Here’s a nomination for the most impressive branding campaign of 2008: Barack Obama. His campaign spending alone is evidence enough, a staggering amount of money raised and deployed in massive media buys, mailings, Internet, and grass roots efforts, culminating in a 30-minute infomercial broadcast on a seven network roadblock in prime time.
It was the rarest of marketing campaigns: One with enough money to do everything.
Political campaigns are about branding at top speed. Candidates are culled between elections and then are thrust on the public for months of scrutiny in grueling primaries and general election campaigns. Because the political branding process is going on at such a breakneck pace, and because they must appeal to a broad range of voters to have any hope of winning, candidates’ brands are reduced to the bare essentials. Barack Obama’s brand: was built around a promise of (largely economic) hope and real (political) change.
The Spin Master of brand promise himself, Steve Jobs of Apple, Inc., could not have done a better job of introducing (and ultimately selling) a new product to the American people. The hype was there, as was the new look and slick packaging, the first of its kind product to hit the shelves, and the blockbuster marketing campaign. It was impressive. It was persuasive. And he won.
But what did we (s)elect? An iPhone or a Segue Scooter?
Arguably the election of an African-American has already accomplished more in terms of social progress for this country than any event of the past 20 years. By that measure he has already achieved monumental success. But beyond that, his presidency is still all promise and no accomplishments, much like the extensive ramp ups that come ahead of some major new products, with very mixed results.
Apple launched the iPhone after months of lead-in publicity and quickly generated long lines of early adopters and generally positive reviews. It led to a new generation of multi-capability phones seeking to imitate the iPhone user experience. New generations of the iPhone continue to lead innovation in the category and eat up more share of the cell phone market.
On the other hand, the Segue scooter also had months of build up, making bold promises of potential energy savings and revolutionizing commuting. But for all its hype, it has sold relatively few units and remains more of an engineering curiosity than a marketing success.
So where will the President-elect come in? He is not like a new model of the Ford Explorer; he is a whole new brand of automobile. But most new cars look great in the showroom; the real test is what happens when you drive one every day. Does the brand experience deliver on the brand promise?
Exporting the new brand to the world
One of the intriguing aspects of Brand Obama is the positive reaction from countries around the world. For the citizens in many of those countries, the brand of the United States and the brand of our president are directly connected.
Mr. Obama is well suited to being a brand sensation internationally. He is already enjoys strong support in Kenya, Chad and Ethiopia, and was warmly welcomed by ethnically diverse cultures in Europe during a campaign swing last July. His international background holds great promise for many people in different nations. Much of the world seems positively pre-disposed to embracing our new president and perhaps changing their opinion of our country as well.
And in the next four years we will see what happens with this massive new product introduction called Barack Obama. Both at home and globally, the Obama brand has crafted a huge promise that millions of people have bought into and are now waiting to see delivered. Approval ratings will begin to roll in and in four years we’ll know if the brand succeeded or not., when it’s time for his re-election. The question is not so much whether he can top his effort to win in 2008, but whether or not he will have to. With his success measured by so many issues that matter to all of us, the continued development of the Obama brand will be fascinating to watch.