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Political Communication And Political Marketing Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5503 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The fast growth and global spread of the Internet has generated huge changes in many fields. Political communication and political marketing have been also impacted, as politicians nowadays have acknowledged the beneficial role that Internet might play not only in their electoral campaign, but also in the pre- and postelection time. Most of the political candidates today focus on developing their online presence as creative and attractive as possible and communicate their messages to the electors via different social networks (Bondebjerg, 2007).

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Political communication is largely mediated communication this is why the mass media are essential to the study of politics (Hendricks and Denton, 2010). We will focus our research on the new communications technology that had a significant impact on the way officials and politicians communicate with the public. The form and the content has changed towards a high-speed and greatly enhanced communication that promises better citizen issue understanding and political engagement.

Scholars of political marketing argue that people nowadays base their political preferences mostly on specific shortcuts that allow them to filter the huge amount of information they get from the media about politicians. These shortcuts are actually the brands that politicians build in order to fight for a space in consumers’ minds (Guzmán and Sierra, 2009).

In the last past years there have been many references to political figures as brands in popular press and the blogosphere. As other brands, political elites rely on various communication tools to develop their own brand image, from traditional advertising, PR actions and face-to-face meetings with the masses to more innovative tools, such as web pages, blogs, social networking sites and e-mail.

Online campaigns support political candidates in strengthening “grassroots efforts” (Guzmán and Sierra, 2009) by facilitating interaction and a bidirectional flow of information between them and the audiences. As seen in Obama’s election campaign in 2008, an effective use of these communication tools leads to a strong outcome on the perceived brand image of the political candidate (Hendricks and Denton, 2010). Therefore this paper aims to emphasize the role of new media in shaping the brand images of politicians, by comparing two different contexts and online campaigns on a social network platform (Facebook), namely Angela Merkel (Prime Minister of Germany) and Mircea Geoana (Ex-candidate in the election from 2009 in Romania) and by using Aaker’s brand personality scale to analyze the brand personality (Aaker, 1997). Through this study we will find out what brand personality do the two politicians want to purvey in their online campaign.

This paper tries to further the research in online political communication by analyzing how politicians “behave” online in order to make people aware of their brand. Starting with presenting different theories that characterize the current political marketing environment, it explores the conceptualization of brand personality traits within a social network platform. Next we introduce our research methodology and then present the empirical results and the conclusions.

Theoretical embedment

The third Age of Political Communication

Political communication is facing a changing period (Blumler & Kalietsvanagh), from its debut in the PR arena where politicians under the pressure of a new medium were disheartened to express their own opinion directly to the electors and experts were called into action in order to foresee the acceptability (Mayhew, 1997), to a more sophisticated and disparate public that needs to be satisfied. Moreover, the manipulative strategies of political candidates have been compromised by the skepticism of journalists and the public. Thus the emergence of the new and qualitatively different from the old form of political communication has been actually predicted by numerous scholars (Kotler, Cook, 1998). Once changes like fragmentation, differentiation, changes in communication flows between politicians and their message receivers start to materialize, the political communication sphere needs to face the media abundance, ubiquity, reach, and speed (Blumler & Kavanagh).

Politicians encounter a media saturated environment and a fragmented communication system. Therefore their efforts concentrate more and more on elaborating permanent campaigns (media coverage of the pre- and postelection scene) (Blumler & Kavanagh) that extend across a longer time. Politicians may need a longer lasting public support in order to cope with the unforeseeable and uncontrollable hazards of political life (Blumler & Kavanagh). The array of media outlets has been increasing so that politicians must sense which of them better suits their audiences and where and how exactly they will be able to efficiently send their message.

