Talk of brands always misses two of the biggest

Whenever the topic of branding comes up – and it obviously comes up a lot in the marketing communications business – big consumer brands tend to be the default topic. Let’s face it, most people outside our industry don’t understand branding that well. I’m not saying they should, I’m just pointing out that non-marketing people tend to correlate brands with logos or brand names, when brands are much more than that.

That said, pretty much every U.S. consumer would agree that Nike, Google, Amazon, Oprah (and even [shameless plug] JS clients like Delta, Orkin and Chick-fil-A) are brands. But no one inside or outside our industry ever seems to talk about what I would argue are two of the – if not the two – biggest brands in the United States.

Bet you didn’t guess it – how about the brands of the two major political parties.

Difference and emotion – the twin engines of a great brand

I’ll bet you can do more than name them. I would guess you could outline, at least broadly, what each of the organizations stands for, and more importantly, how they are different from each other. That’s the first and most important element of a good brand – clear difference from the competition.

The other element of a great brand is the set of emotions it conjures up. I think we can all agree that, like all good brands, both parties have invested a lot in stoking strong emotional reactions from us. Raise your hand if you saw otherwise close friends get all bent out of shape at each other during last year’s presidential election cycle (or found yourself getting ticked at friends and family).

Don’t buy it.
Apply it.

How does this happen? It’s the power of branding. And I would argue that few if any brands possess even a fraction of the same influence. Can you imagine Nike and Reebok manipulating consumers who actually agree on most things into believing they’re fundamentally different at the core?

Sample argument:

“If you don’t understand why the ‘air’ in the sole matters, you’re obviously a Communist.”

OK, I’ll admit that the political parties have the massive advantage of daily “earned media” coverage to work their magic on us that no other corporate brands can claim. But still.

As the November election cycle winds up to fever pitch in the next few months, let’s respect the power of branding. Let’s watch in awe at how much both parties invest in the two prongs of the branding fork – difference and emotion. And finally, let’s agree not to let it blind us, but instead figure out how to put the same principles to work for our own businesses.