Jeb Bush’s $130 Million Marketing Fail

Michelle Markelz
Marketing News Weekly
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Jeb Bush
Key Takeaways

​What? Jeb Bush spent more than $100 million on his presidential campaign only to accept defeat with more than half the election year left.

So what? Advertising and branding couldn't save an establishment candidacy that voters were not in the market for this election.

Now what? Marketers must pay attention to audience feedback or risk wasting resources on continuous negative results. 

​The presidential candidate’s demise proves big budgets don’t win brand loyalty.

Jeb Bush announced he was suspending his presidential campaign on Feb. 20 after the South Carolina primary. A combination of missteps and missed opportunities contributed to the speed of his demise, but Bush’s campaign proves one of the hard truths of marketing, according to one political marketing expert: No amount of advertising can sell a bad product.

Image Left:By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“The brand [Jeb Bush] represents was not attractive because voters are looking for an anti-establishment brand,” says Bruce Newman, professor of marketing at DePaul University in Chicago and editor of the Journal of Political Marketing. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are examples of the anti-establishment candidates who are resonating with voters this election season.

“Movements have become the name of the game in politics,” Newman says. At the time of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, political strategist and pollster Cornell Belcher told US News that Obama’s White House run “is taking on the look and feel of a movement. This isn’t just politics anymore.” Bush’s campaign never transcended politics, Newman says. “From a marketing standpoint, you put your feet in the shoes of the customer, and you respond to the customer needs and wants. … I don’t think Jeb Bush was able to convince the voters that he would make a difference in their personal lives, that he would make an impact on their economic standing, on their pocketbooks.”

Some have claimed that Bush never stood a chance. “What we find in political marketplaces, which is no different than in the commercial marketplace, is there must be an emotional connection between the company/the organization and the customers—in this case the politician and the citizens who support that person. [Bush] just wasn’t able to make that emotional connection with voters,” Newman says.

Chief strategist for the Bush campaign, Sally Bradshaw, told the Washington Post, “[Bush] was never going to be an angry guy—and voters wanted angry.”

Trump made a similar observation, when he called Bush “low energy,” and repeated jabs like that did significant damage to Bush’s campaign, Newman says. “I think there’s a similar comparison between what happened to Jeb Bush and Donald Trump as what happened with Michael Dukakis and George H. Bush in 1988 when Bush attacked Dukakis and [Dukakis] never attacked back. Jeb didn’t start to attack back until the very end, but it was too late.”

Bush tried to go on the offensive during the Republican debate in Colorado when he called out Marco Rubio for missing Senate votes for his campaign, but the attack backfired.

“It looked very personal between the two of them,” Newman says, “and it became very obvious to anyone watching that it was a mentor-protégé relationship gone bad. It reflected badly on [Bush’s] character, and character and honesty are two of the most important factors people look for in a leader.”

There is a place for Bush’s brand of campaigning in American politics, and voters got behind it in 2008 when they supported John McCain in his bid against Obama. “John McCain was not a very charismatic personality either," Newman says, “but he was a war hero. The theory about Jeb Bush is that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and he comes from one of the great historical powerhouse families in the history of this country. I don’t think he stood out as someone who was his own person.”


Author Bio:

 
Michelle Markelz
Michelle Markelz is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. She can be reached at mmarkelz@ama.org.
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