Sunday, May 3, 2009

Barack Obranda

"The promotion of the brand called Obama is a case study of where the American marketplace -- and, potentially, the global one -- is moving. His openness to the way consumers today communicate with one another, his recognition of their desire for authentic "products," and his understanding of the need for a new global image -- all are valuable signals for marketers everywhere.

"Barack Obama is three things you want in a brand," says Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide. "New, different, and attractive. That's as good as it gets."

(Disclaimer: I'm not an expert in "brand" and I don't even know if this is the current/cool word to use. I know that Liz and others who read this website know a lot more about brand than I do-- forgive my simplistic view and correct me if need be! But here goes...)

I'm a visual person. So when I think about "brand" the first thing that comes to mind is a logo and corporate identity. Look-and-Feel. Of course, I know from my work that creating a brand requires a keen understanding of the product/service that you are selling as well as the audience that you are selling to. You can't position properly without going through the appropriate steps and doing competitive analysis.

No, unfortunately I didn't learn any of this working as a secretary at Young and Rubicam in The Army Group from 1989-1991. That was more about ordering sack lunches and typing up letters since email was only used internally. But I did learn that those cool storyboards that the copywriters and art directors produced came after the researchers and account managers did their thing. Sometimes, when I was bored, I actually read the memos I typed for the big-wig Group Manager that I worked for. He was kind of a sedentary intellect. He left his wife for a younger woman who worked on another floor of the buiding. After he did the NYT crossword puzzle everyday, he would field phone calls from his counterparts in the Army organization. And when there was a problem, Y&Rs CEO would call him and I would run around like a madwoman trying to find him. He would run his plump-butt so fast to his office I feared he'd have a heart attack. Did I mention he was a Canadian?

Since there were no jobs in advertising when I returned to Minneapolis in 1991, I ended up taking another path. I worked my way up the ladder at local architecture/engineering firms. It was the perfect match for my skill set. I wasn't creative, clever, or competitive enough to stand out at Fallon McElligott or Campbell Mithun. My friends worked in those agencies and put in long hours. The glamour came at a price! I stood out well enough against the pocket protectors and bowties. And I got to be around expensive furniture and fixtures. So that was good.

Professional service firms rarely understand branding. They are all about cranking out proposals. They don't hire advertising agencies. But with some convincing they are willing to invest--hmmm--between $25K and 100,000K for a new logo and slick marketing materials. But without shelling out big bucks for a comprehensive approach they don't know what to do with their positioning once it is articulated. That's where strategic thinkers come into play. They are the people who know how to create metrics that "lift and seperate" the brand from competition. And, like a good bra, a good brand does this without looking fake or seeming obvious. You notice the "whole" not the "parts"...if you know what I mean.

My husband is an advertising junkie. I could be telling him that I had a week left to live and he will block me out if there is a commercial on TV. It can be a commercial we've seen a dozen times before. It can be a commercial for a Billy May product or the Billy May Wannabe ShamWow dude. It drives me nuts. I am much more fascinated with brands that seep into our lives and take a simple or dumb idea and make it seem like the best thing ever.

Things like and Barack Obama.

Like I told you--I notice brand as a visual thing first. So, with Obama it started with the "look and feel" of his light blue "Change" sign. It just bugged the crap out of me. The "Yes we Can" circle and slogan and chant. When he came out with the "Office of the President Elect" edition--I groaned outloud and went off on a tirade. In noticed the softer, more modern colors. How different they were than the primary colors politicians typically use. The fonts and composition. His face was part of the brand. His slogans were part of the brand. But never his name (on purpose). The whole "it's not about me, it's about YOU."

Yeah. It wasn't about him or his radical ties or unknown record. His "missing years." It was all about us. But did he really need the fancy branding? Or was the free PR that the media gave him enough? Did the brand actually produce the "trickle" down their leg? What came first, the chicken or the egg?

That's when I realized that there were much larger forces at play. That is was never going to end. After all, brand/positioning is implemented through strategic programs. A complete and comprehensive branding effort means that every decision and appearance is carefully crafted to create a manipulated response. Basically, as long as the guy SAYS the right thing, people don't notice what he actually DOES. Is keen branding a part of this?

From the visual elements to the messaging, I find his branding VERY obvious and VERY heavyhanded.

Now I am looking at the management of the "Obama Brand" and wonder if the same process applies to branding a man/family as applies to branding a company. When a reporter visits the White House--is every thing they see and the order they see things in part of "brand?" Is the reaction to any crisis or concern part of an over-arching strategy?

How do you think the brand-meisters are positioning The One and his crew?
Here are two articles that I found interesting. This Fast Company article is from a year ago. This one about Desirée Rogers, social secretary to the Obamas. Is the retro photo of Ms. Rogers part of the "retro brand?" What do you think?


Bob Dole said...

How about RIM(TM) renaming the BlackBerry as the Black Barry?

Obama's approval rating will fall below 50% by year's end. Will PepsiCo still give him a free pass on using their logo?

Sheila said...

You are so right about PepsiCo. As dumb as it sounds, I didn't realize this until you put it in front of me. But it's so obvious.

Had no idea about the BlackBarry. Just Googled it.

Like I's never going to end.