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Printer Friendly Version Event-Scenes: e118
Date Published: 12/11/2002
www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=359
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

Inventing "W, The Presidential Brand"


The Rise of QVC Politics


Dion Dennis


Before you is a flawlessly paved expanse of a black-asphalted, two-lane road. The Western sky offers up intensely surreal shadings of blue, from a dark royal blue to a hue that softly, hazily tinges the low mountain range off in the distance. Hanging below this iridescent ceiling are soft, peaceful and cottony tuffs of drifting cumulus clouds. In the foreground, to the immediate left and right, is a vegetative combination of brown, gray and green scrub, stubbornly growing in the rocky soil. Because these primal images are at a distance, the eyes of the virtual driver encounter this frame first, in a relaxed manner reminiscent of gentle hypnosis.

Set in front of this frame, hovering above the yellow median of the road is a virtual Interstate highway sign, in the familiar red, white and blue tri-shield. The top red portion of the shield says "INTERSTATE." The bottom two-thirds of the shield tells us that we're on route W'04. Below the shield, carefully centered between the intermittent yellow median lines of the road, in a yellow script-like typeface, is this invitation: "Enter The George W. Bush Online Store."

The connotations attached to the composition of the opening page (www.georgewbushstore.com) are clear. The Web surfer is visually interpellated into the position of a driver of a car, traversing a pristine "open road," presumably in West Texas (where Bush began his political career), heading even further west. The iconography of "the open road" and the [presumptively] Western direction of travel invoke the ideas of the frontier, mobility, freedom, self-reinvention as well as a faith in the future; all that typifies American Exceptionalism. The yellow of the median strip, and the placement of the textual invitation to explore further, in yellow, in the middle of the median strip, is meant to simultaneously convey caution, and the message that Bush and his policies are the prudent center of the American political road. And because the color yellow serves as a dividing signifier for a two-lane highway, this additional connotation is also clear. There is only one lane that points the virtual driver into the future. The other lane leads back toward the past.

Finally, the symbolism of the Interstate system is also evident.[1] Most U.S. Interstate highways traverse the U.S. from either east-to-west, coast-to-coast (such as Interstate 10) or from north-to-south, border-to-border (such as Interstate 35, which begins and ends at the Canadian and Mexican borders). It is a broad and comprehensive network that connects American spaces, places, goods and people. By designating this metaphorical road as Interstate W '04, the iconic goal is to fuse (and essentialize) the connective properties of the Interstate Highway network with the identity of "W." Within the graphical narrative frame of the store's opening page, re-electing "W" in "'04" is one of only two directional choices available on the American political road, and represents the only route toward a bright and promising tomorrow. It's a very slick and well-composed message that is the gateway to the brilliantly segmented and stylized subpages of symbols and merchandise meant to channel consumer dollars and loyalties while displaying effective forms of propaganda for Bush's 2004 re-election campaign.

This is an essay that examines the social, cultural and political import of the expert and explicit online merchandising of George W. Bush by his authorized agents, the Louisville, Kentucky-based Spalding Group, a division of English Emprise. On the Spalding Group sub page (under English Emprise, www.englishemprise.com/spaldinggroup.htm) is their chief claim to innovation: In a banner at the top of the page, they proudly announce that they're "changing the nature of marketing, licensing and fulfillment." And, as the subpages show, they've effectively converted representations of support for President George W. Bush into an explicit fashion brand, most often signified by the letter "W" on various "lines" of merchandise. In doing so, and by carefully matching displays of political loyalties with slick, if partial, regional, demographic, class and generational and lifestyle modes of fashion (from the New York look of Kenneth Cole, to NFL jerseys and Wrangler country-western outfits), they've fused politics and fashion, style and governance in a decidedly postmodern, marketized way. The result is, as the Krokers put it, an iteration of post-alphabetic politics, in the decidedly post-alphabetic worlds of marketing and politics.[2] And it's the inspiration of the Republican spin-doctor, lawyer, campaign manager and CEO of English Emprise, Ted Jackson. And it's to an examination of this auteur, his philosophy and his e-commerce site that we now turn.


