Ron Paul's Successful Brand Strategy
"Ron Paul Mania" gripped New Hampshire and propelled the unlikely Republican contender to a second-place finish. Political pundits describe his campaign as a "movement" and a "phenomenon." They talk about "The Ron Paul Effect" and how his message is transforming the Republican conversation. According to a new CBS poll, he is running neck-and-neck with President Obama in a general election matchup.
But Paul has been preaching the same sermon for the last twenty years. Why has he caught on in 2012?
The key to Paul's current success in his third run for the presidential nomination is his political branding. Paul has become the savviest pitchman in the narrowing Republican primary field. The former Texas congressman has uniquely packaged himself and his message so that more Americans are compelled to buy his product. Advertising Age might even want to consider Paul's campaign team for its "Marketer of the Year" award next October, just as Ad Age did for Team Obama three years ago.
In 2008, Team Obama branded its celestial candidate with the complicity of mainstream media and the willing belief of many desperate, fearful, and concerned Americans. Campaign strategists created a divine political character for Americans to zealously believe in. They employed a quasi-religious strategy used by big brands like Apple, Nike, and Oprah Winfrey to create devoted and evangelistic followers.
In particular, Obama's political branding experts developed the "Sacred Six" -- the candidate's own creation story, sacred words, sacred images, sacred rituals, true believers, and a charismatic persona. Paul is not only following Obama's 2008 winning campaign strategy of focusing on caucus state delegates. The Ron Paul Revolution is driven by the "Sacred Six."
Paul's creation story begins with a career decision every bit as dramatic as Obama's choice to "organize black folks" in Chicago "for change." The young physician decided to enter politics on the same day that President Richard Nixon "closed the gold window," a policy Paul believed would turn "money of value" into "political money." Informed by Ayn Rand and the Austrian School of Economics, Paul began to unwaveringly preach the libertarian message.
When Obama called for "hope" and promised "change" in 2008, his sacred words were effectively ambiguous yet resonated with our national identity. Paul's campaign language, too, appears to be directly on code for optimistic Americans. "Honest money" represents a return to the gold standard and abolishing the Federal Reserve. "Restore America Now" is Paul's call to reclaim the founding principles of the Constitution that he believes have been lost. "Revolution" is the new "Change."
Paul doesn't wear halos of light or sport an instantly recognizable logo, but he does evince a sacred image to his devotees. He is the anti-politician. His suits don't fit well, his voice quavers, and his slack-jawed laugh seems to convey that he might be baffled as often as amused. Paul's a grandfatherly curmudgeon. Ronald Reagan with bite. Obama's calm, cool, and collected image was momentarily shattered on the 2008 campaign trail when he asked the press if they would just let him finish his waffle. No one, though, seemed shocked when Paul abruptly left a New Hampshire diner overcrowded with as many press as voters after only 15 minutes. Paul appears more like an ascetic saint than a slick politician -- and certainly less messianic than Obama appeared in the 2008 race.
The fervent dedication of Paul's supporters recalls the many who ritualistically followed Obama over the Web and on the road in 2008. Committed devotees have been passionately following Paul through the caucus states. His loyal band even fanned out across New Hampshire to evangelize for their candidate outside opponents' public events.
Conservative media aren't swooning over Paul the way that the women of The View or MSNBC's Chris Matthews did over Obama, but Paul's offbeat campaign seems is scoring with independents and youth as well as libertarians. Iowa's exit polls showed he took 48% of the independent vote and 43% of the under-25 vote. And like Obama, Paul has been getting rock star treatment at rallies such as "Rock the Caucus," where younger believers in skinny jeans and "R(EVOL)ution" t-shirts are faithfully pledging their allegiance to the septuagenarian candidate. This, too, is right out of Obama's 2008 playbook.
Finally, critics charge that Paul's isolationism and 19th-century monetary policy bear no relationship to the complexity of modern times. No matter. Paul's no-nonsense persona appears to be cutting through the clutter for those who see him as the lone voice of integrity in an otherwise empty chorus of vapid American political discourse and big-politico sloganeering.
Since the beginning of the Republican primary process, candidates have risen and fallen, but Ron Paul is holding steady. After his close third-place finish in Iowa and recent second-place showing in New Hampshire, Paul should be worrying establishment Republicans. He may not be their top seller, but the GOP can no longer ignore Paul's charismatic brand and quasi-religious movement, both of which echo Obama's 2008 campaign.
Mark Edward Taylor, Ph.D. is the author of "Branding Obamessiah: The Rise of an American Idol" and a blogger at www.brandingobamessiah.com.