Applications of Marketing Concepts to Candidate Marketing


Avraham Shama (1975) ,"Applications of Marketing Concepts to Candidate Marketing", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02, eds. Mary Jane Schlinger, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 793-802.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 2, 1975      Pages 793-802


Avraham Shama, Baruch College/CUNY

[The author would like to acknowledge the comments of Professor Philip Kotler on an earlier version of this paper.]

[Avraham Shama is an Assistant Professor of Marketing, Baruch College, 17 Lexington Avenue, N.Y., N.Y. 10010.]

Sellers, products, consumers, market segmentation, product image, brand loyalty, product development, product concept, product positioning, market research, and concept testing are basic marketing concepts which are applicable to political marketing. An examination of the applicability of these concepts to candidate marketing, and a detailed examination of consumer and voter behavior suggest the inclusion of political marketing within the boundaries of marketing theory.

Political marketing is the process by which political candidates and ideas are directed at the voters in order to satisfy their political needs and thus gain their support for the candidate and ideas in question. A cursory comparison between marketing of goods and services, and marketing of political candidates would readily point up at least one common concept: promotion, viz, the apparent and quite extensive use of media by the seller and the candidate for the purposes of informing, reminding, attitude-affecting, and sales-facilitating activities focused on target groups of buyers and voters, respectively. Possibly, such a comparison would also indicate that both marketing of goods and services, and marketing of political candidates utilize similar tools such as market research, and various statistical and computer techniques in studying the market. Although these points are essentially correct, they denote only a few of the similarities between marketing and political marketing.

A more serious comparison, however, will indicate that many more concepts and tools are shared by marketing of goods and services, and marketing of political candidates. Consider, for example, some well-known concepts of marketing: sellers and buyers, consumer behavior, market segmentation, image, brand loyalty, product concept, and product positioning, etc. They are all concepts of political marketing. Consider also some of the familiar tools which are used in marketing: market research, media, advertising, multiple regression, factor analysis, discriminant analysis, conjoint measurement, and multi-dimensional scaling, etc. They are all tools utilized in the marketing of political candidates (Kotler, 1975).

But perhaps the most powerful test for applying the concept of marketing in the area of political marketing, is by examination of the applicability of consumer behavior concepts to the area of voter behavior. The reason for this is because the consumer orientation of marketing has made consumer behavior concepts the focal points of marketing.


Similarities of Concepts

Common concept one: sellers, products, and buyers. Both marketing and political marketing include three main elements: sellers, products, and buyers. Marketing is a process by which sellers offer the buyers products and services in return for something of value (usually money). The same process takes place in political marketing, whereby the candidates offer the voters products or ideas such as "economic prosperity," "safe society," etc. in return for their votes and support in the campaign period and thereafter. The fact that many economic products can be sold and bought often while buying the product that political candidates offer can be done only infrequently and at a fixed point in time and space does not invalidate this argument, but rather indicates differences in nature and use of political and economic products, very similar to the differences in nature and usage of products and services which are traditionally subsumed by marketing (e.g.: food items vs. durable goods, insurance, auctioned merchandise).

Common concept two: consumers. The core of both marketing and political marketing are the consumers. Without consumers, the marketer of economic goods and services does not have a-market, and without voters the political marketer does not have a campaign. Because both marketers need consumers to survive, the concept of consumer behavior or voter behavior becomes a focal point of marketing and political marketing, respectively. The fact that in one case zn individual is called "consumer" and in another "voter," is merely a semantic difference. In both cases the individual can be viewed as an organism receiving stimuli about the product and reaching predispositions to respond, and a final response state after going through an essentially similar decision making process. Accordingly, the principles of well known models of consumer behavior can certainly be applied to voter behavior, and vice versa. In fact, the similarities here are so strong, that consumer behavior literature and models perhaps unknowingly relate to concepts which were first developed in the literature of voter behavior, e.g.; selective exposure, selective perception, two-step flow of communication, etc. [See, for example, the similarities in approach in the following political and consumer behavior literature: Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Bernard R. Berelson, and Hazel Goudet, The People's Choice, New York: Columbia University Press, 2nd ed., 1948; Bernard R. Berelson, Paul F. Lazarsfeld, and William McPhee, Voting: A Study of Opinion Formation in a Presidential Election, Chicago: University o' Chicago Press, 1954; Angus Campbell, Philip E. Converse, Warren E. Miller, Donald E. Stokes, The Voter Decides, Evanston: Row, Peterson and Co., 1957; Francisco Nicosia, Consumer Decision Process, New York: Prentice-Hall, 1966; John A. Howard and Jagdish N. Sheth, The Theory of Buyer Behavior, New York: John wiley and Sons, 1968; James F. Engel, David T. Kollat, and Rogers D. Blackwell, Consumer Behavior, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 2nd ed., 1973.]