"Simplicity Works" [3]

What sets apart www.georgewbushstore.com from earlier merchandising of political materials is the decisive containment of, and movement away from, kitsch and "chum." Almost all historical and contemporary political sites and campaigns offer up an odd mix of merchandise, such as bumper stickers, buttons, signs, T-Shirts, hats, etc. This mish-mash of "collateral material" is meant to get a candidate's name into the long-term memory of voters.[4] Obviously not satisfied with the ad hoc marketing such chum represents, Jackson's inspiration has been to fuse higher quality and more stylistically sophisticated and integrated lines of products with representations of George W. Bush, as a part of Bush's re-election efforts. In essence, Jackson is in the business of inventing a new brand, the brand "W." Here's what Jackson has had to say about the importance of brands: (Note that I've bracketed the substitute word "politicians" after "companies" and "citizens" after "customers.")

Today's society is undeniably brand conscious. We're attracted to brands that project messages we like... Forward-thinking companies [politicians] understand that if their brand carries a message, it carries equity. Companies [politicians] now are using that equity to deepen relationships with customers [citizens] by offering supporting products that reflect the personality of the brand. It's called relationship marketing, and it works.

By using a brand strategy, you can help your customers [citizens] stand out in a crowded field of competing messages – which makes you stand out among your competitors... While rarely increasing cost, branded products carry a higher perceived value than unbranded products... Customers [Citizens] enjoy receiving high-quality products of a company [politician] they like or recognize.

Although a good licensing [of a brand] will provide a company with additional income, the true value of licensing lies in its potential to grow the brand. Successful licensing deals bring customers [citizens] closer to the company [politician], strengthening their identity with the brand and encourage long-term relationships. [Emphasis added] [5]

This goal of strengthening a common identity (through meticulously segmented marketing techniques) and fostering the simulation of a long-term relationship is also at the heart of the "permanent campaign" that defines much of national U.S. political life. It is also the goal of a popular Internet marketing strategy called "relationship marketing." But what is "relationship marketing," and how does the Bush store embody its logic and commercial ethos?


Relationship Marketing

"Relationship Marketing" is a general moniker for an eclectic array of management discourses and practices, including those around the development of e-commerce sites. It has been given a slew of definitions and characteristics, many of them hyperbolic and crusted with consultant-laden jargon. In the course of my research, Dillard Tinsley's definition emerged as one of clearest, mirroring the definition previously offered up by Ted Jackson:

Relationship marketing differs from the normal set of good relations companies want to maintain with their suppliers, employees and other stakeholders. It seeks to move a customer – or a number of customers – beyond some customary level of "good relations" into "special relations."[6]

But because not all customers [citizens] cannot be enticed into such a status (for historical, ethnic and class loyalties, for example), Tinsley says that no provider of goods or services can ever maintain such attachments with every customer [citizen]. In making this claim, he goes on to highlight another aspect critical to successful "relationship marketing:"

Market segmentation is a supporting strategy for relationship marketing. When different segments of customers are identified, it follows that the supplier may wish to use different marketing approaches for them. With respect to relationship marketing, this involves the possibility of developing different levels of relationships with the various customers. One of the most common [approaches]... is to offer different levels of [goods] and services... [in response to] the growing "culture of entitlement" [where] consumers are much more demanding about getting what they want.[7]

As we shall see, the Bush e-commerce site is very clearly segmented, with more personalized and stylized goods and icons tailored to the consumer habits of the middle and upper classes, and to different age and geographic demographics.


