Whose Brand Story Is Being Told? The Candidates Lose Control

If you don’t control the story, someone else will. That’s one of the lessons of the current bloodbath that is the 2012 Republican Presidential primary campaign season.

One might think that with the most successfully branded political campaign in history only four years old, candidates and advisors would take a look at their notes from back then. There’s no doubt that candidate Mitt Romney has a number of PR problems (including trying to inspire crowd enthusiasm while covered in glitter and not being concerned about the poor), but one is a constant throughout.

Mr. Romney’s primary story about Mitt has distilled down to: “I was a successful businessman; I will put America back to work.” The story is not detailed enough to be compellingly authentic, not personal enough to inspire devotion, and does not ring true enough to conjure trust. In addition, he has failed to build a personal narrative around is shift from practical moderate Republican to the conservative right, which is obvious to nearly every observer. Instead, he tries to argue that he’s different but the same.

This week, the Washington Post alluded to Mr. Romney’s struggles to find the right tone for his fledgling campaign. Opinion Writer E.J. Dionne Jr. outlined how the candidate left Florida a winner and a loser: “That Romney is still standing is something of an achievement. Judged by the standards of a political consulting textbook, his campaign executed a strategy in Florida that it had no choice but to pursue. Yet Romney won votes, not affection, a nod rather than an embrace.”

Surprisingly, Romney has not turned his energy inward for reflection on how to better craft his story. On the contrary, according to another Washington Post article by Julie Hirschfeld Davis, he has turned his energy outward. Many in the press corps have noticed a “feistier delivery and more aggressive style” from the candidate, with speculation that a new debate coach may be part of the change.

Another missing part of the Romney narrative is why he wants to be President of these United States. The lack of an emotional, heart-felt reason may be part of the reason voters find him a trifle cold and distant. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman made a similar mistake in her bid to become Governor of California. The voters couldn’t tell why she wanted the job. Nor could one GOP strategist who watched the race closely.

Of course, Romney’s biggest PR issue may be the question of whether his business success at Bain Capital in Massachusetts fashions him as a job creator or a “vulture capitalist”—a topic the Christian Science Monitor digs deeply into. When the idea of simple head count of created vs. eliminated is floated, he has already lost control of his story, again.

The Real Things – Modern Santa and Mexican Coke

Coca-Cola was in the news multiple times this year, with much ado about the mythic “secret formula.” In February, PRI radio show This American Life investigated a story that the secret formula to Coca-Cola had actually been uncovered in a 1979 newspaper article. In early December, Coca-Cola moved the original secret formula from the vault at SunTrust Banks, where it had been for 86 years, to a “World of Coca-Cola” museum in downtown Atlanta.

And a December 1st Wall Street Journal article reported that 2011 holiday edition white Coke cans, featuring polar bears, were going to be pulled from shelves earlier than originally planned. The main reason cited was consumer confusion with Diet Coke cans. One side note was that some consumers believed that the Classic Coke in the white cans tasted different. This would not surprise the branding and package design community, as research has proven that consumers cannot always separate product from package. Coca-Cola responded by posting a “fact sheet” to help consumers distinguish between the two varieties.

But the Holiday season always brings back ruminations on one of the most successful branding and advertising campaigns of the last century. If Coca-Cola advertising did not in fact define the modern image of Santa Clause, as Coca-Cola brags, the company was certainly instrumental in propagating the image to the masses. The urban legend Grinch, Snopes.com, debunks the “Coca-Cola Created Santa” myth to a degree, citing a short 1927 New York Times article, which claims that Santa Clauses in the city had become very similar to one another by then.

Four years later, in 1931, Coca-Cola introduced a Santa Claus created by artist Haddon Sundblom, which would become the standard for the next 30 years in frequent magazine advertising and marketing campaigns.

It’s certainly no secret that Coca-Cola in the U.S. uses corn syrup in its formula, and that Mexican Coca-Cola still contains 100% cane sugar and is still sold in glass bottles. Many devotees seek this product out at Mexican specialty food stores, but the product is becoming more widely available. Here in Pennsylvania, for instance, Mexican Coke has been spotted in CostCo stores and at local beer distributors.

The biggest erosion of the consumer Coca-Cola experience has come from the convenience trend. The public has been tricked into believing that a plastic bottle or can of Coke can be reasonably enjoyed anywhere anytime. Sad to say, consumers expectations have been lowered enough that they accept the quick degradation of temperature after opening — and the consequent degradation of experience, or pleasure.

So, my holiday gift to you is: Treat yourself and rediscover the highest expression of the Coca-Cola experience. Follow this forgotten formula to the letter and you won’t be disappointed. The crispness of flavor in the original brand experience is still unmatched. It’s quite different from what you’ve come to know.


1 Glass Bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola (U.S. Coca-Cola, if unavoidable)
5 Ice Cubes, standard size
1 Unchilled Glass, wider at the top than at the bottom
1 Healthy Dose of Nostalgia

Chill bottle overnight to 36 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. This step ensures that your Coke will not be watered down by excessive ice melt. Add ice cubes to glass. Open bottle with bottle opener (Mexican bottles!). Pour Coke into glass slowly as to not create too much fizzy head. If fizz dies down and leaves the liquid more than a quarter-inch below the rim, top off glass to within a quarter-inch of the rim. Wait five minutes for liquid to chill completely.

Take a healthy first gulp. Swallow. Enjoy. You’re welcome.


That is the real thing.


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