Skip to main content

Hillary Clinton's disappointing book rollout

By Martha Pease
updated 7:22 AM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
John Kerry, a gun and a few dead geese: Kerry 2004's presidential campaign staged a photo-op in Youngstown, Ohio, where the then-senator (right) went hunting dressed in full camouflage. At the time, Kerry adviser Mike McCurry told CNN that voters needed to get a "better sense of John Kerry, the guy." Click through the images to see other times politicians tried to be a regular guy or gal. John Kerry, a gun and a few dead geese: Kerry 2004's presidential campaign staged a photo-op in Youngstown, Ohio, where the then-senator (right) went hunting dressed in full camouflage. At the time, Kerry adviser Mike McCurry told CNN that voters needed to get a "better sense of John Kerry, the guy." Click through the images to see other times politicians tried to be a regular guy or gal.
HIDE CAPTION
Their pitch: Just regular ol' guys or gals
Their pitch: Just regular ol' guys or gals
Their pitch: Just regular ol' guys or gals
Their pitch: Just regular ol' guys or gals
Their pitch: Just regular ol' guys or gals
Their pitch: Just regular ol' guys or gals
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Martha Pease: Hillary Clinton's book rollout has been criticized
  • She says it was an opportunity for her to redefine her image, connect with people
  • Pease says Clinton's comments on wealth came across as tone deaf
  • She says Hillary has to show that it's not about her but about what she could offer voters

Editor's note: Martha Pease is CEO of DemandWerks.com, which advises companies on strategy. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Hillary Clinton's book tour resembled the roll out of a new brand, and from my standpoint as a marketer, it looked like a big one handled badly. If, as many suspect, she is running for president in 2016, she blew the perfect opportunity to present herself as the new Hillary Clinton.

In her launch moment, she proved to be so inwardly focused on herself, she missed giving people the emotional release they've been waiting for: to see what's new with her and to be excited about the possibility of her being in the field again as a candidate.

Martha Pease
Martha Pease

Two cases in point; her statement to Diane Sawyer that the Clintons were "dead broke" upon leaving the White House and her interview with The Guardian suggesting that voters won't see her as part of the inequality problem and will gladly accept the Clintons' net worth of $100M+ because they pay "ordinary income taxes." This may just be too tone deaf and move her dangerously close to the edge of voter exasperation.

Clinton's big miss is that what could have been a moon shot moment for her brand (that's why they're called "launches" and why advertisers spend millions on the Super Bowl) may fizzle into HRC fatigue. She is amazingly qualified but risks being a brand failure.

There are several other indicators of a launch gone awry. Book sales in the first week were only one sixth of what they were for her earlier, and very successful, memoir.

Bill Clinton: Hillary's not out of touch
Bill can dance, Hillary's got two left feet

Commentators from across the spectrum have criticized her public appearances.

A Quinnipiac poll released Monday seems to show Clinton's lead over Christie drooping in Iowa. Today, her husband Bill Clinton even had to step in on her behalf, defending his wife's response to a query about their wealth. But he had to acknowledge the missteps, noting hers was "not the most adept answer to a question."

Evidence that this book tour needed to relaunch Clinton can be found in a recent WSJ/NBC survey: 55% people rate her as competent, but 60% don't see her as likable and 62% don't regard her as trustworthy. That's a perceptual trend among voters that hasn't changed much since 2008. The book tour should have been planned to replace the old news about Hillary, with new, inspiring ways to imagine she could lead.

By contrast, one of the most successful impresarios of product launches, Steve Jobs, built them into spectacles. He protected the run-up to an announcement like a classified national security secret and then unleashed the event with maximum impact to create brand momentum for Apple over time. Every launch was a new reason to be loyal to Apple, an even better argument for me to be in love.

She is amazingly qualified, but risks being a brand failure.
Martha Pease

She, instead, leaves us frustrated with important questions unanswered: Will she or won't she run? Does she have the fire? Does she have a vision for her candidacy? Why is she doing the tour now, so far ahead of 2016? How has she changed? Does she know that people often can't get underneath her thick crust? Who is she, anyway?

We watch her still back on her heels after all these years. It's not just the trust and likability issues. It's also calling out the woman-under-scrutiny card with Diane Sawyer: "You know you're being judged," she said. Well, some say, of course you're being judged, that's the point of all this!

It is Clinton's inward focus that keeps her from connecting and understanding the world in terms other than hers: Clinton has always been about her. Her accomplishments, her slights, her victories. She has always had a hard time connecting her "her-ness" to us. That makes it very hard for her to establish why she's relevant to our lives. She seems to refuse to deal with what voters most want to know: What's in it for me?

Maybe voters today like more the idea of what Clinton represents, the first women presidential contender, than who she actually is. And her inability to connect with people could create an opening for someone else to come in and steal her thunder as the first woman presidential contender. Elizabeth Warren, anyone?

Harvard professor and researcher Amy J.C. Cuddy finds that leaders influence and persuade best when they connect to people first with warmth, followed with competency. Clinton doesn't fit into this paradigm at all: She leads with competency and, according to polls like the WSJ/NBC survey, displays little apparent warmth.

Successful launches are all about timing and sustained impact. Clinton should have kept the book tour bottled up until she was ready to declare for president because, down the road, we won't believe again that she's coming out to us as new.

Consumers -- and competitors -- stick to this pattern and rarely give a brand in business a second chance to be new. A notable exception is Apple, which was veering dangerously close to bankruptcy in 1997, its stock at a low of $6. In 2012, Apple's stock price was over $700 (before a recent 7-for-1 stock split) and the company was stronger than ever, standing on the shoulders of many successful launches for the brand over the course of 15 years.

There are examples of companies that have made old brands successful after numerous attempts that didn't succeed (Old Spice, J. Crew, Burberry, Harley-Davidson, Walmart, UPS). But it's hard to find a successful brand that came back after a really bad roll out, proving the point that if you blow it as a brand in a big product launch, you're really at risk.

As a brand, Clinton will always be a rational purchase for voters, not an emotional one. Like a functional Buick that gets you through the snow, is good on gas and always runs, Clinton's brand has real value. But as she learned in 2008, you have to explain to your friends why a functional Buick is better than a glamorous Porsche.

The good news for Clinton is that politics, unlike business, can be forgiving. After all, she is married to The Comeback Kid. Even so, she has paid a price for the roll out: She seems less inevitable than two weeks ago.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT