Rebranding the GOP Can Save the Republican Party
Policy + Politics

Rebranding the GOP Can Save the Republican Party

REUTERS/Larry Downing

Republicans need to talk about pizza; Domino’s Pizza, specifically.

Three years ago, Domino’s was in trouble for a very simple reason: its pizza simply wasn’t good enough. In a world with endless delivery options, consumers were turned off by their pizza’s cardboard crust, bland sauce and cheese that was distinctively un-cheesy. The only thing it had to offer consumers was speed – delivery in 30 minutes or less. But that wasn’t enough.  Sales declined along with the stock price—down to $13 a share in 2010.

That when Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle introduced a radical series of commercials, acknowledging that Domino’s pizza, for lack of a better term, sucked. He then promised to do better.

And he has. The success of the marketing campaign – it’s considered one of the most successful in the history of the industry  – has allowed Domino’s to recapture market share and even grow as a company.

So what does Domino’s resurgence have to do with Republicans? Everything.

The Republicans have a brand that’s in crisis. They’re moved away from their core mission – fiscal conservatism – and are now defined by social issues like abortion rights, immigration, and gay marriage. Their views on these topics are out of kilter with those of the average American – especially young voters.

In addition, they’re behind on social media and can’t control their brand online. They lack the advanced voting metrics necessary to compete in national elections. The GOP is seen as obstructionist rather than having a clear vision of where the country should go.

In other words, Republicans are serving up the political version of old Domino’s pizza, an outdated, disliked product with a brand recognized more for its faults than its benefits (polls prove this). What’s worse, they refuse to recognize it and continue to peddle old talking points. It’s a party defined by what it opposes, not what it envisions.

“Republicans have to understand who they are and what values they're unwilling to move from," said Mark Hillman, creative director at Resource, a digital marketing agency in Columbus, OH. "At the same time, you have to jettison everything else."

Megan Zaffini, a brand strategist at Resource, suggested that Republicans make their storied fiscal legacy the core of their messaging. At the same time, she said they needed to stop using language that is sexist or racist as it drives away women and minorities.

“The party has always been successful in adapting fiscal values," Zaffini said, referring to the continuing popularity of Ronald Reagan's legacy. “Social issues always get a little wishy-washy, but spending time with their fiscal history would allow them to better adjust their message to culture changes. And our world is changing."

Another approach comes from Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.  He says the GOP has ceded America’s moral narrative to Democrats by ignoring the plight of the underclass.  He believes that a strong economy and fiscal discipline can improve the lives of middle class and those below, but no one’s telling that story. 

In an essay on the AEI website, Brooks said, “The irony is maddening. America's poor people have been saddled with generations of disastrous progressive policy results, from welfare-induced dependency to failing schools that continue to trap millions of children. Meanwhile, the record of free enterprise in improving the lives of the poor both here and abroad is spectacular.…The percentage of people in the world living on a dollar a day or less—a traditional poverty measure—has fallen by 80 percent since 1970. This is the greatest antipoverty achievement in world history…

“The answer is to make improving the lives of vulnerable people the primary focus of authentically conservative policies. For example, the core problem with out-of-control entitlements is not that they are costly—it is that the impending insolvency of Social Security and Medicare imperils the social safety net for the neediest citizens. Education innovation and school choice are not needed to fight rapacious unions and bureaucrats—too often the most prominent focus of conservative education concerns—but because poor children and their parents deserve better schools.”

Once this message is clearly defined, discussions on social issues should be pushed from the front page to the backroom. Republicans then need to find more effective ways of reaching voters in their base while attracting new ones. 

According to Hillman, the best way to accomplish this is for Republicans to bring in an outsider. That’s what Domino’s did; it asked an outsider to be brutally honest. The result was a brutally honest and effective campaign. 

“There has to be a change agent. Domino’s went out and hired one of the most aggressive agencies on the planet that had the ability to pull the brand in new directions and give it the confidence to go somewhere,” Hillman said.

Republicans have already taken note of their problems. The Republican National Committee issued a scathing report last spring calling for sweeping changes in the party’s outreach and procedures.

“I believe the vast majority of constituents want a rebranded party. There’s this whole world in-between the far right and the far left that would love to have a couple of new options,” Hillman said.

But until they face the reality of a country that’s changing more quickly than their message, the conservative message will be a tough sell in national elections. And because demographics are shifting quickly, they need to move fast. Their legitimacy as a party hangs in the balance.

“They’re so in the weeds right now that they don’t have that perspective,” Hillman said, adding a warning to be patient: “If Republicans get their messaging right in mid-2013 and don’t win in 2016, they should not scrap the whole thing. This has to be long-term strategy.”