Mavericky Brand Building 101

Takeaway: Many folks make fun of her, but does Sarah Palin know more about brand building than we MBAs do?

In a matter of months, and against all odds, Palin built herself into a multi-million dollar national brand with droves of loyal followers. How many classically-trained marketing whizzes can boast the same?

Palin may not be able to see Russia from her house, but marketers take note, she is likely to understand many Americans better than we do. This begs the question: What can we learn from Palin?
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Excerpt from New York Times, “How Sarah Palin Became a Brand” by David Carr, April 4, 2010.

When Sarah Palin made her debut as the host of “Real American Stories” on Fox News, she described several triumphs of regular people over insurmountable odds, but she missed an obvious one: her own.

After her failed bid for the vice presidency, she was more or less told to head back to Alaska to serve out her term as governor.

Instead, she quit her day job and proceeded to become a one-woman national media empire, with the ratings and lucre to show for it.

With its tales of uplift and pluck, “Real American Stories” trades in the kind of easy sentimentality that provokes eye rolls among those of us who work in media while quickening the pulse and patriotic ardor of almost everyone else. At the beginning of the show, Ms. Palin promised that it would “reaffirm our pioneering spirit and unmatched generosity, here and around the world.”

“It’s not the kind of thing that’s going to excite you guys on the East Coast, but everyone else is dying to hear stories like these,” said one of her representatives.

Beyond her Tea Party theatrics, Palin has tunneled her own route into the public consciousness and gone into the Sarah Palin Across America business. And what a business it is.

She was paid a $1.25 million retainer by HarperCollins. Her book, “Going Rogue,” has sold 2.2 million copies, according to its publisher, and she has another tentatively scheduled for this fall.

She now has an actual television career, including appearances as a pundit on Fox News, her gig as the host of “Real American Stories” four times a year, and a coming eight-part series on TLC called “Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” which will cost, according to some media reports, $1 million an episode.

Other people have crossed the border from politics to media to very good effect — George Stephanopoulos, Patrick Buchanan and Chris Matthews, to name a few — but the transition was far more gradual. Ms. Palin turned on a dime and was a ratings sensation from the word go: her first paid appearance, as a commentator on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Jan. 12, was good for an extra million viewers.

Her appeal doesn’t stop at the red states. When Ms. Palin stopped by to chat with Oprah Winfrey — not exactly friendly territory — the show achieved its biggest ratings in two years.

Ms. Palin didn’t go on the show to run for president as much as to become the next Oprah. And it seems to be working. So what are the rest of us missing?

Back in September 2008, when she was unveiled in St. Paul during the Republican convention, a longtime political reporter told me that her appeal would burn off over time. I wondered about that. I’m from Minnesota, which is sometimes considered the southernmost tip of Alaska, and her way of speaking in credulous golly-gee may have been off-putting to some, but there is a kind of authenticity there that no image handler could conjure.

In Ms. Palin’s America, everyone’s got bootstraps; they just need to have the gumption to find them. And her version is full of plain old folks spending a lot of time overcoming a great deal, including a government that she posits usually intends to do them harm.

She’s also imported the political trick of coming from the outside and ruling from the center. When she sets down the ear piece and leaves the studio lights, even the way she says the word “media” in her speeches — “MEE-dee-uh” — makes it sound like something yucky and foul, a swamp to be avoided at all costs. Unless, of course, you are promoting a show, a book or a cause.

Many observers thought her unwillingness to serve out her term would be fatal to her ambitions, but the fact that governance did not suit her — she resigned as governor back in July — has become a kind of credential.

Ms. Palin still gets a session in the media spanking machine every time she does anything, but the disapproval seems to further cement the support of her loyalists. Ms. Palin may or may not be qualified to represent America around the world, but she certainly represents vast swaths of the American public and has a lucrative new career to show for it.

If we don’t see why, then maybe we deserve the “lamestream media” label she likes to give us.
Edit by BHC
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One Response to “Mavericky Brand Building 101”

  1. Scottie Says:

    Does anyone else think that she is providing a good foil to show how radical Obama is?? Even if she can’t be considered as a viable candidate, I think she still serves a purpose in defining the spectrum and may allow a true moderate (from the red team), to look like a good balance.

    I think there are a lot of folks out there who didn’t like the Bush regime, but are now feeling buyer’s remorse and would welcome another “change”.

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