The Marketing of Pete Buttigieg

He’s a compelling case study, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. In mere months, the 37-year-old has experienced an astounding upward trajectory from being “Mayor Pete” of a small town in the heartland to a frontrunner for President of the United States. This is fascinating for a myriad of reasons considering he has no state-level political experience having only served as mayor of South Bend, Indiana since 2012, his surname is unpronounceable to most (it’s BOOT-edge-edge), and he hasn’t even reached the age of 40. Yet somehow, Buttigieg has outpaced all other Democratic candidates in recent polls, save for the internationally recognized and thoroughly seasoned Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, not to mention generating a stunning amount of fundraising. So what are the reasons for his astounding rise – why are things going so well? In essence, it all has to do with the marketing of Pete Buttigieg.

(Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune)

The Branding of Quasi-Folksy

Pete Buttigieg is the proud son of South Bend, Indiana. Few people will likely visit this small town (population 101,000) in the Rust Belt of America, let alone stay. Buttigieg left to attend Harvard, then leapt over the Pond to Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, worked as a consultant in Washington, DC after college, but he returned – and became mayor. There’s a quasi-folksy aura about Pete Buttigieg, and that’s a major element of his brand. Case in point, the “Mayor Pete” component. By his own accord, everyone in South Bend refers to him as thus, and major media outlets have run with that fact. In interviews and public appearances, he’s amicable, articulate, and measured like a Mid-West news broadcaster. Coupled with the “Mayor Pete” bit, all this presents Buttigieg as accessible, and yes, quasi-folksy.

By appearance alone, Buttigieg bears a slight resemblance to Indiana’s other famous son, the former state governor, Mike Pence. However, the similarities stop there, as their political and ideological leanings are the polar opposite. Pence is a conservative Republican born-again Christian with a disdain for the LGBTQ community. Conversely, Buttigieg is a liberal Democrat, openly gay Catholic.

(Photo: ROBERT FRANKLIN /AP)

To Thine Own Self Be True

There are many things about Pete Buttigieg’s self that make him both marketable and relatable to all people in this exact moment of our collective history. Buttigieg came out in 2015, making him the first openly gay mayor, not to mention municipal executive in Indiana’s history. Moreover, that makes him the first openly gay frontrunner for the Democratic candidacy for president. He’s gay, but not “too gay” for the traditionalist, seeing as he married his long-time boyfriend, Chasten (nee Glezman).

Buttigieg is a veteran, having joined the Navy Reserve commissioned as a naval intelligence officer. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014, and did a seven-month tour.

With regards to his economic ideology, Mayor Pete is neither socialist nor capitalist, subscribing instead to technocratic capitalism with a personal theory detailing the need for the current system of democratic capitalism to be more “democratic” (he majored in the world-renowned politics, philosophy, and economics interdisciplinary degree at Oxford).

Apropos of Buttigieg’s other particulars, his father is an immigrant from Malta, he plays piano well, and he is conversational in six foreign languages including Spanish, French, Arabic, Farsi, Italian, and Maltese. Ah yes, and he taught himself how to speak Norwegian – for kicks.

Buttigieg is being marketed as the guy with diverse expertise, who can do everything for that matter, and do it adeptly. In essence, he checks every box pertinent to this moment, and that it’s astounding, really.

(Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Mayor Pete Mania

A fundamental element to the marketing of Buttigieg is “Mayor Pete Mania”. This fascination is fostered to a great extent by his media accessibility. Buttigieg and his campaign team are incredibly media savvy, having recognized how imperative it is in this early stage of the Democratic primary for him to be everywhere riding this wave of intrigue. Unlike any other candidate, Buttigieg has made himself available for all facets of the media landscape, be it print, TV, podcast et al.

Yet, the Buttigieg strategy hasn’t been about providing the requisite soundbites usually employed by politicians politicking. Truth be told, there has been little discussion of Mayor Pete’s actual platform. Instead, what has been marketed is the “story”. During these interviews, Buttigieg has deftly crafted his narrative supplying all manner of detail from his favorite books to his two dogs (both of which are rescues), to personal items he can’t be without. None of the other Democratic candidates are utilizing this tactic, and that sets him apart. Rather than being a political talking-head, Buttigieg has humanized himself, which in turn, has fueled the media’s fascination with him – Thus, more people (or more aptly, potential voters) likewise become fascinated by the man.

Of course, we are still in the early days of the 2020 Democratic primary. Much can transpire in the next several months. There will be a shift of the spotlight from Buttigieg to another candidate, that fact is inevitable. What remains to be seen, is whether the marketing of Pete Buttigieg translates from merely “a moment” of media fascination, to the Democratic candidate for President of the United States. That’s a substantial amount of ground to cover, to put it mildly. Yet, when it comes to the current political climate in America, crazier things have transpired.

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