General Characteristics of an Effective E-Commerce Site

In a recent e-commerce paper, "Increasing Incremental Sales and Customer Retention with Relationship Marketing in B2C [Business to Consumer] Commerce," Albert Pang's analysis (of what makes an effective e-commerce site) parallels Jackson's prescription, albeit with greater descriptive detail. The goals are the same: To make money, to improve customer retention and loyalty, minimizing defections, and "to enhance brand image to protect and extend their franchise."[8] Both Jackson and Pang agree on a number of points, claiming, for example a site has to have the appropriate "context" to be successful:

Retailers such as Neiman Marcus exude an upscale image, and their decor, service, and merchandise embody the context that accentuates their brand and pleases their clientele. The context is what separates Neiman Marcus from its competition. Likewise, a Web site... should help extend its marketing reach in ways that could not easily be accomplished in the offline world... [This] points to the need [to create] a high-octane branding machine that can respond... swiftly, efficiently and around the clock. [9]

In each of their publications, Jackson and Pang set forth prescriptions for on-line success. Using nearly identical categories and language, they both stress the importance of the following qualities: Consistency of message, and ease of use; responsiveness to inquiries and feedback, simplicity of message and Web design and navigation, the ability to fully and usefully extract the data that is collected from each on-line visit, and the ability to choreograph message, goods and marketing from multiple segmented channels of goods and services.

This is not an unusual discourse for assessing the marketing of goods, services and sustaining and growing a consumer brand (like Toyota or Coca-Cola for example). In part (a rationalization of processes), these concerns reflect what the late French theorist, Jean-Francois Lyotard, called performativity. Performativity is simply "the optimization of the global relationship between input and output."[10] In other words, is a given e-commerce site efficient at formal navigation, interactions and transactions? The other part of the equation is the optimization of the affective bond between the product and the customer within the vendor's strategies of market segmentation. For the purposes of this essay, the significance of the www.georgewbushstore.com e-commerce site is that it serves as one element of a strategic assemblage for the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004. And it does so by doing something that it cannot easily do in "the offline world." That is, without a significant promotional and advertising budget (for conventional media) the Spalding Group is busy creating a "brand," of merchandise under the signifier of "W." At this stage (late 2002), Jackson is focused on "growing the brand," while " strengthening [citizen/consumers] identity with the brand and [fostering] long-term relationships" via the goods bearing the signifier of "W" or "W'04." I would expect that (especially the upscale) goods sold under this nascent brand of Bush would be of excellent enough quality to facilitate an enduring "special relationship" with the Web site's targeted citizen/consumers. And, as Tinsley notes, once "special relationships" are created by the vendors of a brand, [in this case, those signified by "W"] "competitors [will] have trouble duplicating or displacing a committed customer's [citizen's] relationship."[11] "To the activist electorate," says Jackson,

if [these] things are not out there in the main, then there's no campaign ... Ultimately, it's not any different from Coca-Cola or somebody else who does everything they can to put their brand in front of their consumer[s]... when [consumer/citizens] care enough to buy ... [it's] good for democracy.[12]

Promotional products entrepreneur Ted Jackson, who has served as campaign manager for Kentucky's Republican Senators and U.S. Representatives, as well for a two-term Kentucky governor, ends his article, "Riding the Coattails of Brand Loyalty," with this thought:

When a quality branded product is consistent with both the brand image and your customer's [citizen's] goals, you have a tremendous opportunity for success. Branded products are powerful tools you can use to set yourself apart from your competition by helping your customers do the same.[13]

This notion of creating several market-segmented lines of quality products, and tying these products to a commercial brand that represents an incumbent President is a unique innovation in American political life. The fact that this effort is primarily intended as a part of a strategic assemblage, to re-elect that President, via the techniques of "relationship marketing" is also a novelty. And the fact that this effort has emerged on the Internet, in the nexus between commercial e-commerce sites and the often acommerical political culture of the Internet, is also of some interest. Taken as a whole, this emerging on-line assemblage of the commercially licensed Presidential brand of "W" is Jackson's unique contribution to the techniques of Presidential politics, albeit one with some very disturbing permutations for conventional notions of self-governance and democracy. But before considering these permutations, let's explore exactly how Jackson develops the "W" brand of goods, within the www.georgewbushstore.com e-commerce site.


