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Barack Obama | Photo by Marc Nozell used under a Creative Commons license

Fast Company

The Brand Called Obama

Win or lose, Barack Obama's rise changes business as usual for everyone. Here's why.

"Whatever you do, don't hurt Barack!" It was the afternoon of Super Tuesday, and the Chicago sky threatened snow. Senator Barack Obama had just returned to his hometown as voters in 22 states were making history by choosing between a black man and a white woman to be the Democratic nominee for president. The road-weary candidate put off calling fund-raisers or leading one last rally. Instead, he headed over to a downtown gym to play basketball with his nephew, his brother-in-law, and a few buddies. He needed to take a few minutes to chill out, and hoops was his therapy.

Among those on the court would be his old friend -- and major contributor -- John W. Rogers Jr. Rogers is the founder and chairman of Ariel Capital, an investment firm with some $13 billion in assets under management. He is a neighbor of Obama's in Hyde Park and has traded elbows with him on the hardwood dozens of times. But as Rogers left for the gym, he was accosted at the door by his colleague, Ariel president Mellody Hobson. A friend of Obama and his wife, Michelle, Hobson knew that Rogers, usually a shy sort, could be aggressive on the court. So she implored him to go easy on the senator: "He can't look all beat up!" It wouldn't be good if the candidate showed up on TV later that evening with a black eye.

Hobson had no need to worry, and not because Rogers held back. As Obama has been known to joke before he hits the boards -- or the podium -- "Relax, I've got game. I've got plenty of game." Super Tuesday proved him right: On the court, his team won two of three contests, and he walked off without a scratch. At the polls, he took 13 states to Hillary Clinton's 9, generating momentum that would build from the Potomac to the Pacific and, in some eyes, make him the Democratic front-runner.

The fact that Obama has taken what we thought we knew about politics and turned it into a different game for a different generation is no longer news. What has hardly been examined is the degree to which his success indicates a seismic shift on the business horizon as well. Politics, after all, is about marketing -- about projecting and selling an image, stoking aspirations, moving people to identify, evangelize, and consume. 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." Obama has his greatest strength among the young, roughly 18 to 29 years old, that advertisers covet, the cohort known as millennials -- who will outnumber the baby boomers by 2010. They are black, white, yellow, and various shades of brown, but what they share -- new media, online social networks, a distaste for top-down sales pitches -- connects them more than traditional barriers, such as ethnicity, divide them.

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

Obama has risen above what he calls a "funny" name, an unusual life story, and -- contrary to the now popular (and mistaken) notion that nobody sees race anymore -- a persistent racial divide to become a reflection of what America will be: a postboomer society. He has moved beyond traditional identity politics. And whether it's now or a decade from now, the new reality he reflects will eventually win out. Any forward-thinking business would be wise to examine the implications of his ascent, from marketing strategies and leadership styles to the future of the American workplace.

COMMAND AND CONTROL

When People Magazine asked a slew of presidential hopefuls late last year what they never leave home without, the answers were revealing. Mitt Romney's choice, homemade granola in his Dora the Explorer bowl, left the blogosphere snickering. Clinton cited her BlackBerry -- efficient, businesslike, and an homage to the Web 1.0 world. Obama's response, via his wife, Michelle, was a half-step ahead: a Webcam. "We talk at the end of the day when the girls and I are in Chicago and Barack is out on the road."

Obama has deftly embraced -- and been embraced by -- the Internet. His campaign has deputized soccer grandmoms and hipsters alike to generate new heights of viral support. And he has been exceptionally successful at converting online clicks into real-world currency: rallies in the heartland, videos on YouTube, and most important, donations and votes.

The question is how. Social networking poses challenges for marketers, no matter what -- or whom -- they're selling. Traditional top-down messages don't often work in an ecosystem where the masses are in charge. Marketers must cede a certain degree of control over their brands. And that can be terrifying. (Remember that "I got a crush on ... Obama" lip-synched YouTube tribute?)

Yet giving up control online, in the right way, unleashes its own power. And more than any other "national product" to date -- and far more than any other presidential candidate -- Obama has tapped into that power. The campaign's secret weapon: a fresh-faced 24-year-old named Chris Hughes. Four years ago, he was at Harvard, helping launch Facebook with his roommates, kids named Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz. Just over a year ago, Hughes took a leave from Facebook to do online organizing for Obama. A history and literature major who did no coding at Facebook, he brought with him a mastery of the human side of social networking that has translated into real results for the campaign. Early on, when resources and credibility were in shorter supply, one insider told me, "We were completely focused on making sure that people knew on a very basic level how, where, and why to caucus in Iowa. And a local network, like Facebook, was ideal for that." It was a cheap and effective way to leverage supporters' personal connections.

