Adwatch: Brand Progressive

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Nov 15, 2007 at 15:44

The term "progressive" is making real strides as ideological label. For example, four months ago, a Rasmussen poll showed that Americans view the term "progressive" more favorably than any other ideological term, including both "conservative" and "moderate." This is key, because in order for progressive governance to be workable in the future, it is important for America to think of itself as a progressive nation. No matter how broken some may think our republic is, and no matter how much people are convinced that image rather than reality determines public opinion, the fact is that if a minority opposition is thought to be more in line with the country than the governing majority, inevitably that minority party will become the majority. This is why, for example, even after Democrats won last year, the powers that be, including many Democratic powers that be, did everything they could to make it clear that progressives / liberals had not won. And so, as conservative Democrats felt emboldened by the election, the conservative working majority stayed more or less intact, even with the shift in partisan power.

To change this situation, the country needs to think of itself as a progressive nation, and to believe that it elected a government for the express purpose on enacting progressive reform. And yes, language matters, because as long as America thinks of itself as either conservative or moderate, then any piece of moderate or conservative legislation can be justified as the will of the people. So, while the opportunity for massive progressive gains were made apparent by the Rasmussen poll, it isn't enough. The American people don't just need to like progressives and progressivism, they need to self-identify as progressives themselves.

One effort to achieve this change comes from the Center for American progress, which is running a television advertising campaign to brand progressives is a positive light. They have been working on this for some time, and the ads they put together show positive results. According to data I have seen, after watching three of the following four ads, nationwide progressive self-identification leaps from 10% to a whopping 46%, including significant gains from every other ideological self-identification group:

National ideological self-identification after watching three ads. October 11-17, 964 RVs, MoE 3.1. Numbers before watching ads in parenthesis
Progressive: 46% (10%)
Moderate: 24% (41%)
Conservative: 21% (32%)
Liberal: 9% (18%)

Enormous movement like this indicates two things. First, the ads are pretty good. Second, in terms of ideological self-identification, America is a gooey, mushy, wavering mound of gelatinous glop that chooses to identify with any of these terms more out of fashion and perceived identity than any actual coherent set of beliefs. There is clearly huge potential to move ideological self-identification numbers if a campaign to do so is effective and widespread enough. Here is one of the ads from the campaign currently being run in select media markets around the country:

Of all of the four ads, this was my favorite. It features a combination of visuals and words that place the term "progressive" in a historical continuum of a literal march toward future progress, featuring matches both for women's suffrage and for civil rights. It lists most of the major progressive accomplishments of the 20th century, from national parks, to women's suffrage, to the New Deal, to Civil Rights, and closes with the most fundamental progressive value of all: seeking the ideal of society in a future that has never been achieved, rather than in a past era of idealized, former greatness. The choice of music, "America the Beautiful," is also key, given the song's key line "crown thy good with brotherhood," which emphasizes the fundamental progressive value of shared responsibility. Really, this is an excellent thirty-second branding spot for the term progressive, defining the term about as well and with as much emotion as I can imagine any ad could in such a restricted time frame.

The other ads are decent, although they all contain flaws that this ad lacks. Still, they are probably necessary for the overall contrast campaign with conservatives. I have included them in the extended entry.
Chris Bowers :: Adwatch: Brand Progressive

Unlike the ad featured on the front page in this post, all three of these ads define progressive in direct contrast to conservatives. Taken together, they do a good job of expanding on the accomplishments of progressives, and other explaining how progressivism contrasts with conservatism. In particular, I think the clever visual "pro" and "con" in the final two ads, which are a variation on the Mac vs. PC campaign we have all seen by now. Just like in any political campaign, it is necessary to have not only an introduction ad, but also to have contrast and issue ads. One type of ad will not do the job on its own.

However, each of these ads also has flaws. The first ad uses a voice over actor that I have often heard in commercials for the NRCC, and the overtly conservative campaign for Miller High Life. That seems like a strange choice to me. I also wonder about the use of a popular culture reference in the second two ads, which rely on a parody of an existing advertisement campaign. That always has a short shelf-life, doesn't show a huge amount of creativity (something that progressives should be defined by), and also relies on corporate messaging. I mean, even if Apple is generally viewed as a progressive company, do we really want progressives to be defined by that company? Seems dangerous to me.

