“I’m old enough to re­mem­ber when to be­come a preppy you had to spend four years at An­dover. Now you spend an af­ter­noon at Aber­crom­bie & Fitch”

We are what we buy, and our can­di­dates want us to know they buy the same stuff “It’s a safe bet to say, ‘Hey, I’m just like you.… You can vote for me’ ”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - −Tim Hig­gins

Buy­ers of Smart cars and Fi­ats tend to iden­tify as Democrats. New Porsche own­ers are more likely than buy­ers of any other brand to iden­tify as Repub­li­cans, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by Strate­gic Vi­sion, a San Diego brand con­sul­tant. (Maserati rates even higher with Repub­li­cans, but the sam­ple size wasn’t large enough to be sta­tis­ti­cally mean­ing­ful, the com­pany says.) An­other sur­vey, by Res­onate, a con­sul­tant in Re­ston, Va., shows that Bernie San­ders sup­port­ers are 82 per­cent more likely than the av­er­age Amer­i­can to eat at Chipo­tle, while Don­ald Trump fans are 111 per­cent more likely to grab a bite at Sonic. Marco Ru­bio’s back­ers are 141 per­cent more likely to have stayed at a Ritz-Carl­ton.

Tra­di­tion­ally, con­sumer data have been used by cam­paigns to bet­ter un­der­stand where they should in­vest their ad dol­lars, or which po­ten­tial vot­ers and donors they should have vol­un­teers cold-call.

In­creas­ingly, can­di­dates are also us­ing the sen­ti­ment to fig­ure out how to present them­selves to vot­ers. When the Ru­bio cam­paign re­leased its most re­cent cam­paign fi­nance fil­ing, it in­cluded a para­graph de­scrib­ing its brand loy­alty: “The Ru­bio cam­paign’s new Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion re­port also de­tails how the cam­paign took 431 Uber rides and spent enough fu­el­ing up at Chick-fil-A to have eaten 1,348 nuggets.” The mes­sage was clear: Ru­bio rides in an Uber and en­joys chicken nuggets! Sim­i­larly, Hil­lary Clin­ton stopped at a Chipo­tle in Ohio to pick up a bur­rito bowl for lunch the day af­ter an­nounc­ing her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. “It’s a safe bet to say, ‘Hey, I’m just like you,’ ” says Alexan­der Ed­wards, pres­i­dent of Strate­gic Vi­sion. “‘I put my pants on, I but­ton my shirt, so we’re the same. You can vote for me.’ ”

Uber has be­come a dar­ling among Repub­li­cans. Ac­cord­ing to sur­veys by YouGov, a mar­ket-re­search com­pany that mea­sures what peo­ple think about brands based on what they’ve read or what their friends have told them, con­ser­va­tives’ views of the ser­vice have gone from pre­dom­i­nantly neg­a­tive in 2014 to pos­i­tive. One pos­si­ble rea­son: Clin­ton has been crit­i­cal of the shar­ing econ­omy and its gen­eral lack of worker pro­tec­tions, a po­si­tion that in­spires sym­pa­thetic out­rage from con­ser­va­tives on Uber’s be­half. “She seems to be rea­son enough,” says Ei­tan Hersh, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of political sci­ence at Yale.

Jeb Bush was pho­tographed tak­ing

Ru­bio fans like Chick-fil-A. Clin­tonites go for Pan­era. Trum­peters pre­fer a drive-in burger at Sonic

an Uber in San Fran­cisco last sum­mer. (The driver, in­ter­viewed later by re­porters, said he in­tended to sup­port Clin­ton.) Cruz fre­quently char­ac­ter­izes him­self as the Uber of Wash­ing­ton—a dis­rup­tive force. “Uber de­fines a can­di­date ap­proach with re­gard to the new ‘gig’ econ­omy,” says Tim Al­brecht, a pub­lic-re­la­tions con­sul­tant who ad­vises Repub­li­can can­di­dates, in­clud­ing Bush. “If you fa­vor this new eco­nomic re­al­ity, you seek the ‘Uber-iza­tion’ of things.” Con­versely, Al­brecht says, “if you’re a can­di­date who views Uber as a chal­lenge to the old guard, you’ll seek to take a ‘cau­tious ap­proach,’ which is a dog whis­tle for more reg­u­la­tions and govern­ment in­volve­ment.”

San­ders and Clin­ton sup­port­ers are more likely than most Amer­i­cans to stay at Sher­a­ton ho­tels; a per­son who ap­pears in con­sumer data as a Sher­a­ton cus­tomer is a bet­ter tar­get than some­one who stays at Hamp­ton Inn (a fa­vorite among Ted Cruz back­ers). “I’m old enough to re­mem­ber when to be­come a preppy you had to spend four years at An­dover,” says Ge­of­frey Nun­berg, a lin­guist at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley. “Now you spend an af­ter­noon at Aber­crom­bie & Fitch or J.Crew. It’s the ex­ten­sion of the same prin­ci­ples that make brands ef­fi­cient ways of rep­re­sent­ing the fea­tures of the prod­ucts—they can also be an ef­fi­cient way of evok­ing the fea­tures of their users.”

Chick-fil-A is one of sev­eral brands that have ac­quired a par­ti­san af­fil­i­a­tion. In 2012, Dan Cathy, the At­lantabased chain’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, com­mented in a ra­dio in­ter­view that “we are invit­ing God’s judg­ment on our na­tion” by le­gal­iz­ing same-sex mar­riage. The restau­rant be­came a cause célèbre for Repub­li­cans Mike Huck­abee and Rick San­to­rum, who asked their sup­port­ers to pa­tron­ize the chain to show their sol­i­dar­ity with other op­po­nents of gay rights.

Brand as­so­ci­a­tions can go both ways. In 2012, af­ter the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s bailout of Gen­eral Mo­tors, the com­pany’s plug-in hy­brid Chevy Volt—which ben­e­fited from spe­cial govern­ment sup­port—was la­beled an “Oba­mamo­bile” by the Amer­i­can Tra­di­tion Part­ner­ship, a con­ser­va­tive group that op­poses regulation of green­house gas emis­sions. The car be­came short­hand for the bailout among Repub­li­cans who op­posed it. Mitt Rom­ney called the car “an idea whose time has not come.” Newt Gin­grich had his own com­plaint: “You can’t put a gun rack in a Volt.” Repub­li­cans tend to fa­vor Chevy pick­ups, but sur­vey data at the time by CNW Mar­ket­ing Re­search showed that fewer than 14 per­cent of Volt buy­ers iden­ti­fied as Repub­li­cans. Dan Ak­er­son, then GM’s

CEO, com­plained in con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony that the political crit­i­cism had hurt sales: “We did not en­gi­neer the Volt to be a political punch­ing bag.”

The great uniter among con­sumer brands right now? The num­bers show it’s the Ap­ple iPhone, ac­cord­ing to Strate­gic Vi­sion’s Ed­wards. The “iPhone is non­par­ti­san,” he says. “They speak to ev­ery­body.” But, he adds, at least one lib­eral teenager he knows doesn’t feel as warmly to­ward the Ap­ple Watch, which she as­so­ciates with “old con­ser­va­tives.” The sam­ple? “My daugh­ter, who drives a Volk­swa­gen con­vert­ible Bee­tle with a Bernie San­ders bumper sticker.”

The bot­tom line Can­di­dates are try­ing to con­nect with vot­ers by in­vok­ing a shared af­fec­tion for their fa­vorite brands.

SUR­VEY RES­ONATE DATA: REP. 8) REP. 7) DEM. 6) DEM. 5) REP. 4) REP. 3) DEM. 2) DEM. 1)

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