Audiences have become more refined and demanding when it comes to selecting and affiliating to a political ideology, but also shifted their expectations towards a more personal, emotional, scandal and negativity oriented news coverage. More recently, changed political communication has been identified as the main cause of a growing political apathy (Cappella and Jamieson 1997). As a consequence, politicians try to coordinate the media agendas towards issues considered important to and readily understood by a mass audience, particularly moral issues of personal conduct (Swanson, 1997). Therefore the rising societal significance of media implies also a new approach conducted by politicians who regard media as the major tool for political communication (Swanson and Mancini, 1996).

The abundance of media outlets, which “has created new opportunities and pitfalls for the public to enter the political world” (Delli Carpini & Williams, 1998, p.) has become a serious concern for both politicians and journalists. This is one of the reasons why the old top-down communication model has been replaced by a leveled communication flow that allows previously excluded voices to express their views and perhaps even to be noticed by mainstream outlets. While politicians, journalists, experts, and interest group leaders were discussing the issues of the day, ordinary audiences could only reward or punish the authoritative communicators only by continuing to listen or tuning out (Blumler & Kavanagh). This of course intensifies the relationship between elite professionalization and increased populism.

Taking all these changes into consideration and the fact that television news shows and front-page news no longer fulfill politicians and audience’s needs, they may look to other “outlets for greater amenability to their messages” (Blumler & Kavanagh). This is why political candidates resort to “cyber politics”, an environment where the Internet has become a dynamic feature of political communication (Ward & Gibson, 1998) and where political news, information, and ideas can efficiently circulate. Many researchers recognize the future directions that the online media will follow as campaign medium in its own right supplementing traditional ones. The online political communication has become an important tool for the mobilization and consolidation of voters within and across national boundaries.

The question now is: how can we translate the changes that have taken place in the political communication on the Internet? The answer is simple: political marketing. As defined by Schneider (2004), political marketing represent a “behaviorally and strategically oriented concept for achieving the objectives of political parties or candidates”. Moreover, Wring (1999: 41) attributes the growth in significance of political marketing to a greater degree of instability in voter behavior, a general economization of society and, finally, the extension of the discipline of marketing into the so-called nonprofit area (Wring in Schneider 2004: ).

Kotler (1994) argues that “The very essence of a candidate’s interface with the voters is a marketing one and always has been.” Similarly to business marketing, political marketing implies the idea that politicians, who step into the political voting markets as products, use comparable marketing tools like marketing research, advertising and the media in order to increase numbers of electors. Bundestag Chief of the SPD, Matthias Machnig, stated: “In terms of content alone, politics is different to buying a car. However, we can learn from brand advertising, how certain instruments, concepts and images can be used to depict political content.” “The marketable candidate is selected on the basis of his brand name, his capacity to trigger an emotional response from the electorate, his skill in using the mass media and his ability to “project” (Kotler, 1994: ).

Kotler’s approach (1994) suggests that politicians actually perform as brands in the political market by creating and shaping a consistent perceptual image in the minds of electorate (Schneider, 2004). In comparison to classical marketing, political marketing research hasn’t focused so much on the branding aspect, although the reality of political parties indicates clearly the success of marketing campaigns in which the politician is seen as a brand. A study conducted by Holtz-Bacha and Mueller in Germany (Holtz-Bacha 1999; Müller 1999) points out the obvious orientation of the SPD party towards marketing their politicians’ brand image.

Meffert, Burmann and Koers conducted a research project in 2002 in Germany and measured the extent to which there are anchored and unmistakable knowledge structures of politicians in the psyche of voters. Their analysis and results set the evidence for the question whether politicians can actually be considered brands. They confirm the fact that seven of ten politicians considered in the investigation (top ten politicians presented in the media) benefit from a higher that 90% rate of familiarity. Angela Merkel was even back in 2002 among those politicians with 96% of brand popularity. It can be assumed that the familiarity of politicians, who do not feature in the public eye so much, would be considerably lower still. As the basis for brand status, familiarity limits the circle of potential political brands quite considerably. Conversely, as the basis for the high level of familiarity of leading politicians, the presence of established knowledge structures are a credible interpretation. That is, over 90% of the population has developed knowledge structures with respect to politicians, which constitute brands (Meffert, Burmann and Koers 2002).

