President Barack Obama is set to roll out his backing of The Buffett Rule, which will be at the center of his campaign, reports the Financial Times. The Buffett Rule is being pitched as a “simple principle” of American tax codes inspired by Warren Buffet’s now-famous claim that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than himself because of the voodoo implicit in capital gains tax rates and the like that benefit the country’s top earners. It is brilliant, if only for already being one of the most well-branded pieces of politics in the history of legislation. Think about this less as a political play, or a piece of propaganda, and more one of brilliant advertising work.
1. The Buffett Rule could do for tax increases what Air Jordans did for kicks.
It has a celebrity endorsement in Warren Buffett, a billionaire who less resembles the flesh-hungry Shylock-esque Sith of New York City/Gomorrah, and more a steak-and-corn eating grandpa who thinks giving young people candy is the most amusing and rewarding thing in the world. Who also, as it happens, is a billionaire.
As legendary ad man and famed Esquire art director George Lois once explained:
“Enlisting a celebrity to sell cat food, an airline, off-track betting, an analgesic, or a lube job would seem to be a delusional strategy fraught with irrationality. But let’s face it, it’s a star-struck world.”
True story. And simply by existing, famous people sell simple ideas. Justin Bieber inherently sells acne soap. Jordan inherently sells basketball shoes. And Warren Buffett inherently sells the appeal of more money.
This is despite the fact that most Americans probably can’t tell you how Warren Buffett made his fortune, or even the name of the company he owns, but they can tell you in a side-by-side comparison that he resembles Santa Claus more than the other billionaires (who are either marginally human computer geeks, Bond villains, or ominous rich guys who live elsewhere other than Omaha, which most Americans probably envision as Pleasantville).
Take note: Many have asked why they didn’t just call it The Romney Rule, after Obama’s most capable tax-skirting opponent. Besides the fact that branding this The Romney Rule would be a canny neg on his opponents campaign, it demonstrates a keen awareness of one of Romney’s greatest weaknesses: He’s got the charisma of gracious Jeopardy loser. Also, he’s not the richest guy in America. He’s just friends with the others.
2. The Buffett Rule is, right now, whatever it wants to be.
The Buffett Rule is being pitched as a cure-all for all of America’s financial woes. Among the claims proponents are rolling out, via the FT, it would:
“…Prevent distortions in the US economy, help tackle rising income inequality, and shrink US budget deficits by $47bn over ten years.”
Fantastic! Even though there’s no specific legislation being pitched as part of The Buffett Rule, it sure as hell sounds nice. For the supposed Harvard-educated elitists of the Obama Administration to come up with something even more simple to explain than George W. Bush’s namesake doctrine—more taxes for rich people, less taxes for not-rich people—is a stunning advertising coup.
3. The Buffett Rule’s opponents are as creative as paste-eating children.
As you could imagine, some people aren’t too happy about Obama’s economic pop song. For one thing, they just don’t want to pay higher taxes. For another, as John Gapper explained, most millionaires already pay a higher tax rate than Buffett’s secretary. But in their displeasure, they demonstrate the most powerful aspect of The Buffett Rule: It’s branding. To fight it off through press lines, opponents have taken to renaming The Buffett Rule.
And when the “left-brain” of shining economic debate kicks in, get out of its way:
- “The Stupid Rule” – Kevin Hassett, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
- “The Irrelevant Buffett Rule” – Barry Diller.
And…that’s about it. That’s what the opposition is working with right now.
The Buffett Rule is the Kony 2012 of taxes, except instead of servicing the needs of America’s White Savior Industrial-Complex, it appeals to a way more powerful part of the human psyche: That which thinks about having to give the government less money.
Another crucial difference: It’s creator isn’t going to end up pounding the pavement in a moment of frothing psychosis on TMZ, because he’s the richest man in America. Just like he can pay to pay more taxes, he can pay for someone to do that. And watching anybody try to take that idea down—especially its creativity-starved opponents—will be a hell of a show. In the mean time, ad agencies around the world should take note. This is how you roll out a celebrity endorsement: By having them shill something everybody wants, regardless of whether or not they already have it.
[Image via Getty]
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