The campaign's Web site is "far more dynamic than any of the others," says Bentley College professor Christine Williams, who has been studying Web sites and social media in campaigns with her colleague Jeff Gulati. BarackObama.com features constant updates, videos, photos, ringtones, widgets, and events to give supporters a reason to come back to the site. On mybarackobama.com, the campaign's quasi-social network, Obamaniacs can create their own blogs around platform issues, send policy recommendations directly to the campaign, set up their own mini fund-raising site, organize an event, even use a phone-bank widget to get call lists and scripts to tele-canvass from home.

The Obama crew has also tapped into other online communities. "One of our members had excerpted a portion of a Vibe profile of Obama," recalls Kay Madati, vice president of Community Connect, a suite of niche demographic Web sites including blackplanet.com, asianave.com, migente.com, GLEE.com, and faithbase.com. A flurry of discussion drove traffic to BarackObama.com, drawing the attention of Scott Goodstein, who runs the campaign's external Web strategy. He called Madati, who invited all the candidates to create profiles for each of his company's targeted communities. Only the Obama people, Madati says, have created credible presences: "They sometimes update daily; they even update more than Oprah." It has worked. The Obama profile on BlackPlanet has more than 450,000 "friends."

"This is where the Obama campaign has been strategic and smart," says Andrew Rasiej, founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, a Web site that explores how technology is changing politics. "They've made sure the message machine was providing the message where people were already assembled. They've turned themselves into a media organization."

They've also taken advantage of messages created by others. The "Yes We Can" mashup by the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, starring a handful of his famous friends, cost the campaign nothing and became a viral hit. By comparison, a Clinton mockumentary called "Hillary's Leaving the Band" -- young rockers, clearly actors, lament the loss of their favorite guitar player -- fell flat. It seemed ad-agency slick and forced. "It's even easier to reveal inauthenticity in the online world," Bentley's Gulati says. "If it doesn't resonate in the offline world, it won't resonate in the online world."

What's true in politics is no less true in business. "There is a new, authoritative consumer empowered by the Web," says Karen Scholl, a creative director at the digital-advertising agency Resource Interactive. "And they can smell a fake." The agency has coined the term "OPEN brand," an acronym for on-demand, personal, engaging, and networks; it is a framework for companies to think about distributing brand messages in new ways. With Obama, "not only do people feel they know who he is, they feel trusted to share their views," Scholl says. "And they get constant feedback from the campaign and from each other."

"There is a new, authoritative consumer empowered by the Web. And they can smell a fake."
-- Karen Scholl, Resource Interactive, a digital ad agency

Being an OPEN brand can be daunting when something as simple as starting a company blog can entail interdepartmental reviews and legal vetting. But, Scholl points out, "you don't have to cede all control, just some." A case in point: the do-it-yourself ads for Doritos during the 2007 Super Bowl. More than 1,000 snack-food fans submitted their entries -- but it was Frito-Lay that decided which ones would run.

The Obama campaign plays its own version of this game. The candidate himself has been made available to the press in strictly controlled doses. (The campaign declined requests for a sit-down interview with Fast Company.) And while the Web site may have set the bar high in terms of openness, the campaign still keeps an eye on the imagery and messaging associated with the movement. When supporter Joe Anthony's "BarackObama" fan page on MySpace attracted 160,000 friends, the campaign found itself in a tug-of-war over ownership. Ultimately, MySpace brokered a peace treaty; Anthony gave up the domain name but kept his friends. Obama's emails urging supporters to take action -- "Tell the superdelegates what's on your mind," a recent blast implored -- are often signed simply "Barack," implying intimacy without risking exposure.

LEADING BY LISTENING

Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, has long considered himself a political independent. An Obama encounter at a campaign event inspired him to take up arms for the Democratic candidate. But he can't quite explain why. "I'm still struggling to articulate what it is about him beyond the issues that I care about," he says. Newmark then fumbles his way to this realization: "I see him as a leader rather than a boss." A leader, he notes, gets people to do things on their own, through inspiration, respect, and trust. "A boss can order you to do things, sure, but you do them because it's part of the contract."

What Newmark is describing is more complicated -- and more modern -- than it might appear. There have long been leaders who are bosses, and bosses who are leaders. Having a vision and inspiring or instructing others to follow that vision have long been hallmarks of business and politics. But Obama epitomizes a new way of thinking called "adaptive leadership," which is now being taught at Harvard's Kennedy School, among other places. This approach, as Stephen Bouwhuis recently wrote in The Australian Journal of Public Administration, is effective in handling problems that necessitate "a shift ... in ways of thinking across a community." While a visionary puts forth a specific plan to be implemented, an adaptive leader works with constituents to devise one together.