Beneath the Home Page: On-Line With the Presidential Brand "W"

When a Web surfer clicks through the welcome page, a navigation page appears. There is a large banner at the top. On the left side of the banner (facing the user) is another, smaller version of the "open road" scene, except this time the road is framed by snow-capped mountains. (The visual inference is that the surfer has traveled further west [signifying a journey of freedom] from the welcome page). The Interstate W'04 shield logo is at the side of the graphic, and the road itself, now in the Rocky Mountains, offers up some visible twists and turns (probably representing the possible choices of merchandise ahead). The Department and Store Navigator is on the right side of the banner, with departments and store navigation hyperlinks in the form of graphical horizontal picket fence slats. (An inference that can be drawn from the use of picket fence slats is they signify a subtle homage to the idea of private property). There are two sets of slats. The row of slats on the left side serves as links to the differently segmented lines of "W" merchandise. From top-to-bottom they are as follows: "President Bush," "Interstate W'04," "W The President" (the middle link), "Go West" (in an "old west" typeface), and "Kid Gear," (in an informal typeface such as Comic Sans). The right side of the double bar of buttons reshuffles the store's goods by type, and also links to a FAQ (frequently asked questions) and a site map. At the bottom of the left hand side of the banner is the Site's ID: "The George W. Bush Online Store." On the right side is the toll free 800-telephone order number.

Below the banner is the initial greeting:

Across America, the people of this country have expressed their support for President George W. Bush. In response, the George W. Bush Online Store now is offering you some exciting new ways to display your enthusiasm for our president. Whichever look you choose from our selection of high-quality products, you're sure to find the right way to express your support for one of the most popular presidents in U.S. history.[14]

To the right is a link to the Republican National Committee's home page. And, finally, below these elements is a graphical relisting of the product lines in a triptych layout. Each line is laid out in a row of three, with identifying logos on the left hand side. In the middle are the home page graphical motifs for each product line, and on the right side is a product from that line. Across each row (for W the President row, for example) each of the three images links to the (same) home page for that line (the home page for the "W" line, for example). Description and analysis of some of these segmented products lines follows below.


Market Segmentation

Reshuffling and Channeling the Chum
The "President George W. Bush" line

Clicking through to this line, the home page greets the visitor with a large graphic that consists of a close up of a golf ball, nestled up against a putter on an open green, with golfers and a golf cart in the sun-drenched distance.[15] The dimpled ball faces us, with its logo, red and blue against the white background, at its center. The logo is composed of the word PRESIDENT with a U.S. flag just below it. Below the flag is "GEORGE W BUSH." A larger version of the logo is on the right side of the screen, with a simple message that claims this page of merchandise is designed as a tribute to the 43rd President. Clicking through the "click here to view our product" link brings up the product page.

The page has thumbnail graphics of two related product lines, as defined by the iteration of a logo on the goods. The top of the page has merchandise from the "I Stand with President George W. Bush" line" and the bottom half of the page has merchandise branded solely with the "President George W. Bush." (Graphically, the only difference between the two logos is the addition of the declarative "I Stand With" slapped above the "President George W. Bush" logo). Clicking on an item in the catalog page brings up an individual product page with the item, a detailed description with the price, and an order box for that item. (The thumbnail and catalog pages have the standard "show cart," "modify cart," "return to shopping," and "change location" buttons at the bottom. This is the consistent commercial and navigational format for all the subsequent catalog pages).

This subset of two segmented product lines represents a reshuffling and streamlining of traditional chum. On the page are some of the traditional products of political chumlords. These include hats and coffee mugs, buttons and yard signs, refrigerator magnets and beverage glasses, bumper stickers and a fishing hat. Some of these items (such as the buttons) are less than a dollar. But also on the page are a few of the more expensive items from some of the other pages (such as denim and polo shirts). All of this is consistently arranged, and represents a stylization and disciplining of the conceptual and product unruliness of traditional chum into a uniformly stylized product, at the bottom of the market segmentation hierarchy. This disciplining is consistent with the overall holistic representation of the brand of "W" up the market segmentation ladder.


