The 2022 midterm campaigns are poised to be one of the great branding battles of our time. What the Democratic and Republican Parties are, rather than what they can and will do is likely the more important question as identity, grievance, virtue and badass-signaling seem more important than policy or solutions. There is a lot of political advice flying across the airwaves about how each party needs to position itself and “shape the narrative” (a.k.a. branding). But nothing teaches like experience. The staggeringly well-funded and highly visible Virginia Governor’s race in November is an actual test case. In many ways the Youngkin and McAuliffe campaigns were rehearsing branding, messaging and media strategies we will see this cycle. And so we brought together two principals from each camp in the Virginia governor and state house races at last month’s Marketing Politics event to compare notes on how they came at this campaign very differently.
The Youngkin and McAuliffe campaigns had very different branding challenges that will be familiar to consumer marketers generally. Youngkin was a relative unknown, an emerging challenger brand. His marketing team controversially decided to front load their limited funds on big TV buys that helped establish his brand and own the narrative before the inevitable onslaught of negative messaging from his opponent. The campaign followed a basic KISS principle, focusing on just a few very broad themes everywhere and letting different voters fill in the details as they preferred. On the other hand, McAuliffe was as familiar to Virginians as Dial soap. But reminding voters what the former Governor had done for them took more precise and targeted messaging aimed at exciting voters. As well, both camps needed not only to brand themselves but to brand the market alternative.
This was among the more fascinating discussions we have had in the 8 years of this annual gathering of the political marketers. The video is embedded in full below, and there is something here for both general marketers and for politicos. And it was refreshingly non-partisan by a group of real pros. Speaking are Will Ritter, Co-Founder and CEO, Poolhouse, the agency that handled Youngkin strategy, Lauren Morenko, VP of Client Services, Smart Media Group, which handles Youngkin media buying, Alaina Haworth, Digital Director, Terry McAuliffe for Virginia, and Maxwell Nunes, Senior Advisor for Digital Paid Media, Terry McAuliffe for Virginia.
The full event videos for the entire two-day event are available here.