Until mid-summer, Netflix had to be a shoo-in for 2011 marketer of the year honors. But its elimination from competition came about as swiftly as Herman Cain’s rise into contention.
Unlike Barack Obama, who took similar 2008 awards from MediaPost and Ad Age, Cain may not win the White House -– or even the Iowa primary in January -- but he’s got to have editors thinking as they evaluate prospects over the next weeks.
Cain has proven himself nothing less than a master at crafting a public image and using the media to build extraordinary support, somehow climbing into the conversation as a co-frontrunner with Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination.
He’s become a sort of modern-day Ronald Reagan, emanating sunniness and optimism that resonates in a bad economy. When a tough question on “Meet the Press” or during a debate comes his way, he’s got a way of deflecting the matter with a sort of why-are-you-picking-on-the-underdog tack that yields some sympathy. A great smile will do that.
He’s also cleverly created a micro-brand in “9-9-9,” his tax plan that people might not know much about, but seem to like anyway. (Hey, nothing else is getting the economy going, so why not go with something that sounds like a lottery play in more ways that one.)
Amid a crowded field, “9-9-9” has given Cain an easy-to-remember largely positive identity. That's about the goal of every marketer.
Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza with experience as a radio talk show host, has also shown an ability to get more for less. He doesn’t seem to be wasting his time shaking hands in Ames or Concord or speaking to front-porch gatherings of old ladies claiming to be swing voters.
He’s accepting just about every interview request he gets, which gives him wider reach and doesn’t cost anything.
Marketers these days speak about running three-pronged campaigns with earned, owned and paid media. The ideal would come from success with only the earned (favorable media coverage) and owned (attention-grabbing social media gambits). Neither costs much and saves on pricey TV spots.
Cain has put together a solid playbook. His PR success has moved him up the charts, which has brought in more campaign donations, which has allowed him to launch a national radio campaign this week on the Rush Limbaugh program.
And, he’s found success with one of the hardest marketing stunts to execute -- viral video.
A recent bizarre YouTube ad featuring chief of staff Mark Block, who is clearly unpolished in front of the camera, has him offering bland political rhetoric somewhat haltingly: “I really believe that Herman Cain will put united back in the United States of America and if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be here … we need you to get involved because together we can do this, we can take this country back.”
Then, his confidence seemingly soars as he takes a puff of a cigarette before a photo of the smiling Cain appears on screen. A viewer is shocked enough that it’s difficult to watch just once.
Block says he’s doesn’t support smoking, but it’s his option. As for the ad, he reportedly told CNN’s Erin Burnett that it reinforces that Cain is a “man of the people” and “it resonated with the VFW people in Iowa and other people across the country.”
Nonetheless, besides Burnett, it has the media – including late-night comedians – talking, which means more free media as part of the Cain virtuous cycle.
In most years, it’s fair to say, voters would dismiss an ad highlighted by a cigarette drag as the mark of an unfit candidate. In the uncertain 2011, Cain, however, may have found another way to light a fire under people.