In the early 80s I worked in a small New York ad agency. The company didn’t have many big clients but we were real agency-adjacent in that McCann Erickson, the agency for Coca Cola, was in the next building. This was at the time that Pepsi was running their campaign with Michael Jackson, though I can’t remember if it was pre- or post- hair on fire. In either case it was working at branding Pepsi as a drink for young people. And that’s when Coke announced it was changing their double secret formula, scrapping the original product, and introducing “New Coke.” (New Coke? Anyone?)
As a lifetime Coke drinker I was pissed. But more than that, I knew it was all marketing horseshit. No company the size of Coca Cola is going to capriciously change the single most popular and recognizable brand in the world, a product worth untold billions, simply because they think the taste needs to be tweaked. It would never happen and was nothing but a marketing ploy in the cola wars. What better way to get people to focus on your product than to tell them you’re going to take it away? But people bought it.
The campaign was huge. Old Coke was gone. New Coke was in. The product itself was a little sweeter, like Pepsi. And it sucked. But it worked. People talked about it. Most reacted to having their Coke taken away the way people in the 80s reacted to having their coke taken away. And in short order, in response to great customer outcry, the company re-introduced the old, trusted Coke, as Classic Coke, which would happily co-exist on the shelves with New Coke, giving Americans what we love most of all – choice in our brand of flavored sugar water.
I think the same thing is going on in the Clinton campaign as they try to digest the lessons of Iowa and New Hampshire. For a moment in Iowa, Obama was looking like Pepsi. But if the pundits are correct (and how could they not be?) that her getting choked up humanized her to women, then the Lachrymosa Express will roll into South Carolina and beyond, adjusting the brand to incorporate the new message. Hair, makeup and wardrobe softer. Language more human, as she reaches out to people as a regular person. New and Improved Hillary. They’ll stock the pond with extras under 25. No one over 35 in sight. They’ll hit the new buzz words like “ready for change,” which somehow means “I’ve been been part of the system long enough to know how it works but not so influenced by it that I won’t try to change it” thus presenting herself as Old Coke and New Coke simultaneously. It’s target marketing -- sizing up a particular demographic in each state and adjusting the candidate’s behavior accordingly. Like, maybe if they wanted to appeal to men in South Carolina, she could unintentionally grab her balls at a Nascar rally. And they’ll continue to hit the “Obama is inexperienced” button, which will be this year’s “flip-flopper.”
Not that any of this changes the actual person. It changes the candidate and how she’s presented. She is who she is. Smart. Crafty. Capable. Experienced, more or less. She could do the job in a second and I think wants the job more than she wants her next breath. Whatever it takes. Which is fine. Thinking you’re good enough to be president requires some degree of ambition. Being tough enough to handle all the shit thrown at you in a campaign means you can actually handle the pressures of the office. And being soft enough to cry means…actually I don’t know what the fuck it means. She aches like a woman but she breaks like a little girl?
Meanwhile, Obama’s neck must be killing him from how hard the brakes were slammed on his march into history. Still, that didn’t seem to affect the speech he delivered. You could almost feel him picking up oration speed as he rounded the final turn and hit overdrive, going from mere speech to JFK/MLK proportions while the crowd chanted O-bam-A! I don’t like chanting. Group mentality makes me nervous, like it’s a tune-up for a riot, unless it’s the bottom of the 9th at Yankee Stadium. But still, I see why they chant. This guy can inspire. And after seven years of Nixon-level depression, it’s refreshing, like when the Santa Anas blow in L.A. allowing us to momentarily suck in the illusion of fresh air.
Still, at the end of the day, I’ll support the Democratic nominee, and hope that the Republicans continue to implode. Let them eat each other like their plane crashed in the Andes. Let them try to stay on message. They can’t. Because there is no message.
Rudy sits out another primary, instead choosing to wait in Miami, polishing up his Ich Bein Ein Hebrew speech. Or maybe he’ll go with the Emancipation 9/11 “One quarter of a score and sixteen months ago…”
Romney walks around aimlessly, thinking: “I can’t be losing! I look more like a president than any of these guys! My fucking hair is more presidential!”
Huckabee thinks that he can win by playing to his base. Maybe someone has to tell him that doesn’t mean sitting around thumping out Mustang Sally on his Fender, which I think is really not a guitar but a lightning rod to Jesus. He’s simply holding it up toward Heaven, awaiting further instructions from the Lord.
Thompson makes a speech like he doesn’t know if he’s waiting for applause, or for someone to yell “cut!”
And McCain thinks Americans will be happy to stay in Iraq for 1000 years. Sure. Trot out that message to a war-weary electorate, and see how it plays.
New York Mayor Bloomberg is still mulling over a run for the presidency as an independent. I’d sum up his chances in four words: too little, too late. (Though he, Kucinich, and Ron Paul could form a three-man hoop squad and challenge kids at local elementary schools, like in White Men Can't Jump.)
Maybe running all these losers is the GOP’s way of playing for time as scientists at the Rove Institute continue their efforts on the Reagan Resurrection. Could work. He’ll look as good and will be equally coherent.