Common concept three: market segmentation and product mix. Both marketing and political marketing utilize the concepts of market segmentation and target groups to increase sales and votes, respectively. Market segmentation is the process by which consumers and potential consumers of the product are distinguished along one or more variables so as to create homogeneous groups, and select some of them as target groups in order to offer a satisfactory product mix, and achieve the company's goals (e.g.; profit, growth, market share etc.) Variables along which product and candidate markets are segmented are almost identical: age, sex, income, occupation, family size, race, personality characteristics, life style, etc. Furthermore, product-specific variables such as previous product use and preferred product characteristics are often similarly used (e.g.: "how many times did the voter support the same program or candidate before?" "What does the voter like most about the candidate?" etc.) As target groups the product marketer and the political candidate select consumers and voter, respectively, and offer them satisfactory product mixes. The product mix, viz., the different mixes of product, promotion, price and place that are offered to different voter segments, is also similar to the idea of product mix of marketing.

Common concept four: product image. Both product marketing and candidate marketing have emphasized that consumer and voter behavior toward products and candidates is shaped by their images of the products and the candidates in question. In addition, it seems that they both have overpopularized the image concept to a degree where it became merely an impression or a stereotype that consumers and voters have about the products and candidates, respectively.

Common concept five: brand loyalty. Measured by the degree of attachment to the brand (as indicated by repeated purchase or brand attitude), and related to such consumer's characteristics as age, income, race, personality, etc., and in turn simplifies the decision making process of the consumer, brand loyalty becomes equivalent to the concept of party loyalty of political marketing Furthermore, the concepts of brand loyalty and party loyalty have been utilized as a baseline for promotion strategy for the product and the candidate. Accordingly, the first step of such promotion strategy is to distinguish between voters who are loyal to the party and swing voters (i.e.: brand loyalty and brand switching), and hence design a different promotion mix for each of the two main groups.(Kotler, 1971 and Campbell et. al., 1966).

Common concept six: product development. Both product marketing and political marketing place great importance on the series of integrated activities and research that take part in the process of developing a product that will satisfy the target consumers and voters, respectively. In the case of consumer products, product development is a process through which a consumer-satisfying parcel of ingredients, quality, brand, package, etc. is created. Similarly, the process of developing a product in the political market is one of creating a parcel encompassing a candidate, issues, party, etc., which will satisfy the target voters

Common concept seven: product concept. Essentially a part of the product development process, product concept, viz., the central idea(s) which serves as the core of the product in the target group's mind, is shaped by marketing and political marketing. Thus, an economic product such as a car might be planned and developed to convey "economy" and "dependability," and be perceived as such by its target consumers, while a candidate might wish to convey "healthy economy" and "active foreign policy," and be perceived as such by his target voters.

Common concept eight: product positioning. Related to the above concepts of product development and product concept, the idea of product positioning, viz., the process by which the product is positioned vis-a-vis its competitors in the market, is clearly utilized by both marketing and political marketing. In both cases, the product's and the candidate's "location" in the perceptual map of consumers and the voters relative to the "location" of the competitors is-to be determined, planned, and promoted so as to increase consumer and voter preference of the product and the candidate in question. In addition, products and candidates utilize the same research technique in determining and planning their positions in the market in relation to their competitors. namely multidimensional scaling.

