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Positioning a President

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are standing on opposite sides of a giant scale right now and it doesn’t tilt in either direction.

The race for the Presidency of the United States is a dead heat at this point.

It depends on which poll you read: Gallop has Obama up a few points, while Rasmussen gives Romney an edge.

No surprise.

Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars the campaigns are spending marketing their respective candidates, neither have an overall position that they are communicating for their man.

It’s a shocking omission.

More shocking is the fact that the promotion of the two campaigns sounds like the marketing of the Bobbsey Twins.

The stance on various issues is different of course, but the overall positioning – represented by tag lines or positioning slogans – is an exercise in TweedleDum and TweedleDee PR.

The slogan of the Obama campaign, which is now the basis of his bus tour, is “Betting on America.

There’s no positioning image to go along with this, just the slogan, which, according to Breibart, is a rip off of a Clinton slogan.

But hey.

And Mitt? The tag line of the Romney campaign is “Believe in America.”


Betting on American … Believe in America.

Come on, guys. How about just a little differentiation?

They spend millions on surveys. The “Button” that is pushed ad nauseam on the campaign trail is Jobs. That’s all either of them talk about. And it probably is the top answer to the question, “What is the most important issue facing the country today?”

Yet neither campaign has a properly positioned itself with Jobs. Yes, they talk about them, but words come and go. Where’s the positioning image? Or, in the words of Laura Ries’ new book, the Visual Hammer?

Where’s a prominent silhouette of a hard hat over the slogan Believe in America?

Such an image from the Romney campaign would communicate volumes.

The positioning for the Obama campaign in 2008 was easy. They grabbed the right word and drove it into the mind – Change. This word represented an “against” position.

Bush, and the Iraq War were extremely unpopular and “Change” was change from Bush and his policies. It went down like a buttered oyster.

There was a positioning opportunity for McCain in that campaign. As the Jeremiah Wright controversy exploded across the media, McCain could have positioned Obama with Wright and his raging anti-Americanism. McCain let it go. And he lost the race.

Would McCain have won the Presidency if his campaign had challenged Obama’s assertion that he had attended that church for 20 years and never heard a word of the racist rantings?

I don’t know, but the outcome of the race would have been undeniably different. Positioning works.

Opponents of John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid who had served on swift boats during the Vietnam War had no such qualms. Hammering the media with evidence of John Kerry’s misrepresentations of his service during the Vietnam War and that of other veterans, Kerry was positioned as a something of a coward and a liar and “Swiftboated” right out of the race.

Positioning is where you place your product or service or…candidate in the mind of your public.

It’s dominant. It monitors the overall communications strategy.

The Obama campaign hasn’t positioned the President.

They can’t use “Change” this time. And Betting on America is only for his bus tour.

With big fanfare a few weeks ago, they rolled out a new word that was to position the campaign – Forward.



Not a bad word, but a very tough sell when the percent of the population working is the lowest since 1983, long-term unemployment is the highest since the 1930s, home ownership is the lowest since 1965 and government dependency of 47% is the highest in American history.

So, Forward doesn’t really work because the economy has been going…well, backwards. To their credit, they dropped it, fast.

So, what do they use to position him? His signature domestic legislation, Obamacare, remains largely unpopular with the American public.

Positioning surveys would find the answer, but the campaign marketing continues to flounder and their strategy seems to be solely to position Romney “against” job creation by claiming some of the companies Bain Capital, the private equity company he ran, invested in companies that shipped jobs overseas.


True or not (I have no idea), it’s pretty weak.

Not only that, several leading Democrats voices have been vocal in their opposition to attacking private equity firms and the venerable Washington Post, the Democratic media mainstay attacked the Obama campaign – twice – for misrepresenting Bain’s activities.


The guy can speak. No doubt about that, but they are going to need something more powerful than the fact that Bain invested in companies that sent some jobs overseas (if, in fact, they did).

Romney, on the other hand, is not focused in his attack at all. He has attacked Obama on immigration reform, the economy, Obamacare, flip flopping, Solyndra, Obama’s golfing…

Yes, these are all viable issues, but there needs to be a focus. The Romney campaign needs to position Obama, not like a Jackson Pollack painting, but with a lazar-like concentration that drives him into the mind as________.

If I were running that campaign, I would survey to find what the public is truly most troubled about and what the Obama administration has done to create that.

The survey might well come up with the fact that it has created – not jobs – but a mind numbing $5 trillion dollars in new debt, which weighs on the U.S. economy like a mountain of doubt.

Much of the debt is owned by those new homies of international finance, the Communist Chinese.

There is no wiggle room on this issue, the numbers are right there.

I would hang that issue around Obama’s neck and hammer it mercilessly – The Debt President.

The slogan? You could use the above – The Debt President.

But even better, I think, would be to use the rate at which the federal debt is increasing – $49,000 a second.

It’s a horrifying number when you confront it.

$49,000 a second would become the rallying cry – the tip of the positioning arrow. And I would drive it into the mind of the public with a jackhammer PR campaign that was dressed up with an appropriately surveyed image.

The supporting data; the fact that U.S. government debt has been downgraded for the first time in our history, how the debt makes us vulnerable in foreign affairs and world trade, affecting American jobs, the cost of the interest on the debt alone (half a trillion a year) and on and on.

Of course, other issues would need to be discussed and positions communicated, but this is how the Romney campaign could Swift Boat Obama.

Will they?

So far the Romney campaign has shown no understanding of marketing techniques involved here.

There are 90 days to go before the election. We’ll see if either campaign develops a viable positioning strategy. So far, they are… missing the boat.

How about you? Does your company, have a position? How about the product or service you sell?

If not, we will work with you to develop one, even if you aren’t running for President of the United States.



Bruce Wiseman

President & CEO

On Target Research