A Modest Proposal: Call It "Republican Marketing"

Here’s a little gedankenexperiment I’d like to try out on you, Gentle Reader:

I propose that it be called “Republican Marketing” instead of “Pinko Marketing”.

“Okay, Accordion Guy, now you’ve really lost it,” you might reply. I ask that you bear with me for a moment as I introduce you to Chuck DeFeo.

I met Chuck and saw him speak at the 2004 Internet + Society conference (whose subtitle was “Votes, Bits and Bites”) at Harvard, which Wendy coordinated. He participated in a panel in which the 2004 elections — which had taken place only the month prior — were the topic of discussion. At the time, Chuck held the position of eCampaign manager of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, and he now works at Salem Communications, a media group of talk radio stations and online media such as sites like the, a favourite in the conservative blogosphere.

Now let me toss you a mind bomb: Chuck is a master of so-called “Pinko Marketing”. He understood it better than Zack Exley, his counterpart at the Democratic Party.

The Republican Online Campaign: “Pinko Marketing” Well Before the Term Was Coined

Chuck’s strategy was simple: get people talking to each other and get volunteers for the Republican campaign to recruit other volunteers. The idea was to have the message delivered by the campaign’s biggest fans rather than campaign headquarters. He organized events like “Walk the Vote”, “Neighbour to Neighbour” and “Parties for the President”, which gathered people who lived in the same neighbourhood but didn’t necessarily know each other that well. These events were held more often in homes rather than public places, as Meetup events are.

He said that these gatherings proved to be more powerful than a TV or print ad. He said that there was nothing so convincing as someone in your neighbourhood promoting by saying “I live near you, our kids go to the same school, I share your values.”. He also said that these events had an additional benefit: “You know your neighbour now.”

The Democratic Online Campaign: “A Disaster”

The Democratic online campaign was, by Zack Exley’s own admission, “a disaster”. There was no plan, and there were no trained volunteers. “It was as if they did not see an election coming”, he said.

The closest they came to engaging the constituents was to solicit stories from people about how the Bush government affected them. 100,000 submissions were received, and they were stored in a database and made available online. In the end, although they were using testimonials from the people, their campaign was still a top-down one, with all the messages coming from Democratic campaign headquarters.

At the panel, Zack said that the Right is beating Left at what used to be the Left’s game: grassroots campaigning. The Left thinks that grassroots politics is “doing neat stuff”, but in fact, it’s still talking to people. It fundamentally comes down to a cultural problem: the Left don’t have trust in ordinary people. “We don’t know how to talk to ordinary Americans,” he said, adding “I agree with Chuck — our best campaigners aren’t paid staff people, but real people!”

Republican Marketing: Trusting the People

At one point in the panel discussion, an audience member asked about what role fear played in the 2004 presidential campaign, remarking that President Bush said the country would be in great danger if he were not re-elected.

Chuck’s response was “The American electorate is incredibly samrt and know how to form their opinions.” He said that voters are able to decide for themselves from the different sources of information, capping it with “I think we are the better choice”.

Zack then responded in a surprising way. “What Chuck said was very important,” he said. “When was the last time you heard a Democrat say that the electorate was smart? Did they, the last time we won, say ‘this country’s dumb, I’m moving to Canada?'”

My Conclusion

DeFeo’s online campaign, was — even by the admission of his opponents — a far superior campaign. It is a textbook example of “Pinko Marketing”, having embraced its five principles (see this entry for the principles) and could be used as a prime example of a Pinko success story. As such, it is more directly applicable to marketing than Marx and Engels (whose marketing typically boils down to either tanks or scruffy social maladroits selling the Socialist Worker on street corners).

Hence my modest proposal: Let’s call it “Republican Marketing”! (Or hey, maybe “Bush Marketing!”)

(I’ve donned my flame-proof suit. Fire away in the comments!)

5 replies on “A Modest Proposal: Call It "Republican Marketing"”

‘Chuck’s response was “The American electorate is incredibly samrt and know how to form their opinions.” He said that voters are able to decide for themselves from the different sources of information, capping it with “I think we are the better choice”.’

Unless they were some people in, say, Florida in 2000 or Ohio in 2004. They didn’t seem to trust those people much at all.

Um. Well. I’ve been watching this (and I’m in New England with very little internet access so this is going to be quick) and I have a couple of comments:

1. I divorced Pinko from its communist roots a long time ago…had this discussion with the entire Pinko community (which includes about 150 regular contributors now) and it was decided that Pinko would stay. Mostly because it doesn’t mean communist…it means ‘slightly left of center’ and more of a communist sympathizer than a socialist anyway. My use of Che was, well, more about the statement about the ‘revolution’ and that it was pink and I could get permission from the creator (the other shot, which was a young feminist during wartime, I couldn’t). I know that I have to come up with my own history. We’re working on that.

2. I certainly don’t intend to align myself with any current political parties. Pinko originally sprang from a metaphor where the ‘commons’ breaks down the top-down power structure. I’m not talking about government, just philosophy…and that was marx’s theory..even if terribly applied throughout history. He discussed empowering the common citizen…no more hierarchies. That’s the only place I aligned the theory…not in this government is better than that government, etc. Thus, I won’t be aligning to any current political parties, nor am I aligning to any former political parties.

Pinko, like Rogue that came before (not a nice history of that name, either) is a bit controversial…yes. But it ties to what I’m doing. I don’t think the republican party nor bush is ‘down with the people’ on any level. Perhaps their online marketing dude is brilliant, but wouldn’t it be ‘Chuck Marketing’ then?

Anyway…thanks for the suggestions, Joey. I guess we haven’t been keeping in touch over the past year as this has been developing. Feel free to join the google group and have this discussion with the larger group.


Hey, Tara! Glad you dropped by, both in Toronto and here in this blog.

My compalint about the term “Pinko Marketing” is that the use of a politically-loaded term automatically brands it as bunk to a sizable chunk of the people you’re trying to reach before you’ve even had a chance to explain it. I’m probably the last person one would brand as a neo-con and the minute I saw the name and associated iconoography, I’d already thought “Oh great, more art school hippie crap.”

Hence my thought experiment by citing an example in which the director of the online campaign for Bush and Cheney. Same marketing technique, inverted politics. The campaign was a textbook example of the excution of the concepts of Pinko Marketing, yet the people I tried the idea on automatically came up with objections, citing the Iraq War, the Bush Administration’s tedency to favour loyalty over competence and the recent surveillance scandal. They had serious trouble separating the political fol-de-rol from the communication technique.

And therein lies my objection to the name. I actually think that “Rogue Marketing” is a much better name. You’ve stated that “Rogue” has certain unpleasant connotations, but even terms often used in the military, such as “Rogue” or “Guerilla” (which has already been taken) don’t have the political connotations of “Pinko”. Remember, a good chunk of the audience you’re selling to come from the tech and business communities, a sizeable portion of whom tend to the right a little more than creatives do.

As I’ve said before, with certain reservations about the way marketers misuse the concept of “authenticity”, I think that the tenets of Pink Marketing are right-on.

I’ll take your invitation and join the Google Group — it’ll be nice a change to participate in a non-programming-oriented again.

Thanks for commenting, Tara!

The online campaign and the tactics of the Republicans aren’t quite so connected, which leads me to my primary argument that using politically-loaded terms to name ideas makes it difficult for people to separate the idea from the associated baggage. For a longer explanation, see my response to Tara’s comment.

You’re totally misquoting me. I said our online campaign was well run, but that the Dem *field* campaign was generally a mess.

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