Common Tools

Common tool one: market research. Both marketing of economic products and services, and the marketing of political candidates make frequent use of market research or public opinion polling for the purposes of measuring product performance, identifying potential consumers, and detecting and solving problems. In doing so, market research and opinion research use similar methods of data collection, e.g.: panels, interviews, questionnaires, etc., and data analyzing techniques, e.g.: correlations, regressions, factor analysis, discriminant analysis, multidimensional scaling, etc.

Common tool two: concept testing. A technique used in the process of product development and product positioning, concept testing refers to the procedure which is designed to discover consumer reactions to different product concepts or ideas so as to help management choose a suitable product concept, develop and introduce it to the market to satisfy the target consumers. Although not to the same degree of sophistication, this procedure is both marketing and political marketing. Thus, similar to product concept-testing, the candidate concept-testing involves the following major steps: (1) identification of possible candidate concepts; (2) introduction of candidate concepts to the voters; (3) recording voter reactions to each concept (by rank order, attitude measurement, intentions to vote, etc.); (4) identification of causal or associative connections among voters characteristics (SES, behavioral, and political) and their reactions to different candidate concepts, and to various attributes of single candidate concepts (factor analysis to reduce candidate attributes space, and voter characteristics space, and multiple regressions) so as to evaluate the contribution of separate candidate attributes and voter characteristics in the overall preference or ranking of the concept;-(5) choice of the most positively evaluated candidate concept or concepts, and finally (6) introduction and promotion of the chosen concept or concepts among voter groups in reference to the results in step four. Clearly, this also implies the possibility for market segmentation: different voter groups who evaluated a given candidate concept differently can be regarded as different market segments.

Common tool threes communication. The instrumental use of communication media for the purpose of promoting economic products and political candidates is another characteristic of both marketing and political marketing. Each of these utilizes media schedules, and media mix to effectively reach its target groups. Consistent with this last point, the fact that product marketing and candidate marketing use different media mixes or schedules should be regarded as an indication of the different nature of the products, and their target groups.

One clear conclusion that can be drawn so far is that marketing as it has been traditionally conceived to refer to economic products and services, and political marketing, which relates mainly to marketing of political candidates, have much in common: (1) basic concepts such as sellers, buyers, products, consumers, market segmentation, etc. that are the core of each of them, and (2) tools or techniques used in market research and opinion research, concept testing and use of media. On these grounds, the concept of marketing seems to be quite applicable to the area of political marketing.

However, a more critical examination of broadening the concept of marketing to include also political marketing is provided by examining the applicability of the most important concept of modern marketing, namely that of consumer behavior. to the area of voter behavior.


Voter behavior has been studied much in the same manner as consumer behavior, namely as a decision making process to engage in a certain action (voting, purchasing), including processes which precede and follow that act. Both the voter and the consumer are viewed as individuals receiving information, and possibly seeking out information, processing this information to reach predispositions to respond, and finally responding toward the product and the candidate in question. Consequently, the principles of well known models and frameworks of consumer behavior can be effectively applied to voter behavior and vice versa. Accordingly, in applying the general approach of consumer behavior models to voter behavior, one can point out the following components that are part of the decision process: [For simplicity, Howard-Sheth model of buyer behavior is utilized. See: John A. Howard and Jagdish N. Sheth, The Theory of Buyer Behavior, New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1968, p. 30.]

1. Stimulus input variables which originate from the candidate and his party and are targeted at the voters. Such input variables may relate to the candidate's experience in politics, his style of action as a political figure, his stands on issues, his party identification, etc.

2. Environmental influences on the voter. These relate to such factors as social class, peer group, and family influence on the voter, as well as the influence of the voter's own personality traits, and past experience with the candidate in question.

3. Processing stimulus and environmental information to reach voting predispositions. Such processing is subject to learning and selectively screening.

4. Output variables which relate to the decision how to vote, as well as to changes in perception of, and attitude toward, the candidate. One of the most powerful output variables is the voter party identification which, in a manner similar to brand loyalty, denotes an attachment to the party, and therefore also to its candidates.

