The Politics and Marketing of Transition: Macedonian Parliamentary Elections 2002
Author: JULIJANA MLADENOVSKA
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 11/24/2003
Do you notice how towns change during times of elections? Do you ever wonder whether aliens have attacked your town after election day when you are stared at by distorted two-third faces with only half an eye talking in a weird ‘soap’ advertising language composed of “Want…”, “…clean hands…”, “…tomorrow”? One of the favourite topics of philosophers concerns the nature of reality. What is real, they question. The essence or the form of the things we see? To what extent does form reflect essence? Does the essence suffer change when the form is changed? Getting back to the first example, the question arises is the billboard-politician with one part of a face any better than the one I know with a whole face? According to Berkley and alike, the true existence of the things is confirmed only through my
perceptual capacity, so as long as I percipi them (and they are the object of my perception) they exist. If I play with this view even more, I can say that I am what I am, not because I am aware of that, for the others confirm it to me, since I see the reflections of my self in the eyes of the others, in their behaviour towards me. They are confirmation that I take certain amount of space and time, and have distinguishable shape and essence, and name attached to it, and all of those things make my existence real. Heidegger plays with these thoughts too. He says that what appears in front of us, the phenomenon (as the reality of the things), and its true nature is in the showing, the re-presenting aspect. The phenomenon is by being the one that re-presents itself, and this is its nature, its true self. The vulgar meaning of the phenomenon can in this case be the deception, the illusion, the re-presentation that is a non-presentation, an emptiness that wants to confirm its false existence by attempting to be a phenomenon.
The billboards, the pictures with funny, smiling faces of our tired, grumpy and boring politicians are to be seen in the context of the above introduction. They aim to assure us that the people we see have an essence through the form they display. The eyes looking at the future, the hand pointing to us, the message that captures a line to add the context and give a drop of truth to the phenomenon that strives for its true self.
Through a variety of codes, the image-creators are seeking for mechanisms that will convince the voters that the politicians are more than the bare promise and above all, that they are real. They use the appearance, the phenomenon, to expose the essence and assure the existence. They combine the codes of transmission, such as the media, and especially the TV, and the billboards, the photos, the symbols, the messages, with the codes of recognition: this is the leader, this is the party. The tonal codes: nation, ethnic group, country, historical link; with the iconic ones: the face, the eyes, the smile, the hands. The codes of taste and sensibility, rhetorical codes that repeat the names one should vote for; and many others mostly linked to our unconsciousness.
This presentation will actually question something that might seem as quite a disputable issue: whether politics can be improved by more and not less marketing (Scammell, 2002). The main argument behind this attempt is not to say that the politics needs to be polished and improve its form / appearance by applying established marketing techniques, since all the essence is there and is crying out to be exposed. On the contrary. The parties in US, Europe and Macedonia to some extent, appear to be already “highly professional market-oriented organisations geared to the needs of virtually permanent campaigning” (Scammell) as if the marketing makes the essence they long for! On the other hand, political marketing is deeply implicated in the current concerns of democracy, considered a key contributor to the “crisis of public communication” (Blumler and Gurevitch, 1995) and to public cynicism.
Marketing is more commonly seen as a problem rather than the solution to citizens’ disengagement. I do not want this article to be understood as a plea for more of the same spin and manufactured imaginery that is so characteristic of contemporary political communications. Rather the reverse. The usual political propaganda in Macedonia is ugly, resembling perhaps its content.
It seems that the mainstream political rhetoric is locked in a time warp fitting the mass society tendency to polarise, simplify, repeat the message, personify and vilify the enemy. In almost all cases, regardless of the political and ethnic (which in the case of Macedonia is particularly applicable) background of the parties, they all use the same pattern that says – vote for me, because my opponent is more corrupt, less trustworthy, less competent, made a worse mess.
This negative campaigning is a predominant trend in the political communications of the last 10 years, and it seems that the parties and politicians, to the extent that they practice marketing, seem to rely on a model of product and promotion that has little to do with citizen-consumer relationship-marketing concept. Arising for the summary above, some key concerns are:
- Do the parties know what they want to achieve and how (apart from the standard utility approach expressed in high percentage of voters = victory)?
- Are marketing agencies skilful to deliver the needs and satisfy the goals (the political and PR capacities are considered to be somewhat weak and leaning too much on the improvisations)?
- Are consumers empowered enough to be selective and critical in their understanding of the messages (though being constantly treated as a crowd that is easy to manipulate through different modes of propaganda)?
- And finally, is the new claim of “powerful consumers” any more believable than the old customer king-mantra offering the illusion of markets organised in the consumer interest while always serving the end of profit?
Continue reading The politics and Maketing of transition…
Bio: JULIJANA MLADENOVSKA is Senior Political Analyst in the PR and Political Analysis Department at INDIGO O&M Marketing Agency, Ruzveltova 39, 1000 Skopje, Republic of Macedonia.