Rick Santorum Can Win the 2012 GOP Nomination if He Follows Mad Men Star Don Draper and Builds a Better Brand

After becoming a Mad Men junkie (fellow junkies, March 25 could arrive soon enough), I have become increasingly interested in how organizations and figures advertise and market themselves. Currently, we are in the middle of that quadrennial marketing blitz — the presidential primaries.

Considering there have been 19 debates, and a combined $38.1 million spent on candidate advertising, this primary would be Don Draper’s dream. But like any advertising guru will tell you, success hinges on a readily identifiable brand. Although Romney is considered the GOP favorite, he lacks a true brand. In the absence of a Romney brand, Rick Santorum must continue to evolve his brand to secure a place as GOP frontrunner.

In terms of brand development, a common advertising tool is a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for a product’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in a specified market. A SWOT analysis of Santorum’s candidacy reveals why distinct branding makes him a candidate to watch.

Strengths. As evidenced by Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, being a labeled a political “flip-flopper” is the coup de grace. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney is in a similar boat regarding decisions as governor of Massachusetts, including support for the individual mandate, questionable positions on both gay marriage and abortion, and gratuitous entitlement spending. For all intensive purposes, Romney has no discernable premise.

Conversely, Rick Santorum has steadily embraced the social conservative values like pro-life, anti-gay marriage as the cornerstone of his campaign. By consistently referencing his commitment to “family values” and the Catholic faith, Santorum has made his name synonymous with social issues. Despite the proclivity of social issues to garner negative coverage, Santorum’s commitment to these topics creates ensures name recognition, which is the leading factor in voter choice.

Weaknesses. Despite Santorum’s definable social platform, Santorum struggles to clearly articulate economic specifics. His platform includes a bevy of tax breaks and promises to make sweeping spending cuts. However, he has failed to posit exactly how he will handle the entitlement quandary. During Wednesday’s debate, Santorum heavily criticized Romney for an alleged $700 million in raised taxes and entitlements during his time as governor. However, Santorum failed to counter this accusation with his approach to the bigger issue with entitlement spending.

By suggesting his solution to economic issues, Santorum can avoid the pitfall of being perceived as too negative. Currently, the Achilles’ heel of the Santorum candidacy is his propensity to take the defensive. Being too defensive seems crotchety and Santorum must work harder to avoid this.

Opportunities. The beauty of an underdog candidacy is there’s more opportunity than expectation. One opportunity that Santorum must capitalize on is a win in Michigan on Tuesday. To beat Romney in his home state would give Santorum both a needed victory and further the debate about Romney being the “most electable."

From a policy perspective, although Santorum’s support of No Child Left Behind has been a liability, he should use it as springboard. By referencing a failed education policy, Santorum can effectively shed light on pertinent education issues like student debt. The incorporation of student debt would also appeal to the vital 18-24 demographic.

Threats. Two major threats will factor into the continued viability of the Santorum campaign. First, Santorum must be sure to contextualize his use of religious rhetoric. Without the proper framing, the Obama camp will exploit Santorum’s commitment to Christian values as an affront to freedom of religion. Furthermore, a dearth of proper framing leaves the door open to accusations of religious extremism.

Secondly, Santorum must stop the idea of ratio conservatism, or having a conservative record in proportion to the liberal tendencies of Pennsylvania. Wednesday’s debate showed willingness of both Romney and Santorum to attach this qualifier to their political records. By qualifying his record, Santorum eliminates the ability to draw sharp contrasts between conservative policy and Obama policy.

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