5. Feedback processes.

Similarly, in applying voter behavior approaches to consumer behavior, one might follow the approaches of Lazarsfeld et. al (1948, 1954) and Campbell et. al. (1957, 1966) and postulate that consumer behavior is determined by socioeconomic status and psychological makeup. To be more detailed, one can follow Lane's S+O+R model (1965, P. 6), and describe the consumer decision making process as including the following three components (S, O, R):

1. The stimuli which are transmitted to the consumer from his social environment (e.g.: the community, media, family, ethnic group, social class, marketing channels) about the product or service in question.

2. The organism or the consumer receiving such stimuli, screening them through his perceptual and attitudinal screens in order to reach predispositions to respond toward the Product or the service.

3. Responses such as purchasing, expressing an opinion about the attitudinal object, reading and listening to messages about the attitudinal object, etc.

In addition to these almost interchangeable models utilized by consumer and voter behavior scientists. the effectiveness of such models in both areas is also very similar. Thus, consumer behavior models and voter behavior models can equally describe and to some degree explain consumer and voter behavior, but both fall short of predicting such behavior. Consequently, both consumer and voter behavior scientists seem to prefer the use of a middle-range theory approach in analyzing consumers and voters, respectively, rather than the reliance on fully blown theories in fields not yet ready enough for them. This takes the form of conducting studies which focus on the relationship between a fairly defined concept such as social class, family, peer group, etc., or a limited number of variables such as self-confidence, education, and dogmatism, and consumer behavior or voter behavior. A summary of such a middle-range theory approach and findings in the areas of consumer and voter behavior is presented in Table 1. An examination of this table shows that different concepts such as learning, perception, and social class help to explain consumer and voter behavior in similar ways. Thus, for example, learning concepts help to explain the processes by which consumers and voters develop brand and party loyalty, respectively; perception contributes to the explanation of consumer and voter imagery and its resultant influence on their behavior; and social class help to explain the purchase of certain products and voter party orientation. Furthermore, consumer and voter behavior are of interest to three conceptually similar groups: (1) marketers, parties, and candidates, (2) consumers, and voters, and (3) policy-makers. However, it can be argued that because most of the concepts depicted in Table 1 are sociological or psychological, it is their nature to help explain behavior, be it the consumer, the voter, the employee, or the child, and therefore the argument that such concepts help to explain consumer and voter behavior is valueless. While this last point seems to have a high degree of face validity, it is nevertheless a fallacy. Firstly, it is argued that concepts such as learning and perception help to explain consumer and voter behavior in a similar manner. Evidently, when a concept helps to explain two seemingly different behaviors, then at least it is more uniquely connected to these behaviors than to other kinds of behavior. Secondly, as consumer behavior and voter behavior are a focus of interest of three conceptually similar groups (marketers, consumers and voters, and policy-makers), it is reasonable to assume close bonds between these two roles of human behaviors. But more importantly, when the last two arguments are incorporated with the suggestion that consumer and voter behavior models and approaches are interchangeable, one cannot avoid the proposition that the structure of consumer behavior and the structure of voter behavior are very similar, and therefore they can be treated as essentially one structure.




Berelson. B. R.. Lazarsfeld, P. F.& McPhee, W. Voting: A study of opinion formation in a presidential election. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954.

Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., Miller, W. E., & Stokes, D. E. The voter decides. Evanston: Row, Peterson and Co., 1957.

Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., Miller, W. E., & Stokes, D. E. Elections and the political order. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1966, pp. 9-12.

Engel, J. F., Kollat, D. T., & Blackwell, R. D. Consumer behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 2nd ed., 1973.

Howard, J. A. & Sheth, J. N. The theory of buyer behavior- New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1968.

Lane, R. E. Political life: Why and how people get involved in Politics. New York: The Free Press, 1965.

Lazarsfeld, P. F., Berelson, B. R. & Goudet, Hazel. The people's choice. (2nd ed.) New York: Columbia University Press, 1948.

Kotler, P. Marketing management: Analysis, planning, and control. Englewood Cliffs. Mew Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1974.

Kotler, P. Marketing for nonprofit organizations. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1975, Chapter 19.

Nicosia, F. Consumer decision process. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1966.



Avraham Shama, Baruch College/CUNY


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 02 | 1975

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