Their whole research is based on the fact that the less unclear the information stored in people’s memory regarding a political brand, the more likely that the respondent will make no evaluation (Guzmán and Sierra, 2009). Therefore, we can conclude that the main question when it comes to branding political candidates is whether they manage to really form associations in the minds of voters and that politicians who are strongly in the public eye, certainly do have a brand status. The “marketable” politician succeeds in his role as a brand of a party if people remember his name, if he has an emotional impact on the electorate, if he uses the right media and is able to develop himself continuously (Kotler, 1994). The candidate transmits certain messages to his/her audience in exchange for votes. What differentiates him from the brand of a product is his capacity to react to negative feedback, his background history, the capacity to “play” with his brand image.

Evidence that branding is a concept that can be effectively used in association with political figures can be also found in Aaker’s and Keller’s work (Aaker, Keller). They conclude that the brand, as one of the main assets of an organization, is present in every environment where consumer choice is involved and where there is an exchange of services between two entities. Aaker’s definition of branding “the set of human characteristics associated with a brand” (Aaker, 1997, p. 347) is also a basis for Keller’s subsequent theory that one of the most important aspects of a brand are its image and its personality (Keller, 1993). Moreover, according to Allen and Olson, personality is defined as ”the set of meanings constructed by an observer to describe the ‘inner’ characteristics of another person” (Allen and Olson, 1995, p. 392). Therefore we can conclude that the personality of a political party is viewed as an associative network of the human characteristics relating to that party, held in memory and accessible when stimulated from the memory of a voter.

Smith (2009) argues “that brand personality formation is determined by the same process as human personality” and that “personality traits are created in memory by inference based on observation of the behavior of another person”. This suggests the fact that voters develop in their minds different personality traits that they subsequently attribute to the brand personality of their favorite politicians.

As we have mentioned above, political communication and political marketing have been increasingly impacted by the new media, namely the Internet. We will further see how exactly politicians “behave” online and what is the brand personality that they generate in an online social community.

In the past decade, politicians have taken advantage of the benefits that Facebook (social networking platform) brings along in political communication and political marketing. Taking into account the fact that there are more than 500 million active users that interact with over 900 million objects like pages, groups, events and community pages and that the average user create 90 pieces of content each month, we can presume the statistical reasons why politicians moved to the online sphere for developing their brand (Facebook Statistics, 2010). Following Habermas’ vision of a place where members of a community can collectively form opinion in an environment outside of the government or the markets, politicians have found such a place in Facebook (Westling, 2007). Furthermore Facebook engages community members in the political process by providing them the ability to voice their opinions both in conjunction with and independently of political campaigns.

There are many reasons for choosing Facebook, but what we think is the most important is the fact that Facebook combines many features of what defines the real work of an usual politician (Andersen & Medaglia, 2009), like: informing the population (wall posts – short but consistent), meetings (events agenda), promotes transparency of his/her work (pictures and videos posted), etc. The creation of the content and the content itself is available to electors at any time and in practically any location.


This paper will analyze the content of the German prime minister’s Facebook page and the one of Mircea Geoana, a very famous and important Romanian politician, ex-candidate to the Romanian presidency in 2009. The main aim of this analysis is to see how brand personality of politicians nowadays is constructed via social network communities, namely Facebook.

As previously mentioned, “personality traits are created in memory by implication based on observation of the behavior of another person”, (Smith, 2009). This also applies for political brand personality traits, because the process of political branding actually implies associating different features/traits to a certain politician or political party based on their pragmatic behavior (what they say, what they write, what actions they take, what they post on Facebook), “allowing human traits to be inferred from action or stated intended action”, (Smith, 2009). Therefore, in this paper, the brand personality traits will be measured according to the content of the politicians’ Facebook pages, namely text and pictures.

