EDITOR’S NOTE: On April 10, 2012, Rick Santorum announced he was suspending his campaign, thus paving the way for Mitt Romney. So we’ve decided to re-run our March 6 post, part of an occasional series called “The Marketing Guy.” Read on…
First of all, this is not a political site. I have political leanings, you have political leanings, Rush Limbaugh has political leanings. We’re not discussing those today. Instead, we’re tackling a marketing challenge head-on.
Mitt Romney presents a Marketing Challenge unlike any other. Wildly successful as a businessman (co-founded Bain Capital, made lots of money). A family man – married to the same woman for decades, raised five strapping young boys (or maybe it’s six, details, details). Religious; despite what the average person may think about Mormonism (again, not something we’re discussing here), the guy doesn’t drink or smoke or even touch caffeine, and he has stuck with his LDS beliefs.
The Challenge? The guy hasn’t broken through. In fact, in a down economy, where numbers continue to tell a really crappy story, a guy who took a Salt Lake City Olympics, rescued it from near-death after scandal, and turned it into a winner SHOULD be seen as the Candidate from Central Casting.
Except he’s not. Far from it. And, while he’s now the front-runner and, after the results of Super Tuesday declare him the de facto winner, he still has a long, long way to go.
What every marketer loves is a challenge – and this is one of those multi-variate problems that isn’t THAT simple. But it is, in my mind, easy enough to boil down into two things. In my humble opinion, these two things – and these two things ALONE – will make or break Mitt Romney’s candidacy – and decide whether or not we get four more years.
Before we “go there” let me give you a couple ground rules for this discussion. (1) You must abandon your political beliefs for a moment. This means that if you’re a right-winger, a left-winger, or something in between, you must abandon your emotional attachment to either side and hear this out from a purely logical standpoint. (2) This argument assumes that Mitt Romney is the nominee. I’ve had discussions with marketing experts, dyed-in-the-wool Reagan-era Republicans and even a few former political operatives. They’re all in agreement: the only way the GOP wins in November is if Romney is the nominee. (3) These two steps are interrelated. Without 1, 2 doesn’t work. Without 2, 1 doesn’t work. Both must go right. So…
Factor #1 that will get Mitt Romney elected: Gas Prices stuck above $5 a gallon.
Everyone has seen the numbers: gas prices when President Obama was inaugurated averaged about $1.89 a gallon. Today, they’re over $4.00 a gallon in some parts of the US – near me, north of Chicago, $4.07 today.
I suggested above that you abandon the emotional attachment to your candidate – but not to your pocketbook. In fact, that and that alone is going to be very key to this discussion.
Hey, I’ve been there as an entrepreneur: where you have to make that decision as to whether or not you can afford to take the meeting or go on the trip or do lunch with someone based on the cost of gasoline. (One of the reasons we started the New Frugality site was because of these types of decisions; we even did a post about saving on gasoline.)
If gas hovers where it is now and stays here before the summer driving season, we’re probably all going to be mildly inconvenienced, but not overly unhappy.
But once the calculus of whether or not you can make the trip starts to really hit hard – President Obama may be in some trouble.
And if that figure is $5 or more, per gallon, for the whole summer: Katie bar the door.
Here’s why – and one of the key marketing challenges faced by the incumbent. President Obama may have a firm grasp of both micro and macro-economic principles – but, unless you are one of the people who has benefited from a low interest rate mortgage refinance, you’re probably not totally noticing. His “wins” do not hit you in the pocketbook at a micro-economic level.
However, if gas hits $5 and stays there, your summer will be dramatically impacted. Less trips to the coast or the shore or the lake. You’ll start to do the math more often – should we take that trip out of town or not? Do we fill the tank up this time – or do we only get $50 in petrol and wait it out, hoping that prices will be better in a few days?
And you will ask “Is the President doing anything about this?”
This is where you WOULD need a higher degree in economics and a team of experts to figure out what the President can and cannot do about gas prices. It’s a win-lose: try everything to fix high gas prices, succeed, and watch the other side say that you didn’t play much of a role. OR, try everything to fix high gas prices, fail, and be painted as someone who is ineffective.
$5 a gallon is the magic number because – like 3,000 hits for a ballplayer or some other round milestone – it’s kindof a rare occurrence. If your minivan holds close to 20 gallons of gas, you’re looking at $100 to fill up your tank. Another painful round number.
Factor #1 – sustainable gas prices at north of $5.00 a gallon – is largely out of Mitt Romney’s control. Factor #2 – which, again, depends on Factor #1 – is his issue to own.
Factor #2 that will get Mitt Romney elected: “I am not ashamed of American Capitalism.”
This has been, IMHO, Gov. Romney’s major challenge throughout his campaign. How can a guy who is worth a reported $200 Million NOT be an avowed American Capitalist?
What should be an ASSET has become a LIABILITY – and President Obama has had to do very little work to create this perception.
You could argue that Mr. Romney’s discussion of owning a few American cars did him more harm than good – they were AMERICAN cars, after all, but this is the bane of his existence (pun intended): even if Bain Capital made money by turning around troubled firms, the perception (hire and fire) trumped the reality (creating jobs). (We’re playing “hide the pun” here. Thanks for obliging us.)
Romans 1:16 – “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Why did we throw in a Bible quote? To appease the Evangelicals – something Mr. Romney may have not done enough of?
No; rather, we suggest he paraphrase:
“I am not ashamed of American Capitalism”
Compassionate Conservatives didn’t energize the base the way Evangelicals did – evidence Rick Santorum’s surge. But the base is not going to win the election in the Fall – the rank and file are going to win the election in the Fall.
And the Rank and File are Ashamed of American Capitalism. They shouldn’t be.
Gov. Romney must do everything he can to paint himself as the guy who can, indeed, absolutely, unequivocally restore American Capitalism. He’s the guy to do it because he’s the guy who has done it. Creating jobs, creating wealth. Creating capitalists.
When Romney made news after releasing his tax numbers, part of the reason for the outrage (again, my opinion, as a marketer): jealousy. I, for one, WANT to get to that magical place where I am living off of dividend checks and interest income. Crap, dude, that’s a lot of scratch when all you’re doing is paying taxes on dividends and you’re still making 7 figures.
Why are both of these factors necessary to elect Mitt Romney?
Remember when President Clinton said “I feel your pain”? It’s because we thought that Clinton did indeed feel our pain. Empathy. Whatever the pain was, he felt it.
The difference here is that Factor 1 – $5 a gallon gas – will be actual pain that we will all actually be feeling. If I’ve gotta spend $5 a gallon and I get 20 miles to the gallon, it costs me 40 CENTS in GAS to DRIVE ONE MILE. Society won’t believe that the President feels their pain if they’re looking at $5 a gallon at the pump. They’ll want answers instead – of how do we get out of this mess.
Factor 2 – “I am not ashamed of American Capitalism” – brings us all to that place where we feel that we’ve tried everything that has been dished out for the past four years and it hasn’t worked. So we will want to go back to that place that did work – and it’s the go-go-90s, pre-bubble, growth that was unprecedented.
And it’s up to Governor Romney to prove that American Capitalism can restore that feeling.
Thanks for reading. Again, these are my views, they are opinions, and, in a future rendition of The Marketing Guy, you can expect political marketing advice for the other side of the aisle. For now, love to get your comments.