- - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Despite prognosticators’ dire warnings that a contested Republican convention will be the demise of the Republican brand, there may be an alternative that needs consideration: the Republican convention could (if executed correctly) be an effective marketing opportunity for the GOP, no matter what political naysayers predict. Here’s why.

It is no secret that the political rules have changed. The reasons are many, but the salient includes marketing, branding, a celebrity-based culture, the Internet — and let’s not forget social media. This “process change,” as a result of these different strategies/tactics, will transform this once-perceived boring convention into a “Super Bowl Lite” media event. This traditionally uninteresting media non-happening “yawner” can morph (if there is no clear-cut winner) into the most-watched TV reality show in history — it could be seen by millions, discussed by tens of millions, and hosted by the ultimate reality show host, Donald Trump. Viewers will be tuning in to know “What did Trump do today?” “Will Trump’s delegates walk?” “Will there be demonstration?” or the unknown, thus making it “must see” TV.

This truly unscripted reality show will not only provide eyes for the Republican brand’s candidates, no matter who is selected, but there will be an additional benefit: It will expose a significant amount of Americans, who were never interested in politics, to a practical civics course on how parties select their presidential nominees and whether another alternative more relevant to the times is needed.

The big event could be what happens if Mr. Trump, who currently leads with the most delegates, enters Cleveland without the required 1237 needed to secure the party’s nomination. This is a rather simple problem to resolve, especially if you have “no horse” in the race. Mr. Trump presently has over 7.5 million raw votes or 39 percent of the popular vote, which translate into 60 percent not voting for Mr. Trump in the primaries. For the technician and rules-oriented, the popular vote does not count. It’s rather all about the delegates.

When one analyzes this metric, the same pattern is evident: Mr. Trump has 739 delegates or only 49 percent, which includes “winner take all” states. For those who say that Mr. Trump should get the nomination based on this data, they forget that the majority is not for Mr. Trump and that in “winner take all” states, those who did not vote for Mr. Trump lost their voice because Mr. Trump took their vote as a result of the process. This is a good argument for proportional delegate counts to be considered so that all votes count, not just a winner.

Brand-loyal Republicans who do not support Mr. Trump must be considered at all costs. In marketing, you must always remember your loyal customers. It’s basic marketing. Coke made a major mistake when it introduced New Coke after research demonstrated that American tastes had changed to a sweeter cola alternative. Although the data was true, heavy Coke drinkers (brand loyal consumers) did not appreciate the change, and the rest is history. New Coke was not a success — a lesson for Republican Party leaders never to forget if they want to win in November.

Being perceived as “fair” to all candidates is the secret in making the upcoming convention a success. This means that the process must continue and that the candidate who “gets to” the 1237 threshold must be the nominee. However, “almost” is only good when playing horseshoes, and if no candidate receives the required votes on the first ballot, then the process begins until a nominee is selected by the delegates no matter how many ballot counts it takes to get to a majority.

A good test for Mr. Trump and great TV at its best is whether he can put into practice what he instructs others to do in making a deal. If Mr. Trump wins the delegate count, he will truly be the ultimate dealmaker. If he falls short, then the rules for business need not apply in “politics,” and the country dodges another candidate who has noble ambitions but little practical experience within another’s wheelhouse. All exciting for those who dare to watch the process live.

Dealing with the 500-pound gorilla in the middle of the convention hall and how best to deal with these highly energized Trump supporters is not going to be easy — but not impossible to overcome. This can best be examined by segmenting Trump supporters into three groups: brand-loyal Republicans who will vote for anyone the party nominates; brand-loyal Trump Democrats/Independents who will only vote for Mr. Trump; Trump Democrats/Independents who have been brought to the party by Mr. Trump and are sampling Republican individual brands by listening to what the candidates have to say. The issue, then, is to focus on those two groups who are more likely to respond to “fair convention practices” and not further alienate the brand-loyal Trump folks. If this is done successfully, a Republican victory in November is still a possibility.

There is no question that this will be a delicate balance of trying to make all sides happy and get them to support the nominee. Coming together is no easy task, but for those Republicans who want to win, they must use good-old political skills along with new branding and marketing tactics. The exciting event will help Americans experience our system at work through the reality-TV lens. Who knows what will happen? Perhaps even a change in the way we choose our presidential candidates.

John Tantillo is the branding editor for Fridge Magazine and the author of the book, “People Buy Brands, not Companies” (Five Titles Press).

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