Marketing to Gen X and Y: The Interstate "W'04" Line

The home page for the "W'04" line opens with a graphic of a 20ish female driver on the highway, as seen from the passenger's side back seat.[16] Set behind the steering wheel of an older car, this introductory home page photo, like the others, is slightly blurred, as the young driver's hair is wind tossed. With the left hand on the wheel, she sips from a tall and narrow insulated coffee tumbler, the kind commonly sold by Starbucks for those "on the go." The camera is sharply focused on the metallic blue tumbler. At the center of the tall body of the tumbler is the "Interstate W'04" logo, with a yellow line snaking across the circumference of the tumbler.[17] To the left of the graphic is a larger version of the Interstate W'04 logo. Below this graphic is the following text:

Open roads. Unlimited Horizons. The "Interstate Collection" features a modern American symbol of both freedom and unity.

Clicking through brings up the thumbnails of the "W'04" product line, with the top of the page dominated by more expensive and stylized items, such as a $68 dollar pair of "Interstate W'04" silver cufflinks. However, scrolling down the page, the price of the 24 listed items descends to as little as $2.95 for a key chain, and $0.75 for a bumper sticker. There's a broad price range here, reflecting class differences among the members of Generations X and Y. Even so, the same sort of discipline and consistency of market segmentation and iconicity is evident on this page as well.


East Coast Relationship Marketing: W The President

The three levels of pages for this merchandise all mimic the style of well-known New York designer Kenneth Cole. Additionally, each page also has a navigational banner that iterates (with some twists) the themes of the previous "Interstate W'04" merchandise site. That is, all of these pages display a two-lane thoroughfare, two bridges, over a drab New York body of water. It seems a darker, grayer version the Interstate W'04 theme of two political roads. Given that this page exists in a post-9/11 context, the image also vividly evokes the complex emotions found in Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Through the intertexts of 9/11, the song, and the graphic, it is clear that the image is meant to be a somber reminder. It reminds New Yorkers that "W" was on their side when "times got rough." He eased their minds, and laid himself down, after 9/11, comforting New Yorkers, yes, like a bridge over troubled waters.

The main graphic consists of a blurry, in-motion black and white image of a fashionably thin female, striding away from the camera (which is tilted to create the appearance that she is walking in an ascending direction, a signifier of upward economic mobility. Meanwhile, the men on the opposite side of the street, Democrats, no doubt, descend down the street, icons of downward economic mobility). The camera focuses on the black microfiber and vinyl bag slung over her shoulder. The bag's logo is a prominent, white "W" on the bottom right side.[18] In smaller print, underneath, is the phrase, "The President." To the left of this graphic is a larger iteration of the logo of "W, The President" appended with an (unintentionally ambiguous) afterthought: "What More Can You Say?"[19] Clicking through to the product page, we find that all but one of the 17 items are black. Each displays the "W, The President" logo in white relief. The goods are decidedly urban (jogging shorts, money clip, etc.). However, unlike the first two sites, "chum" is almost absent, except for a "W The President" bumper sticker.


Going West, Chumlessly

The "Go West" site is prototypically Western. The main graphic shows us yet another young woman, side view (with the camera slightly behind her, and to her left) from the shoulders up, outdoors at the ranch, with the wind whipping the long blond hair that flows beneath her dark straw, unvented hat. But it's not just "any" hat. It's a "W'04" hat, which features a silver medallion "W'04" logo and leather straps. Around her neck is a tan bandana festooned with a "W'04" "Old West" typography. This catalog site has but nine items, all well integrated and sans chum. As the fourth in the five current product lines of "W" merchandise, each subsequent line has a decreasing amount of chum, and a greater percentage of goods that could reasonably pass for an integrated line of classically fashionable merchandise, the type that upscale mall consumers will pay for, and in the catalog pages of vendors like Lands End, Eddie Bauer or L.L. Bean. It follows, then, that the average price of an item on this product page is the highest of the lines at www.georgewbushstore.com.