In the past decade, politicians have taken advantage of the benefits that Facebook brings along in political communication and political marketing. Following Habermas’ vision of a place where members of a community can collectively form opinion in an environment outside of the government or the markets, politicians have found such a place in Facebook (Westling, 2007). Furthermore Facebook engages community members in the political process by providing them the ability to voice their opinions both in conjunction with and independently of political campaigns.

There are many reasons for choosing Facebook, but what we think is the most important is the fact that Facebook combines many features of what defines the real work of an usual politician (Andersen & Medaglia, 2009), like: informing the population (wall posts – short but consistent), meetings (events agenda), promotes transparency of his/her work (pictures and videos posted), etc. The creation of the content and the content itself is available to electors at any time and in practically any location.

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The scale that we will use has been empirically created by Aaker (1997), who has conducted a survey in which respondents were supposed to choose the most relevant personality traits for a brand from a list of 114 possible ones. Thirty-seven famous brands have been used and the results of the study generated 5 main dimensions that contain 42 individual traits. Sincerity is one of the dimensions and it’s characterized by personality traits like: honest, family-oriented, sentimental, etc. Second dimension is excitement and it has derived from personality traits such as daring, independent, contemporary, etc. Third one is competence made up by traits like secure, hardworking, leader, etc. Forth dimension is sophistication and is associated with brands that are successful, charming and good-looking, while the fifth dimension ruggedness is assigned to brands that are perceived as outdoorsy, tough and rugged. What needs to be mentioned here is the fact that a single brand may or may not have all dimensions or traits. Our analysis will actually show which the most significant traits of the two politicians are, how exactly they are being emphasized on Facebook and how can we describe the brand of Geoana and Merkel better.

The politicians that have been chosen are Angela Merkel, Prim-Minister of Germany and Mircea Geoana, ex-candidate to the Romanian presidency in 2009. Angela Merkel is the current Chancellor of Germany. Merkel, elected to the Bundestag (German Parliament) from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, has been the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 10 April 2000, and Chairman of the CDU-CSU (Christian Social Union) parliamentary coalition from 2002 to 2005. She is the most famous female politician alive and has been compared several times to Margaret Thatcher. 2010 is the fifth consecutive year when Merkel has been declared the most powerful woman alive by the Forbes Magazine. Geoana is a Romanian politician, and the current president of the upper chamber of the Romanian Parliament, the Senate. From 21 April 2005 until 21 February 2010 he was the head of the Partidul Social Democrat (PSD, Social Democratic Party), one of Romania’s largest parties. He was the candidate of the party for the position of President of Romania in the 2009 presidential election.

The reason why we have chosen these two particularly is that although their popularity differs substantially both politicians have a Facebook page, realized the potential of utilizing the social networking sites, are actively posting information there even after the election campaigns, try to maintain a close relationship with their supporters by providing them the infrastructure to get to know their work, behavior, political actions, opinions; essentially, to get to know them as brands.

The content analysis has been done on a sample of fifteen random wall posts and ten random photos from each politician’s Facebook page. The studies on the idea of online political branding that have been conducted before have focused only on the political campaign of candidates before elections. In this paper we would like to underline the “permanent campaign” concept that has been mentioned in the previous chapter, because it is also interesting to see what kind of brand do politicians want to purvey outside the highlights of any political campaign. Are they still fighting for the same brand image to be exposed to their supporters and the potential ones?

First of all, the wall posts have been analyzed by taking into account the level of generalization that they express, whether the content is objective or subjective, the feedback to these posts, whether the language used is Romanian/German or English, whether they use a common terminology so that every reader can understand and also whether the audiences are passive or active towards the wall-posts.

The next part of the analysis is the one in which we learnt about the type of message the two politicians try to send through the posts. For this, we have applied the brand personality scale using each trait as an indicator. In order to remain objective and avoid bias we have searched for indicators/words that belong to the same word family as our traits within the posts and were then able to associate the respective trait to the wall-post. The use of question or exclamation marks, specific words and phrases, level of knowledge of the politicians have been also used in order to be able to associate every post to a trait and see what kind brand personality the two politicians want to purvey.

Second of all, we have analyzed the photos using the NLP model, which states that body language, face expression, clothes, colors and people they associated themselves with indicates a feature. These features are represented in our study by the brand personality traits. Moreover we have looked up what type of picture that is, whether it’s professional or not, the context of the photo and the subjects in the pictures.


For most social media services, Facebook in particular, it’s nei­ther the mere presence of the service that makes it valuable nor the per­centage of returning customers (supporters); rather, it’s the content that people generate on them. (Beuker & Abbing, 2010 – de reformulate). Under these circumstances it is of great significance and importance to analyze the content that Merkel and Geoana load onto their Facebook pages and observe what type of brand they try to convey, according to Aaker’s brand personality scale.

As previously mentioned, Facebook offers politicians the right infrastructure to develop their brand personalities. What actually happens there is a continuous discussion between the brand and its “customers” (Beuker & Abbing, 2010). Their brands have proactively started and steered conversations with their supporters, although one might clearly observe the difference of popularity between the two politicians.

First of all, the general features of the messages posted by Merkel and Geoana include facts about their type, whether they are general, detailed, objective or subjective, about the language they prefer to write their posts in and whether they are being followed by people. A first noticeable similarity between these two politicians that emphasizes the importance they give to their Facebook accounts and the fact that they indeed are trying to develop a brand personality is the general information. This is a very important starting point in presenting their brand, by being very generous in providing information about their history, background knowledge and working experience and the most important, their activities outside the political world. In the previous chapter we mentioned the fact that people are more likely to recall a brand, as long as they can somehow indentify themselves with it (REFERENCE), therefore both Merkel and Geoana try to establish a close relationship with their supporters by mentioning personal aspects of their life in the info tab on their Facebook page.

In terms of wall-posts, our study shows that Angela Merkel focuses mainly on providing her supporters with very clear and easy to understand messages (100% of them are very easy to understand). She succeeds in that because she manages to have a 100% dynamic audience which gives an average feedback of 173 of comments per post and moreover 343 people on average support her view by “liking” her posts. Another interesting finding is the fact that there is a certain subjectivity dominating her posts. In 93% of her messages she either expresses her own personal opinion or writes emotional statements. This fact will be further developed in association with the personality traits that arise from it. What characterizes her wall posts is also the following elements: most of them (83%) are in German, although 13% are in English, she includes many additional information to her posts, like pictures and links to her website, where people can take a better look at a more detailed content of that information.

Mircea Geoana focuses mainly on the same aspects, but he only posts messages in Romanian which have a general (93% of the wall-posts), objective (60%) and easy to understand (93%) content, like facts, announcements, less personal opinion. His posts always have a linked to his website and blog and are accompanied by pictures (100%). MEANING

The general features of their messages strengthen our results with regard to brand personality traits. On the one hand, according to our findings, Angela Merkel’s messages on Facebook are up-to-date (80% of the sample), wholesome (67% of the sample), sentimental (60% of the sample), contemporary (60% of the sample) and friendly (53% of the sample). Competence is also a feature of her brand that she wants to emphasize through her wall-posts. In terms of dimensions of personality that less characterize the brand that she is promoting on Facebook we found ruggedness and excitement. SHORT MEANING. There are of course also traits that could not be found in her messages at all: glamorous, imaginative, sophisticated, upper class, masculine, daring and secure. This might lead us to the conclusion that she is very aware of the brand personality that she wants to promote and intentionally avoids posting any kind of messages that might interfere with the Sincerity dimension.