Obama has tapped into this adaptive-leadership vein by inviting voters in with his "Yes we can" slogan, then reinforcing it with attacks on the complacency and withdrawal from politics of many Americans, particularly the young. "Change will not come if we wait for some other person," he said on Super Tuesday, "or if we wait for some other time... We are the hope of the future." Marty Linsky, professor at the Kennedy School and cofounder of Cambridge Leadership Associates, is among those who've taken note of Obama's adaptive style. "Obama often proposes process plans that involve a trust in the community at large," Linsky says. The potential ramifications for business leadership are enormous. The cult of the imperial chief executive officer still reigns in most C-suites and boardrooms. But winning tomorrow's talent -- and tomorrow's consumer -- may require a dramatically different approach.

And not only to reach the young: Dennis Edwards, a white 50-year-old small-businessman from South Carolina, told me that his main issue in the presidential campaign is health care. "I know that no candidate can push their plan completely through," he says. "That's not cynicism, that's reality. But I believe Obama can get people to the table to talk. I think he'll listen to other points of view. I also believe he can move it further in the right direction than anyone else."

"Obama and Clinton make an interesting contrast in brands," says Professor John Quelch, senior associate dean at Harvard Business School and coauthor of Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for Better Democracy. "Obama communicates that he loves people, and Clinton communicates that she loves policy." Consider Starbucks, Quelch says. "People love it for the experience, not for the specifications of the coffee." Obama, through his inclusive Web site and, yes, his lofty rhetoric, reinforces the notion that everyone is included and that this movement is actually a conversation to which everyone is invited.

RACE STILL MATTERS

"The coloration of society is changing." Harriet Michel is president of the National Minority Supplier Council, which helps corporations find qualified Asian, African American, Hispanic, and Native American vendors. When the organization started 35 years ago, Michel continues, "people felt forced to check boxes instead of thinking about how new suppliers might help their businesses." Today, census data make clear that a changing population means new markets and new opportunities. "The 'right thing to do' is tired, quite frankly. It's business," she says. "This is economics. Now when you're talking about imperatives, they accrue to the bottom line of the company."

Michel is an Obama supporter. "The success of his candidacy indicates that we have moved a bit beyond our tortured past as it relates to race," she says. "If he's credentialed enough and experienced enough to be elected by all the people, it will make a difference to how everyone views America and Americans."

The fact that a black man may soon be a major-party nominee, or even sit in the Oval Office, has far-reaching implications for a business community that's still overwhelmingly white at the top. As of 2005, one third of the Fortune 500 had no African-American directors; of 5,572 available seats, 449 were held by 245 black board members. Of course, executive ranks are also overwhelmingly male -- 85% of Fortune 500 boards -- making Clinton's rise, too, a challenge to the business status quo.

Ariel's Mellody Hobson personifies both of those constituencies. At 38, she is the president of the firm and one of the few women of color in a C-suite. She sits on the board of public companies including Starbucks, Estée Lauder, and DreamWorks Animation, as well as private organizations such as the Sundance Institute, the Chicago Public Library, and the Chicago Public Education Fund. She is a trustee of Princeton University. She is self-made, smart, and outspoken. It's hard not to be impressed, and a little intimidated, by all she has achieved. And yet, she says, "I still feel the bias." Biases are baked into the human condition -- "we all have them," she says -- but they don't have to be baked into the structure of American business. "We haven't come nearly far enough." Would a black president make a difference? "Yes," she replies without hesitation. "It would send a message. But there is so much more work to do."

Her boss, John Rogers -- who played hoops with Obama on Super Tuesday -- has been leading some of that work. Rogers cofounded an informal group of black directors of major publicly traded companies in 2002. At that first meeting, about 30 people showed up. "My concern was that African Americans on corporate boards were uncomfortable addressing civil rights issues, and worried about being typecast as a minority member and wouldn't speak up," says Rogers, who sits on the boards of McDonald's and Aon Corp. "If not us, then who will?"

The meeting, which has become the annual Black Corporate Directors Conference, now attracts more than 100 business bigwigs and last year featured Time Warner's Dick Parsons and Wal-Mart's Lee Scott, along with CNN's Soledad O'Brien as moderator. The group spends a good deal of time talking about the distinction between being a black board member and a board member who happens to be black. Rogers explains: When you are in the room, do you shortchange your fiduciary duties by advocating for diversity? "Diversity benefits the bottom line substantially, for all sorts of reasons," he says. "But it also takes years to establish a culture, with all the benefits that come with that. If there is only an immediate business imperative, then you might end up creating expectations that might not be met."