Relationship Marketing to the Suburbs: KID GEAR

The Kid Gear page is dominated by images of four prepubescent girls, captured in the moment before the onset of puberty.[20] The top banner graphic has these four girls, dressed in identical football jerseys, arm-in-arm, joyfully posing for the camera. The larger accompanying graphic captures their laughter through a game of touch football. (Football is, of course, a symbol of conformity, obedience, militarism, patriotism and unity). Meanwhile, they continue to improbably wear identical jerseys.

They are called the "President Jersey" on the Kid Gear pages. As a knockoff of a Chicago Bears' NFL jersey, they are distinguished by these features: First, only one number is available, the number 43. After all, "W" is the 43rd President of the United States. Above the number 43, in the front of the jersey, are four stars, a testament to Bush's "all-star" status.[21] On the back of the jersey is the number 43 with the name Bush printed above it, mimicking NFL jerseys. To complete the circle of iconic self-referentiality, the left short sleeve sports a curious iteration of an American flag. More than half of the red and white stripes of the flag have been replaced by the inscription "George W. Bush." The traditional stars-and-stripes occupy only 40 percent of the graphic, raising some darker questions about what this specific iteration of the U.S. flag connotes.[22]


Conclusion: The Rise of QVC Politics

In an essay on postmodern consumer culture, Douglas Holt says that

[Now marketers] seek to integrate brands into the lifeworlds of consumers. Polysemic meanings and the use of brands are increasingly expected as consumers produce their own commercial culture within "brand communities." Relationship marketing, in which it is assumed that branded goods are made meaningful to the extent that they successfully establish a relationship with their customers, has become one of the most successful new research streams... [The trick of these marketing strategies] is the quest to control the commodification of meanings [through research and licensing]... and by allow[ing] the audience significant [expressive] freedom in how they understand the brand and its [positive] benefits.[23]

This is the modus operandi behind the products sold with the brand of "W," although Jackson states that the goal is less about short-term profit, and more on cementing long-term loyalties to the Bush brand, through lines of products that targeted "special" citizen-consumers both like and trust.

Given the profusion of consumer segments, the question can be asked: What qualities of a brand serve as common denominators across variable demographics? According to Henning-Thurau, Gwinner and Gremler, degrees of brand loyalty and equity represent the depth of the relationship that consumers develop with specific products and symbols. Citing Sheth and Parvatiyar, they list four factors that often deepen a relationship with a specific brand, over time:

  • in a complex world, the brand reduces cognitive complexity, optimizing the process of making decisions;
  • the use of past knowledge, experience, and memory for present and future decision making, which is confirmed by repeatedly choosing the same brand;
  • risk aversion, which is often practiced by trusting a specific brand;
  • a reduction in cognitive dissonance, and the maintenance of cognitive consistency, via the selection of the same brand.[24]

These four factors provide an impetus for sustaining or augmenting pre-existent brand loyalty. (Presumably, this type of long-term loyalty to the Bush brand would facilitate, all other things being equal, a Jeb Bush Presidential candidacy in 2008). But not all brands elicit these responses. In an astonishing paper, McEnally and deChernatony develop a processural, temporal model of branding, and then subsequently tie it into Maslow's hierarchy of needs (hilariously, if unironically, claiming that a consumer-citizen who is "in tune"(with companies and brands that claim a social consciousness) has reached a point of personal and spiritual self-actualization through identification with those brands.[25] But for our purposes, a truncated version of their taxonomy is useful:

Chart I – Illustration of Branding Process Over Time [26]

Stage 6
Brand as Policy
Company and brands represent socio-political issues; Consumers "vote " on issues via companies; consumers now 'own' brands, companies and policies.
Stage 5
Brand as Company
Brands have complex identities; consumer assesses all of these; need to focus on multiple consumers; the necessity of a consistent message produced interactively through consumer-provider feedback
Stage 4
Brand as Icon
Consumer now "owns" brand; identification with higher-order values, w/symbolic value, often global

While the organization of this table is woefully reductionistic (because the iconicity and relational strength of brands, like the development of the humans that constitute them, is not a linear or sequential development, and depends on, to no small extent, public relations practices), the taxonomy is usefully heuristic. For example, McEnally and deChernatony identify stage five as representing the approach of relationship marketing, the approach that provides the conceptual underpinning of the Bush store:

[In stage five] consumers co-produce as well as consume, tailoring the brand and its values to their individual needs... this [is] the true meaning of relationship marketing.[27]

As an ongoing project toward the November 2004 elections, the www.georgewbushstore.com site attempts to elicit such a "relationship" through its marketing practices and choices. By doing so, Ted Jackson appropriates a basic logic of postmodern capitalist culture:

Postmodern consumer culture only insists upon the [commodity] form through which meanings must be channeled to have [perceived] value. It is quite sincere in its incitements to consume as a cultural producer. [This] form [is now] the preeminent site through which people experience and express the social world [including their politics].[28]

The designers of the Bush store clearly recognize this. And, they raise the ante by closely mimicking, not the disorganized Kmart-like selection of goods found at the Democratic National Committee Web site (www.dnc.org), but the branded and stylized shopping experience of a Macy's or a Dillard's. Comparing the DNC site with the www.georgewbushstore.com site is akin to comparing the presentation and quality of goods at an open-air urban flea market with those available on QVC. With its friendly and chatty patina, careful selection of quality branded goods, combined with good customer service and frequent electronic and interactive audience testimonials, QVC is a prototype of "relationship marketing." It is also the prototype for Ted Jackson's version of political life under a Republican market society. The way to win "brand loyalty," for the long-term, with carefully targeted populations, is to practice politics the QVC way, and fuse the identity of the organization (the Republican party) and icons of its leader ("W") with that of its appropriately chosen and high quality commodities. It's a building block to "stage six," where the high-quality branded commodity (and the services connected to that commodity) are a synecdoche for the Republican Party, and ultimately, for the government of the United States. This is what I believe that Ted Jackson meant by titling his article for PPB Online, "Riding the Coattails of Brand Loyalty."[29]

Of course, this is not a vision of democracy. It is a form of consumer-based fascism, or, as Douglas Rushkoff trenchantly put it, "market fascism."[30] Walter Benjamin's comments that Fascism is about the introduction of aesthetics into political life finds an early 21st Century echo in the www.georgewbushstore.com e-commerce site.[31]

Benjamin warns us that all versions of fascism set the table for war. The rise of QVC politics is a somber harbinger of that looming possibility.


Notes
---------------

[1] A brief discussion of some of the symbolism is directly available on the "Interstate W'04" page at http:///www.georgewbushstore.com/cgi-bin/SoftCart.exe/scstore/interstate.htm?L+scstore+pqwa8083+10375

[2] Kroker, Arthur and Kroker, Marilouise: "Event Scene 91: Eye Through Images." Available at http://www.ctheory.net/text_file.asp?pick=224

[3] This statement hovers above a short biography of Ted Jackson on a sub page of "The Commonwealth Group: Strategic Public Affairs" Web site. Jackson is also senior legal counsel for this Kentucky-based, Public Relations and Corporate Advocacy Group. The URL of the biography is http://www.thecommonwealthgroup.com/tjackson.html

[4] The term "collateral material" is Ted Jackson's. The term "chum refers to the bloody parts that fishermen use to attract bigger fish." From "Campaign 2000: The Lighter Side. Campaign Collectibles: Accept No Substitutes! Gore gear, Bush Bottles, election epherema. Those in the trade call it chum, and what would politics be without it?" Los Angeles Times, 07/09/2000, pp A-3, byline, Massie Ritsch.

[5] Jackson, Ted. "Riding the Coattails of Brand Loyalty," Promotional Products Business Online, 07/00. Available at http://www.ppai.org/Publications/PPB/Article.asp?NewsID=238

[6] Tinsley, Dillard. "Relationship Marketing Strategic Array," Business Horizons, Vol. 45, No. 1, pg. 70, 01/01/02.

[7] Jackson, ibid.

