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The launch of a brand in the web 2.0 world

September 29, 2008

Updated below:

A few weeks ago when the Republicans launched the Sara Palin brand, I wrote this:

In a very saturated media market, the Republicans did something interesting. They hoisted a completely unknown brand on the country with the pick of Sarah Palin. And yes, politicians are now brands. The goal is to get people to associate a positive element with the person, “McCain Maverick”, “Obama – Hope, Change, New”. Incidentally, the McCain brand was a lot more established than Obama’s, so there isn’t one word that jumps out.

John McCain and Sarah Palin

Image by earthpro via Flickr

What’s amazing about the manner in which the McCain campaign launched the brand, was how little research they appear to have done about how things happen online. First of all, they possibly sent someone to update the Wikipedia entry for Sarah Palin.

In this post, I thought of Palin as a product, but I didn’t take it one step further. I didn’t think about how Palin would jive with the Palin Narrative. As I’ve said, in marketing (be it social or regular), the brand has to literally fulfill on the promise made by the marketing. When it doesn’t, it causes a breakdown in the message.

I bring all this up because of a post by Alan Wolk. In it he thinks that her popularity is because we don’t trust experts anymore. He writes:

“I’ve been working on a theory lately about why Sarah Palin is still so popular and how this relates to the way people view advertising. You see, I think that part of the equation with Palin, (and this is likely a subconscious thought) is that there’s a strong feeling on the part of most of her supporters that all the experts, all the smart guys, all the pundits and gurus and PhDs have messed up.”

Notwithstanding the notion that the entire Bush brand is built on the non-expert, everyday, would love to have a beer with him meme, I think Alan is wrong, which I said in comments.

I think the Sara Palin as a national political figure launch will be widely considered to a textbook failure because the person doesn’t seem to be able to backup the promise of the launch. And I think that the archival nature of the social web (or web 2.0 if you will) is the thing that will be widely credited with destroying the brand.

Sara Palin said some things in her political launch that are simply untrue. From “I put it on eBay, to the I stopped the bridge from nowhere”, the reality of Sara Palin didn’t live up to the brand promise.

She put the jet on eBay, but then later sold it for a loss. She stopped the bridge from nowhere but wore shirts touting it.

Look, this isn’t meant to pile on to the Sara Palin brand. But after her speech, her positioning was one of Maverick (to go with McCain’s), and these things were evidence of the Maverick label. But a marketing label and real-life label are different. And when there’s this level of disconnect between the launch and the product, people are left to reposition her themselves. Meaning things like SNL, and journalists will have a role in the repositioning.

Which is bad for any brand.

It’s marketing 101, whether it’s on a TV spot, or a Facebook page. Don’t exaggerate the product in such an obvious way. Because exaggeration is lying. And in the digital world, where everything is archived, it’s not hard for people to uncover the lie.

Note: the link to the t-shirt and Sara Palin was from the web 2.0 site Flickr. You can see, and talk about SNL on It’s all archived, and all available. Meaning brands have to be careful about what they say in their marketing. Because we can all look it up.

Update: How this applies to a brand. According to PC World Magazine:

“Several digital images that Microsoft Corp. has posted on its Web site to trumpet its new “I’m a PC” ad campaign were actually created on Macs, according to the files’ originating-software stamp.”

This is the point: things are a lot more transparent now. When launching a brand, or repositioning a brand, in the age of digital, you have to check what people will discover online.

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