Today, media is test lab for campaign messages

Recently, Barack Obama's caucus victory in Iowa turned the Illinois senator into the feel good story of the election cycle. Heralded as a political Cinderella, Obama's underlying message, as the media saw it, was the image of a long-shot David slaying the Philistine Goliath known as the "Clinton machine."

Recently, Barack Obama's caucus victory in Iowa turned the Illinois senator into the feel good story of the election cycle. Heralded as a political Cinderella, Obama's underlying message, as the media saw it, was the image of a long-shot David slaying the Philistine Goliath known as the "Clinton machine."

One week later, a choked up Hillary gets a lump in her throat at the prospect of an America without her as its leader, and suddenly she is the "comeback kid," as she pulled out of what many considered a nose-dive and took a 3% victory over Obama in New Hampshire. Nothing makes the malleability of messaging more apparent than Clinton's adoption of Obama's tack of "change," plastering the term on banners and signs.

Campaign messaging seems to be as interchangeable as the press will allow, which indicates one of the biggest opportunities for any communicator today. The real message of the 2008 primary season is that strategies can quickly shift, given the campaign-focused publications' desperation for new content and new memes. Journalists, bloggers, and citizen journalists are all desperate to turn around stories and to provide constant updates, which provides a natural opportunity for candidates to experiment with and swap their messages as they falter along the way.

These outlets can be used as training grounds for the messages that ultimately end up at debates and broadcast TV interviews, where the non-news-junkie audience might choose based on the candidates' final pitch.

There was a time when corporations and politicians set the agenda for their branding and it took weeks to measure its impact. Now the messages can interchange, and the media's need to grind out grist for the mill makes them unwitting judges of the most recent brand, which will change as the newest results are in.

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