Marketing democracy: 5 key principles for E Pluribus Unum

Democracy is in decline: since 2006, freedom in the world decreased and democracy broke down in 18 countries (Diamond 2015). Key reasons include bad governance, the economic success and influence of non-democratic states such as China and Russia and the weak democratic efficacy and self-confidence in the West. This raises the important question: how can one encourage new democracies (e.g. Tunesia, the Ukraine) and help revive democracy where it has broken down (e.g. Turkey, Thailand, Niger, Venezuela)?


Yes, liberal democracies should clean up their act, improving the democratic process in e.g. the European Union and the United States. Yes, they should re-establish democracy as a key priority in foreign policy, promoting democratic elements while restricting the influence of authoritarian leaders.


At the same time, Marketing democracy needs mucho improvement. Just talk to a typical Putin or Erdogan voter to learn how little ‘democracy’ or ‘transparency’ matters to them. More attractive is the strong leader seen to restore national pride and improve average living conditions. This is especially true when previous ‘democratic’ regimes were ineffective and far removed from people’s everyday concerns. Compare the promises of Superpower Russia and the New Turkey with the paltry position of democracy as ‘the worst form of governance, except for all the others’ or ‘a shaky raft in which you always get your feet wet but you will never drown’. You can’t just market democracy with such prevention focus, you need a promotion focus to match that of elected authoritarians. Most of all, you need to apply the key marketing principles:


  • Customer Orientation: practice matters more than principles to many voters. Listen to their concerns and act on them to establish true grass-roots movements that promote improvement in both living conditions and democracy.
  • Segmentation and targeting: understand the differences and similarities among citizens and first target those that have most to gain from more democracy – or most to loose from increasing authoritarianism.
  • Competitive Positioning: learn the weak points of authoritarian leaders as seen by segments of citizens. Position democratic movements as offering living conditions and pride as least as much as alternatives (points of parity) while being much better on accountability, transparency, respect for minorities, and rule of law (‘first they come for the opposition, next for you’)
  • Co-creation and Innovation: how do you encourage people to contribute to the democratic project and guide it themselves? How do you innovate broken structures in opposition parties where old leaders refuse to give up power to the next generation?
  • Execution: besides offering the best product, have you considered the packaging and communication, the price prospective customers perceive to pay and the obstacles they need to overcome to accept your proposal?

As to communication, I believe it is key for liberal democracies to act as role models again (shiny cities on the hill). “E pluribus Unum” evokes the idea of a strong democracy, where citizens, states (e.g. the U.S.) and countries (e.g. the E.U.) act decisively and with support from all, even when it took a while to agree on this course of action. That is the democracy people around the world expect and deserve. As Journal of Democracy cofounder Larry Diamond puts it: “Democrats have the better set of ideas. Democracy may be receding somewhat in practice, but is globally ascendant in people’s values and aspirations”


Diamond, Larry (2015), “Facing up to the Democratic Recession”, Journal of Democracy, 26 (1), 141-155.


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