In an election where image is everything, George W. Bush may have a bit of brand polishing yet to do as a new survey shows that voters associate him with the down-market Dunkin' Donuts while they think John Kerry is a smooth Starbucks man.
The study found that Bush is associated with mainstay brands such as IBM, Ford and Bud Light beer, while Kerry is aligned with premium, high-performance brands such as Heineken, Apple and BMW.
Among his supporters, Bush was associated with positive attributes of established brands such as IBM and Ford -- reliability, solidity and heritage.
Kerry's supporters associated him with the brand attributes of Apple and BMW -- high quality, high performance and hip.
But the politicians' detractors associated Bush with brands they thought were outdated, such as McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts. Kerry was seen as expensive, like Starbucks; elite, like BMW; and lacking substance, like Motel 6, the hotel chain.
"John Kerry attracted strong brands but more niche brands, whereas Bush attracted more mainstream, established brands," said Allen Adamson, the New York managing director of Landor Associates, the branding company that published the survey. This mirrored their roles of a challenger taking on an incumbent, he said.
Kerry had an advantage with the critical independent voters because the brands they associated with the Democratic challenger are reaching the height of their popularity, such as Starbucks, while the brands they associated with Bush have to guard against being seen as outdated and irrelevant, such as IBM.
Asking people about the brands they link with people is often a path to their real thoughts, Adamson said. Voters often do not want to admit what they think of who they support in focus groups.
"Sometimes they are able to communicate what they are really feeling with such brand names," he said. "Because they use brands to define themselves, they are comfortable using brands to define others.
"When people are anxious or stressed they tend to go back to the brands they are very comfortable with. When they are more relaxed they tend to go for new brands," Adamson added.
Landor Associates and the research firm Penn, Schoen and Berland contacted a representative sample of 1,262 registered voters via the Internet for their Presidential Image Power survey. Voters compared Bush and Kerry with brands in several different categories, including coffee outlets, magazines, hotels, beer and cars.