Updating Obama’s Political Marketing

Elections to the European Parliament were held in Spain this week, and one “true winner” has emerged: Podemos. The mass media scorn this party, calling it by the most pejorative of names: a marketing operation, a media soufflé. The party’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, has predicted that Podemos “will be studied in university-level political science courses”. Allow me to weigh in on the social marketing angle.

Let us summarise the marketing-textbook reasons for the success of Podemos.

-          It has a successful specialisation strategy. Its segmentation is based on a concentrated strategy: young, educated “digital natives” who despise the right and are disillusioned with traditional political parties. It has positioned itself in terms of difference (it’s just four months old!) by dramatising in the media its antagonism towards Rubalcaba, Intereconomía and the right.

-          It has a coherent action portfolio. Its “sloganish” name is a nod to Obama. Its communication is focused on social media. It is an innovator in ambush marketing: it attacks right-wing television channels until they bite and invite them on the air, first to ridicule them and only later to offer a rebuttal. Its world-weary leader, a professor of political science, has been operating an online television channel for three years. His simple, emotional discourse steers clear of intellectualism and avoids alienating the mainstream culture. All this is mixed with simple messages: I won’t travel in business class; while on the campaign trail, I will eat for less than €10/day thanks to a crowdfunding campaign.

Podemos has been especially successful among young and middle-aged people. The mainstream parties dream of courting these segments, but they don’t even know how to get their attention. Pablo Iglesias has managed to do just this: he combines Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony with the emotion of the “homeland” concept, deployed judiciously; he accepts television as the medium and manages to get free, debate-heavy access, plus subsequent views on YouTube; he defines his leadership as a political communication device and plasters his face all over the party’s ballots.

In the five days since the elections, the other parties have been frantically throwing together talking points about Pablo Iglesias: he’s a marketing operation, he’s a populist disaster, he’s a freak. As our invited lecturer Toni Puig (who you really ought to hear speak) once said: the best marketing defines its strategy on the basis of strong values. Any values.

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