Likeability Is An Asset In A Popularity Contest

Marketing consultant, Alan Wolk, believes there is wisdom in keeping things simple when attempting to market a complicated product in difficult times. So does the Republican Party, which is what makes them a tough foe for the overly analytical Dems.
Here’s Wolk’s take on the appeal of Sarah Palin:

I think that part of the equation with Palin, (and this is likely a subconscious thought) is that there’s a strong feeling on the part of most of her supporters that all the experts, all the smart guys, all the pundits and gurus and PhDs have messed up. That despite their stellar credentials, they’ve managed to do nothing more than lead us into the morass. So that a Disney-movie heroine can’t actually do any worse. And if her entire foreign policy experience is limited to the ability to see Russia from her house, that doesn’t really put her at a disadvantage compared to the guys with Harvard PhDs in Islamic Studies who still can’t seem to find Osama Bin Laden or figure out a way to keep the Muslim extremists at bay.

In other words, there’s a strong strain of anti-intellectualism in America. None of this is news, of course. Fox and conservative talk radio have made billions by shaping content that isn’t too hard to understand.
I find all this interesting because I want to believe Americans have common sense, even if they lack education. We often say in advertising how we need to honor the customer. Yet, there are countless cases where “dumb ads” outperformed “smart ads.”
“So bad it’s good” is the line that comes to mind. Maybe that’s what Palin is and maybe that’s exactly what the majority wants. It’s scary for Dems to consider, but if Dems want to win (and you have to win before you can serve “the people”), they better start walking a mile in a working woman’s shoes.
[UPDATE] It’s my belief that this type of comedy (and free media) is beneficial to the McCain/Palin ticket. I’ve read sentiments that differ from my own and that’s fine. But what I keep trying to say is this: STOP THINKING RATIONALLY. Voting is emotional.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. As even mainstream news has been reporting, she is feared and derided by men and women across the political spectrum, from every kind of background. She turns off far more demographic groups than she gets excited.
    There have been several articles about “average voter” lifelong Republicans in the press who have said that the Palin pick is what convinced them they had to vote for Obama.
    The only positive thing she’s done for McCain was keep the anti-frontal lobe wing of the GOP from completely bailing out this year. But in the process, he’s done more harm then good.

  2. traditional women says:

    Do working women walk miles?
    My thongs have logged at least 775 miles since summer began in May. I expect 25 more miles before summer ends this weekend. The things are getting thinner than Obama, but don’t wear out. I don’t work.

  3. It’s easy to jump to those conclusions, but I’m hearing things differently on the ground. Things like, “I like Sarah Palin.”
    Let’s examine the right’s strategy for a minute. Palin was chosen to bring out the anti-abortionists, the hunters, working moms and Hillary supporters who don’t like Obama. If she pulls these voters toward McCain, she will have served her purpose.
    The fact that Obama chose Biden because he thinks he’ll make a good VP shows not only arrogance, but a fundamental lack of understanding about how to win the White House. VPs are chosen purely to win votes, not to govern.

  4. Carl La Fong says:

    “VPs are chosen purely to win votes, not to govern.”
    That may be the theory, but the reality is quite different. Rarely has the choice of a vice presidential candidate actually attracted sufficient votes to swing the election. 1960 was the exception, not the rule (and those extra votes may have been stolen).
    If anything, it’s more likely that the VP nominee may wind up costing the ticket votes (see Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle).

  5. Neither Cheney nor Gore was chosen by Bush and Clinton, respectively, to win votes. They were chosen for governing purposes.
    In fact, I would argue Bush was chosen by Cheney to be the figurehead president.
    Quayle was definitely chosen to win votes and it probably would have cost Herbert Bush the election if not for Willie Horton. Gore chose Lieberman and we all know how that turned out. Edwards was chosen by Kerry for votes and his impact was less than expected.
    Given that McCain’s campaign is sinking rapidly, even in the polls (which i believe skew Republican) it’s hard to see how Palin is helping at all. And for every GOP diehard she excites, she disturbs independents and true conservatives.
    Anecdotally, I’ve heard “I like Palin.” I’ve also had ardent conservatives, lifelong Republicans, tell me they believe the selection of Palin is an act of treason against the U.S. And some Reagan Democrats I know are regretting ever having called themselves Reagan Democrats.

  6. Palin was obviously stunt casting. As all VP picks are. But she is flat out embarrassing. Even by ad agency standards, much less world leader standards. A dumb American president succeeded by a dumberer one?

  7. A dumb American president “potentially” succeeded…

  8. I hope you know I’m not FOR Palin, I just find it interesting to see all the different angles here. For instance, Palin really is from the frontier, unlike the actor in the White House today. And she really is religious, unlike the actor in the White House today. In other words, she’s truly of the people. More so than the rest. Obama might have claimed that high ground, but his Harvard education (and statement about clinging to guns and religion) hasn’t helped him there.
    My argument is many people like Palin because they can relate to her. That’s not a story that’s likely to get on the news. The media would rather talk about itself, and how Palin won’t play by its rules. But none of that matters. What does matter is how people feel about the candidates when they enter that voting booth. I contend that they may feel better about McCain and Palin than you realize. Precisely because they don’t have all the answers. Joe Six Pack doesn’t have all the answers either. Nor does he talk right, or do much of anything right, according to the snobs on TV. As Alan Wolk says, many in our industry suffer from NASCAR blindness. That is, we don’t see this demo the way they actually are, we see them they way we want them to be.

  9. “We don’t see this demo the way they actually are, we see them they way we want them to be.”
    Could not have said it better myself.
    I agree wholeheartedly with your last comment.
    You can see it in Maureen Dowd’s columns in the NY Times, where she mocks Palin’s supporters due to their fashion choices, grammar and religious beliefs — the whole “she thinks dinosaurs lived at the same time as humans… ha ha ha ha” thing.
    Don’t for a second think that the GOP is not busy emailing and xeroxing those columns for mass consumption.
    And so much of the anger towards Palin does have the unfortunate tone of “I can’t believe I have to share the US with the sort of people who might actually think they can relate to her.”

  10. Stu Sutcliffe says:

    So in a nutshell; The smart guys aren’t getting it done, let’s give the idiots a shot.

  11. At this moment, Palin has lower favorability ratings than any of the other candidates. Even in states that initially liked her (such as Florida) she’s dropping like a rock.