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Branding politics: Emotion, authenticity, and the marketing culture of American political communication

Journal of Consumer Culture

Published online on


This article examines and critiques the logic and practices of branding that inform contemporary American political campaigns within the context of ethical surplus, sign value versus use value, emotion and reason, and the tension of authenticity and cynicism. The original research is based upon 38 one-on-one, in-depth interviews with political consultants, including media strategists, communication directors, and advertising producers who are involved in the encoding and cultural production of political discourse. The qualitative findings illuminate a professional ideology among these elite practitioners that obfuscates the pursuit of power by strategizing texts that involve emotional evocation rather than rational deliberation and embed candidates within signifiers of and proxies for authenticity. These efforts are intended to strike a disinterested, non-instrumental pose on behalf of the "branded candidates" they represent.