On the other hand, Mircea Geoana’s wall-posts suggest a tendency towards his brand personality being purveyed like honest (53%) and daring (53%), besides up-to-date (60%) and contemporary (60%). Being part of the opposition in Romania, confirms this trend as he doesn’t avoid any direct attacks towards the current government and wants people to perceive his brand as very straight forward and sincere. Also in his case there are certain traits that do not portray his brand personality like trendy, cool, imaginative, outdoorsy, cheerful and glamorous. This indicates that contradictory to people’s expectations of more scandal and sensation news regarding politics, political candidate still want to be perceived as rigorous, serious and very professional. (Panagopoulos, 2009).

Facebook offers politicians the opportunity to base and strengthen their messages with photos and videos. In this study we have been analyzing a sample of 10 photos for each of the politicians in order to see whether the same brand personality traits are present in pictures and whether the photos back up the wall posts.

In the first place, the study suggest that both Merkel and Geoana have loaded pictures taken by professionals, which indicates their interest in conveying messages into pictures and vice versa. Usually (90% of the picture sample) photos show both politicians in action in a political environment, be it a conference with other politicians, manifestations, in their office working or talking to people. A difference between Merkel and Geoana is her preferences of posting more formal pictures, rather than pictures that portray her with her family, whereas Geoana likes to appear in pictures surrounded by children and family.

Secondly, we have analyzed the brand personality traits that arise from the pictures that the two politicians have uploaded into their Facebook account. In case of Angela Merkel they indicate a down-to-earth, contemporary, upper-class, charming brand, while Mircea Geoana focuses on showing himself as a good-looking, charming, contemporary, intelligent brand. Although Geoana’s brand personality is seen as a more rugged and though person, his pictures reveal a family oriented person, glamorous and charming. An explanation for this is probably his attempt to diminish as much as possible the negative impact that tough wall-posts might have on his electors. He wants to build up a complex brand that can be recalled as a combination of a serious political figure that softens when it comes to personal, emotional issues. Angela Merkel brand personality is emphasized in a similar way by her wall-posts and pictures.


A decade ago nobody would have imagined the huge role that Internet could play in shaping the political communication sphere. Although some scholars have predicted its potential, many have doubted that the impact would be so big. Today, not only it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to use, has a potentially global reach and a potential for interactivity, offers means of instant communication and provides huge information archive but also facilitates the creation of political brands.

This paper is meant to support the theory of the existence of political brands by evaluating and comparing two politicians who have chosen to develop their own brand personality on a social network platform, Facebook. The brand personality framework introduced by Aaker, has been used in this paper in order to identify those elements that define the brand personality of two politicians, Merkel and Geoana. Our results show that the brand personality they try to purvey is primarily being well informed and up-to-date about various subjects. This can be translated into their wish to satisfying those potential electors that are waiting for more information that just from the media in order to make a voting decision. However, one must have in mind the fact that politicians address their messages not only to normal voters, but also to journalists. Therefore, it is of great importance for a politicians, especially for Angela Merkel as leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world but also for Geoana who is fighting for more brand awareness in the Romanian political market, to control the messages they want media to transmit further, to impose frames and to appear in front of the journalist as a very well informed person, who knows exactly that their role in society is.

Furthermore both politicians focus on developing a modern, contemporary brand, one that takes advantage of the newest innovations in the Internet communication tools and provides users with videos, pictures and other interactive features. Facebook has become for many young people one of the main sources of information (REFERENCE) when it comes to the political life and politicians. This is why, an active participation online, like Merkel and Geoana, encourages young people to get more involved in politics and become less skeptical regarding the future of politics.

Some might argue that the significant difference between the numbers of “friends”, comments and “likes” that Geoana and Merkel have received for their wall-posts lays in a wrong brand image, but we need to take into consideration other various factors: his current political status in Romania, the number of Internet users and population of Romania, the popularity if this social networking platform, and so on.

The brand personality developed by both Merkel and Geoana suggests a strong emphasis of the ordinary nature of politicians, but also the common sense that dominates the textual and visual elements.

The personality traits that belong to the competence dimension: leader, honest and cheerful hav


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