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Mud-slinging politics

No morals, no ethics

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Political elections breed competition. Every politician has a vision of the world and brings his or her version of the story to the public. A flip side to competition is that it can bring out a new side of a person’s character; people tend to play dirty. Make the competition about something as important as ruling a country and the ugly, mud-slinging side moves to the fore.

The perfect example is the presidential campaign in America, where Clinton and Trump are facing off over the nation’s top job. Every day, at least one article pops up about political slander – just another day in the life in which a politician tries to make point in order to get ahead in the campaign. The beauty lies in finding the best malicious charges with which to discredit an opponent.

Strategy

With stakes this high, running candidates Trump and Clinton have each formed a unique political strategy and created a brand for themselves. For the ‘Trump-brand’ the idea is quite simple: a dual-campaign, running for president and promoting his own business. His financial success as a businessman is the unique selling proposition for his presidential candidacy.

The ‘Clinton-brand’ is a difficult case. Her campaign is missing that certain something, and as a result the Clinton campaign is in the process of retooling while at the same time going for the jugular of the ‘Trump-brand’.

In order to win, both candidates have chosen to undermine each other’s brand. By discrediting the other you can create doubt, which is the ideal situation for putting forward your own story and beliefs. This way you’re in charge of ‘the truth’.

Is war good for your brand?

Dirty tricks are political manoeuvres that go beyond mere negative campaigning. Part of the problem is that slanderous and defamatory campaigns seem to work. If they didn’t work, candidates wouldn’t be spending such huge amounts of money to continue with them.

Now, why is this useful for advertising? Can big companies learn from ‘Trinton’? Or is diverting attention away from ‘Brangelina’ all they’re good for? In Europe there is no tradition of naming the competition in advertising campaigns. It’s believed to be bad for your corporate image. On the other side of the globe – in the United States, for instance – we see the opposite tradition. Branding strategies are implemented more competitively over there. The best examples are Burger King vs. McDonalds or Pepsi vs. Coca-Cola.

Competitive and negative branding stands out; people know who you are. It also seems to work in terms of expanding a business’s market share (even if this is short-term). Competitive branding doesn’t bring something new; it needs other brands in order to thrive. To put it differently, companies with this strategy need the competition in order to stand out. One cannot exist without the other.

Even though negative branding seems to work, it’s important to keep in mind that using a competitive branding strategy to strengthen your brand could have the opposite effect. When you call out another brand in your campaign, then you acknowledge them as your competitor. In fact you are indirectly admitting that you have reason to fear them. That is why you should never use this strategy if you’re a market leader, because as a leader you don’t fear anyone. However, as a challenger you can call out your competitor all you want during a campaign and you won’t even come off as afraid; instead people will think you’re audacious.