lemmings of the political machine.
Politics is one place where you can be “An Ordinary Joe” and stand out for it because everyone else uses the same messages, wears the same tie, and has indistinct signs pitting their last name against someone else’s last name. They are extraordinarily dull, so ‘ordinary, yet standing out’ is a Great Thing™.