August 10th, 2012
Playing It Safe
On June 24th, Rupert Murdoch tweeted: “When is Romney going to look like a challenger? Seems to play everything safe, make no news except burn off Hispanics.” The essence of Mr. Murdoch’s observation: Mitt Romney has no brand.
Proof of a powerful brand: the audience REACTS to, REMEMBERS, and REPEATS it. This is not happening, Mitt. Your promise of smaller government, lower taxes, fewer regulations, and greater freedom is laudable, but it’s the generic conservative platform.
What, Mr. Romney, makes you and your value proposition unique? What have you uttered that is new and original, concise and pithy, so compellingly resonant that we all repeat it? Nothing I can recall. That is the problem.
When Mr. Obama accused you of having a Swiss bank account, you became defensive. You played it safe. Why? You could have diffused it with an aggressive rejoinder like this:
What I do with my money is my business. Besides, any American who deposits money in a US bank is actually lending some of that money to foreigners overseas. Not many people realize that. So, every American has a Swiss bank account! But, you, Mr. President, took $500M of taxpayers’ money, without their permission, and gave it to Fisker Automotive to build cars in Finland. Americans should be outraged.
This week, President Obama started calling you Romney Hood, which is totally bogus, but it stuck and is gaining traction amongst the liberals. Once again, Obama defined you, forced you to play defense, and led the narrative.
To sport a strong brand, Mr. Romney, you must: 1) define yourself; 2) define Obama and put him on the defense; 3) lead, not follow, the conversation. You must give us a Romney hook! What is it? We don’t know. We’re still waiting.
You’ve originated nothing akin to Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, both memorable and repeatable. Yes, you rightfully jumped all over Obama’s claim that entrepreneurs didn’t create their own companies. But, you were responding to Obama.
Given your credentials and accomplishments, Mr. Romney — and Obama’s numerous failures — you should be leading in the polls, 70-30. He doesn’t hold a candle to you. Instead, you and Obama are all but tied! Why? No brand, no hook.
When the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare is a tax, you waffled — first labeling it a penalty, then a tax. And, when Obama unilaterally — and unconstitutionally — granted residence immunity to children of illegals, you waffled with noncommittal mush. To Mr. Murdoch’s point, you favor playing it safe. Waffling and playing it safe are not tactics for creating a strong, crystal-clear brand.
Candy Man in Candyland
Key to maintaining brand strength is zealous commitment to message simplicity, uniformity, and consistency. This means that you and your proxies — regardless of venue, audience, time of day, or degree of invective from Obama’s camp — must sing from the same hymnal.
On July 1st, Rupert Murdoch tweeted: “Met Romney last week. Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.” He is right. Real branding pros enforce message synchronization — which you need, but do not have, within your ranks.
When an Obama superPAC irresponsibly ran a mendacious spot holding you responsible for the death of Joe Soptic’s wife, your spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, on August 8th, responded to Fox News in cringeworthy, unacceptable form, further confusing voters:
“…if people had been in Massachusetts under Governor Romney’s healthcare plan, they would have had healthcare. There are a lot of people losing their jobs and their healthcare in President Obama’s economy.”
Do you see why people don’t get your brand, can’t find your hook? Where can they hang the unique, gut-grabbing, memorable label to describe Mitt Romney? You must create that!
Mr. Obama, conversely, has a strong brand. He’s the Candy Man in Candyland, giving free candy (e.g., food stamps and birth-control pills) to the entitlement collective — and they want more! He bashes the rich, even though he is rich, and trashes success. He owns the “mainstream” media and the Hollywood elite, his profligate spending and unpayable debt notwithstanding. Nobody confuses him with anyone or forgets the candy he promises.
Advice to Mr. Romney
Barack Obama can’t hold a candle to you, Mitt Romney. You should be leading in the polls, 70-30. Instead, the two of you are virtually tied. This is insane.
My hypothesis for why you’re logjammed: You are a typical dealmaker, an eternally neutral pleaser, who loathes expressing strong opinions on political issues, fearful that doing so will make waves and kill deals. Voters, however, expect you to take bold stands and give them an identifiable Romney hook — behavior outside your comfort zone. Nevertheless, you must step up. You have the credentials and experience. The question is, Will you step up?
You face three distinct crowds in this election:
To the Candylanders, you’re a dentist preaching oral hygiene — when what they want is more free candy. If you’re going to convert them to realists, you must shock them with memorable truths. By playing it safe, though, as is your predilection, you’ll never make a dent. Obama owns this crowd.
To reassure the freedom-loving capitalists, your message must be razor-sharp, moving, and easily quotable — not a dry Powerpoint presentation to the board of directors. America’s entire future is at stake in this election, so they must feel your passion and believe you can shrink government. Show them your A-game and put Obama on the defensive, for a change.
People still play recordings of Ronald Reagan’s speeches and quote him frequently. Ronald Reagan had a strong brand: Nobody ever wondered where he stood or confused him with anyone. Ronald Reagan led the narrative. He remains the gold standard.
You can’t spend the next 88 days responding to Obama. No team ever won the Super Bowl playing defense. It’s time to defeat your competitor by scoring touchdowns: You need an offensive strategy and an aggressive, branding-savvy team — including an impressive, articulate, accomplished VP* — to help you execute it.
Finally, stop pussyfooting. Call Obama what he is: a socialist who’s draining the treasury, accruing too much power, and ruining entrepreneurs’ dreams. Tell Americans that, with four more years of Obama, their jobs are in jeopardy, their children and grandchildren will have bleak futures, and our enemies will attack us more easily. Offense, not defense.
Whither your brand, Mitt Romney?
*On August 11th, Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his VP choice, thereby sharpening his brand. Not only superbly competent, Ryan chooses words that are compelling, memorable, and repeatable.
Radio Appearance — August 30th, 2012 @7:35AM PT/10:35AM ET:
The KSFO Morning Show with Brian Sussman & Melanie Morgan
About the Author
Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.
© 2012 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.