Politico's Renusa Rayasam asked a couple of advertising professionals how they'd market President Biden's infrastructure plan. To introduce their recommendations, Rayasam wrote this:
Wherever you sit on the political spectrum, and whatever you think of the substantive merits of the multi-trillion dollar bill that Joe Biden has staked his presidency on, you will probably agree that the bill has been terribly named.
Point of comparison: Former President Donald Trump, who certainly knew how to market things, passed the simply named “Tax Cut and Jobs Act,” and Trump reportedly wanted to call it the even simpler “Cut Cut Cut Act.” Yet Biden’s signature bill is sometimes called “the reconciliation bill,” after the legislative procedure Democrats plan to use to pass it.
What? Trump "certainly knew how to market things"? Trump Steaks? Trump Water? The USFL? Bleach as a treatment for COVID-19?
And "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act" is a terrible name for a bill. (Yes, the second word is "Cuts," not "Cut," which means it has multiple "s" sounds for the tongue to trip over.) "Cut Cut Cut Act," which was Trump's recommendation, was so childish and awful that Republican leaders in Congress rejected it; it sounds like something dreamed up in a manic state after a dozen 20-ounce Diet Cokes.
But Trump has persuaded America that he's a great marketer, many people have repeated the assertion over the years, an entire TV show was built around the myth of his business brilliance, and now we believe in his prowess. ("The 'Cut Cut Cut Act' Is Effective Branding" was an actual headline that appeared in The Atlantic, a very serious publication, four years ago.)
You know which bill had an emotionally effective name? The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- and yet its poll numbers were mediocre or worse for the first several years after it was signed into law.
Build Back Better isn't a bad name. Biden's problem is that Democrats have divided the proposal into two bills, which makes the entire process of getting them passed seem wonky and convoluted. Ordinary people undoubtedly struggle to understand why that's necessary, why the reconciliation bill can pass with 51 votes but 60 are needed to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill (which is confusingly called BIF, as if it's the Bipartisan In Frastructure bill). Getting some or all of this actually passed ought to make a difference for Biden -- people forget that Trump's poll numbers were also mired in the 30s during the autumn of his first year in office, after Charlottesville and the GOP's failure to pass an Affordable Care Act replacement. They went up after that tax bill was finally signed into law late in the year.
An ad guy quoted by Rayasam says:
While the bill itself is full of programs that benefit working-class families around the country, the cultural conversation is completely focused on the bill’s price tag and the messages aren’t breaking through. That’s a massive branding fail.
That's a massive media fail, as Peter Coy noted in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago:
The $3.5 trillion spending plan from President Biden is at risk in Congress partly because $3.5 trillion strikes people as a lot of money. Which, of course, it is. But the net cost of the plan, after taking into account offsetting tax increases and spending cuts, is only one-quarter as big.
Sharon Parrott, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-of-center think tank, is urging people to stop focusing on the $3.5 trillion label.
In an Aug. 31 commentary, she wrote that if Donald Trump’s signature legislative achievement, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, had been measured the same way as Biden’s plan is being calculated, it would have been called a $5.5 trillion package. It never was — it was described appropriately as a $1.5 trillion piece of legislation (later revised by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office to $1.9 trillion) — because Republicans and Democrats alike took into account that the Trump bill contained offsetting tax increases and spending cuts.
That happened because the right-wing media cheerleads for Republicans and the mainstream media is easily manipulated into presenting Republican tax bills in the most favorable light, while Democratic proposals, especially those that spend money on non-elites, get terrible coverage from both branches of the media. It's unfortunate that Biden and his fellow Democrats haven't done anything to combat this media bias, but it's wrong to say that Trump's big first-year bill got better coverage because he's a marketing genius.
Published with permission from No More Mister Nice Blog.