Four Billion Beams of Moonlight

07/12/2011 11:04 pm ET | Updated Sep 11, 2011

Being in advertising, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to position things.

"How do we differentiate this cloud computing collaboration solution from that cloud computing collaboration solution?"

"How do we describe this electronic device that does a hundred things so that in the mind of a potential consumer, it sounds like one thing?"

"How do we align this brand of cheddar cheese with the needs, wants and desires of our target audience?"

A great deal of research, thought and debate goes into answering these questions. It has to because a positioning statement is a potent tool in the marketer's toolbox. It has the power to turn commodities into sought after objects. It can turn dish soap into a magical liquid that softens hands while you wash the dishes. It can transform lemon-lime soda into the caffeine-free alternative to cola. A positioning statement can even show you the way to "think different."

So, I'm utterly fascinated by how Governor Jerry Brown has chosen to position the new California budget that was just passed.

How is it being positioned?

Well, the story on the radio is that Jerry closed ranks with Democrats to pass an on-time budget based on $4 billion in "unexpected" revenue.

Let's examine this positioning statement, shall we?

The brand: It ain't Apple and it ain't Nike, but Governor Jerry Brown and the Democrats are like the Josie and the Pussycats of fiscal responsibility. A week ago, when Jerry dropped a veto bomb on his party's Plan A, it wasn't so clear. Today, we know the brand.

The audience: Frustrated Californians who are embarrassed by the seemingly complete ineptitude and unwillingness to compromise of their legislature.

The product: We know exactly what we got. A balanced budget. Clorox sells bleach. Jerry and the Democrats sell balanced budgets. That means government still works, right?

The benefit: Not only is it a balanced budget, it's an on-time balanced budget. Your average Californian may not understand the complexities of political negotiation that take place in Sacramento, but we know we need to show up at work on time every Monday or we lose our job. These guys are delivering on time.

The believability: Wait a minute. We didn't have enough money to cover what we wanted to spend last week. What happened? Oh! Unexpected revenue. Well, lucky us. Whew.

How you like those beams of moonlight?

All the makings of a powerful positioning statement for an otherwise not-so-special product: who it's from; who it's for; what it is; why it matters; and how it works.

This was not the only way to go. It could have been slightly more transparent and less appealing:

Jerry closed ranks with Democrats to pass an on-time budget based on $4 billion in revenue that doesn't really exist.

Or a touch more poetic:

Jerry closed ranks with Democrats to put off until tomorrow what could have been done today -- horrific cuts to critical government services.

They could have narrowed their target audience to bubble-headed technology and media professionals in San Francisco and Silicon Valley who feel like the economy is improving dramatically even though the state unemployment rate for June was 11.7%.

Jerry closed ranks with Democrats to pass an on-time budget based on $4 billion in revenue from its IPO!!! (The exclamation points make it extra real.)

The focus could have been on one of the supporting messages from Brown, the circumstances that led to this miraculous balancing act:

Jerry closed ranks with Democrats to pass an on-time budget based on make-believe revenue because the Republicans have a complete unwillingness to accept any compromise where rich people have to pay taxes.

A bit wordy, perhaps. They also could have reshaped the brand.

Jerry and the Pussycrats cave to Republican obstinacy in time to avoid voter fury.

The spin room seems to have done a pretty good job for California lawmakers today. Not the tightest weave on the loom, but choosy moms don't choose an in-depth analysis of the foundational efficacy of proposed government spending programs. They choose Jif.