[8] Pang, Albert. 2002. "Increasing Incremental Sales and Customer Retention with Relationship Marketing in B2C Commerce: An IDC [Intercoastal Data Corporation] White Paper Sponsored by ATG." Available online at http://www.atg.com/repositories/ContentCatalogRepository_en/white_papers/idc_whitepaper.pdf

Not surprisingly, the ATG Web site bills itself as the "largest" global purveyor of CRM (Consumer Relationship Management) techniques.

[9] Pang, ibid.

[10] Lyotard, Jean-Francois. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pg. 11.

[11] Tinsley, ibid.

[12] Campaign 2000, ibid.

[13] Jackson, ibid.

[14] The URL is http://www.georgewbushstore.com/cgi-bin/SoftCart.exe/scstore/gwb04store.htm?E+scstore

[15] The URL is http://www.georgewbushstore.com/cgi-bin/ SoftCart.exe/scstore/president_line.htm?L+scstore+lswm3770+ 1037499216

[16] The URL for this page is http://www.georgewbushstore.com/ cgi-bin/SoftCart.exe/scstore/interstate.htm?L+scstore+lswm3770+ 1037491903

[17] See the introduction for the symbolic import of the "W'04" logo.

[18] The URL for this page is http://www.georgewbushstore.com/cgi-bin/SoftCart.exe/scstore/w_pres.htm?L+scstore+pqwa8083+1037484701

[19] This phrase may come back to haunt the Jackson marketing machine, if commercial satirists (such as Saturday Night Live or The Tonight Show with Jay Leno) pick up on the phrase.

[20] The URL for this page is http://www.georgewbushstore.com/cgi-bin/SoftCart.exe/scstore/youth.htm?L+scstore+lihq8996+1037521481

[21] Although the languages of football and war have remarkable confluences (offense, defense, marching through territory, evasive maneuvers, long bombs, hard hits, etc.), the analogue of "four stars" cannot be extended to this football jersey and the ranks of U.S. generals. After all, there are "five star" generals. (So, to give Bush "four stars" within the sign system of the military would be, well, a demotion, since he is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The "four star" designation is better suited for rankings of restaurants, hotels and movies.

[22] When representations of an individual (George W. Bush) take up more real estate on representations of an American flag than the icons of that traditionally compose the flag, it's not entirely unreasonable to ask certain kinds of questions. For example, does such a product display an undesirable tendency within the Bush apparatus to exalt "the leader" over the nation and the state? Is this reminiscent of the techniques used by early-and-mid 20th Century governments engaged in the business of promoting "cults of personality?" Or is this an isolated representation, reflecting the unreflective sentiments of an overenthusiastic marketer?

[23] Holt, Douglas B. (Undated) "Deconstructing Consumer Resistance: How the Reification of Commodified Cultural Sovereignty is Entailed in the Parasitic Postmodern Market." http://icg.harvard.edu/~ws132/assignments/holtweb1.htm

[24] Henning-Thurau, T., Gwinner, K.P, Gremler, D. "Why Customers Build Relationships with Companies - and Why Not" http://www.gremler.net/personal/research/ 2000_Why_Customers_Build_Relationships_BOOK.pdf

[25] McEnally, M., and de Chernatony, L. 1999. "The Evolving Nature of Branding: Consumer and Managerial Considerations. American Marketing Science Review. Digital Document available at http://www.vancouver.wsu.edu/amsrev/theory/mcenally02-99.html

[26] McEnally, M., and de Chernatony, L., ibid.

[27] McEnally, M., and de Chernatony, L., ibid.

[28] Holt, ibid.

[29] Jackson, ibid.

[30] Rushkoff, Douglas. "The Sabbath Revolt: If it's a Free Market, Why Does it Cost So Much. Adbuster 34, 1999. Available at http://www.rushkoff.com/essay/adbusters_sabbath.htm+fascism&hl=en&ie=UTF-8

[31] Benjamin, Walter. 1969. "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Epilogue." Pg 246. In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Edited and with an Introduction by Hannah Ardent. New York: Schocken Books.

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Dion Dennis is Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept. of Psychology and Sociology, Texas A&M Kingsville – System Center San Antonio

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