As the 2018 election season approaches, thousands of candidates, political consultants, and issue-oriented advocates across the nation are investing countless hours and billions of dollars on an age-old American tradition: brand-building.

They will conduct market research to understand consumers' mindsets to then position and refine their "products" accordingly. They will use TV, radio, social media, and other channels to grow brand awareness, and engage loyalists to take actions on their behalf. And they will tap into vast troves of data and sophisticated tools to persuade voters through targeted messaging, all with an eye toward the ultimate "point of purchase," the decisive moment a voter fills out a ballot.

"From the beginning to the end, political campaigns have a short period of time to move through that ladder of awareness, differentiation, and purchase," says Larry Grisolano, CEO of AKPD Messaging Media, a Chicago-based political consulting firm and one of the lead ad firms on Barack Obama's successful presidential campaigns, among others. "It's 'buy today or never again.' That requires that we do things very quickly and intensely. There's less subtlety, less incentive for civility."