But overall, even these ads are decent, and the numbers certainly show that they work. I hope to see more of them around the country. Building a sustainable, progressive governing majority requires a country that views itself as progressive, and these ads are a step in that direction.

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I dig it... (0.00 / 0)
I think branding with be a huge key to continued success.  I wonder... should the party do branding rather then just 527's doing ideological label branding?  It seems to me that these ads are REALLY just trying to re-brand Liberal as Progressive.

Crucial! (0.00 / 0)

I wholeheartedly concur. We know how important labeling is just in watching the Republicans as each of the candidates fight to be the most "conservative" even as they run against the "liberal" label. People can easily run down a list of what Conservatives believe, but they can not as easily run down a list of what Dems, Libs, Progessives believe. This is partly because we are more diverse but also because we ourselves have spent less time thinking about how to communicate our values and vision. We tend to fall into the trap of throwing out facts and figures and discussing single issues. We are getting back to the big ideas and values and visions which is crucial.

I think part of the reason Gore and Kerry lost was precisely because they were unable to communicate an alternative vision for the country and differentiate their values from Bush. All they could do was toss our figures about how bad Bush is.

CAP is an interesting voice in this coversation. TAP has had some articles on this.

Other interesting place to look....
Campaign for America's Future and their Straight Talk Initiative: http://straighttalk....

So is Rockridgenation which is dedicate to nothing but framing/progressive values.They can been explored here at their site and blog:

And a great boom from Rockridge is is: Thinking Points

We won the Battle. Now the Real Fight for Change Begins. Join and fight for progressive change.  

also, (0.00 / 0)
they fall in line, while we debate differences.  Hence why we worry so much about dem, lib, progressive, etc.

[ Parent ]
Good Idea (0.00 / 0)
I really like this idea. I agree with Chris's criticisms, but I also like the ads.

I'd love to see a whole series of ads. And the first should focus on progressives supporting the whole idea of government of laws based on the Constitution instead of a government based on a sovereign (king). Under a government of laws, the President is a servant of the people who must adhere to the rule of law. Under a monarchy, the King can do anything he wants and the law is defined by what he does.

We've had 7 years of a President acting like a King and a whole bunch of conservatives letting him do it. This is a distinction that would be useful to explain to the American people.

Progressives also support honesty and fair dealing. Conservatives (at least the bunch we've had the last 27 years) believe in doing whatever they have the power to get away with -- corruption, cronyism, election stealing, etc.

And progressives believe in working with other people around the world, not just bullying them to get whatever we want. This would make another great ad.

Useless Branding (0.00 / 0)
What does it matter if the progressive brand is popular if anyone can just apply it to themselves at will? An actual trademark is valuable because you can make sure that only you can use it. But Hillary Clinton calls herself a progressive. If someone like her can use it to make herself more popular, what good is it?

because you can attack her from the left (4.00 / 2)
for not meeting her true progressive credentials. 

Look at how the republicans are dancing around trying to sound like a real conservative. 

[ Parent ]
They Tried That (0.00 / 0)
When someone like Kucinich does attack Clinton for not being a "true progressive" he's marginalized, even by most Democrats.

Republicans have their act together when it comes to holding people to their ideals.

[ Parent ]
More and more (0.00 / 0)
More stuff like this!

I like that they're taking it out to the airwaves. I would love to see a broader coalition effort designed to push the brand across more channels/niches also.

The vast majority of netroots activity has been topical (blogging follows and extends teh 24 news cycle) or narrowly reactionary (anti-bush, anti-war, etc). The only exception I can think of is net neutrality, which is still a single-issue technocratic cause even if it does have very wide implications.

Getting real momentum back into the movement means having this kind of ideological positive/creative campaign. Since the end of the last primary cycle, there hasn't really been much of that. I don't see it happening in this presidential either, unless some space is created into which a candidate/leader can step.

It would be really interesting to see the netroots go on the ideological offensive, not just to continue trashing conservatives and the GOP, but to explicitly advocate for "the other side." It's tricky to mesh that w/the Party because there are so many sold-out hacks though.

Me | My Work | Future Majority

I think (0.00 / 0)
The first two are excellent.  I share your concerns about the second two.  And, despite being what I assume is the target age demographic, and a mac fan to boot, I found them irritating.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.


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