Tory Clarke, who is British, and Larry Griffin, an African American, have heard these debates for years. As the founders of Bridge Partners, a boutique executive-search firm that specializes in placing minority candidates at senior levels, "we've seen the shift from a quota mind-set to a business case mind-set," says Clarke. "Now we hear very specific requests -- we want a Latino male or an African-American female -- specifically so our clients can better approach a particular market, or solve a problem with a particular community." They cite the recent election of Avon CEO Andrea Jung to the Apple board -- its sole Asian and only its second woman. Business acumen aside, Jung offers a direct conduit to millions of female customers, a segment that Apple would dearly love to exploit. She also speaks fluent Mandarin, a plus for a company that has just invested $40 million in its first store in Beijing.

Both Griffin and Clarke acknowledge that minority representation at the upper echelons of business remains "abysmal." As a result, Griffin explains, the closer minority hires get to the corner office or the boardroom, the more they become symbols. Even people recruited for their legal or financial expertise may be pressed to become what Griffin calls "internal brands." "They may be asked to show up at campus recruiting events, or take a more public-facing role than they are prepared for," he says.

While some observers hoped the Sarbanes-Oxley provision calling on companies to seek out new independent board members would bring about more change, progress has been slow. But with census data projecting that 40% of Americans will be nonwhite by 2010, business leaders who are charged with inspiring and attracting the best talent and satisfying an increasingly diverse pool of shareholders may soon find that diversity is a business imperative.

BRAND AMERICA

Should Obama become president, his leadership style -- not to mention his brown skin and African name -- could give a new face to the image America telegraphs to the rest of the world. "It's already made a difference that a minority could rise this far through the democratic process," asserts Harvard's Quelch.

"It's already made a difference that a minority could rise this far through the democratic process."
-- John Quelch,Harvard Business School

That brand U.S.A. has suffered in recent years is indisputable. According to the Pew Charitable Trust Global Attitudes Survey, updated in the spring of 2007, the country's favorable ratings have declined over the past five years in 26 of 33 countries -- including most of our European allies -- and are particularly negative in the Middle East. A BBC International poll from 2007 is even more dismaying: A survey of 26,000 people in 25 countries shows that three out of four disapprove of how the United States is dealing with Iraq, Guantanamo, global warming, Iran, and North Korea.

"It's a constant discussion point in international business," says Keith Reinhard, whose DDB Worldwide has offices in 99 countries and has been the steward of such premier global brands as Hasbro and Anheuser-Busch. "We're seen as culturally insensitive on a personal level, and on a corporate brand level," he says. Determined to do something about it, Reinhard dipped into his own pocket in 2002 and started Business for Diplomatic Action, a coalition of marketing, political science, and media professionals aimed at improving the standing of America in the world through business outreach. (He has scaled back his work at DDB to work for the coalition full time.) After commissioning research and testifying before Congress, Reinhard can distill his advice to brands to one word: Listen. "Everywhere I go, from CEOs to people on the street, I hear the same thing," Reinhard told me as he rushed between conferences in Frankfurt, Germany, and Doha, Qatar. "The U.S. needs to listen to the world."

This is precisely the strategy that Obama professes in international relations: to engage, even with countries that have been viewed as America's enemies -- in much the same way that businesses from McDonald's to ExxonMobil often find themselves engaging in places where regimes are not necessarily to their liking. Obama's strategy is not one that all geopolitical experts agree with, but it is consistent with how American business has conducted itself. It is also consistent with his criticism at home of what he terms "a politics that says it's okay to demonize your political opponents when we should be coming together to solve problems."

Obama's candidacy and its call for change may already be resonating in countries that have lamented U.S. policy but still want to believe in the promise of American leadership. "That Obama exists has already begun to recalibrate the way the world sees us," Reinhard contends. "This is a good thing."

"LOOKING FOR A CHANGE"

Sitting at the bar in the Chicago Hyatt on Super Tuesday, I scarfed a burger before rejoining the Obama press circus. My 24-year-old waiter seemed bored by the chaos, but took some time to admire my iPhone and chat. He'd known only a Clinton or Bush in the White House, he said. "I'm sort of looking for a change." Then he caught sight of Obama on CNN over my shoulder, tossed his dreadlocks, and smiled. "But that guy," he patted his chest, "he makes me believe."

Barack Obama may not win his party's nomination. And even if he is nominated, he may lose at the polls. If that happens, pundits will be quick to point out strategic or tactical missteps, and some will say America just isn't ready to elect a black man as president. Such a pat analysis is to be expected. But there is no question that the brand of Obama -- what he represents to the next generation of Americans -- is important. A business that ignores this message does so at its own peril.

Barack Obama | Photo by Marc Nozell used under a Creative Commons license

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25 Comments

  • Jared Ondieki

    Jared Akama Ondieki, a native of Kisii, Kenya, represents the voice of young people, marginalized communities and animal rights in Kenya and worldwide. Having been elected the National chairman of Capital Youth Caucus Association (CYCA) in 2002, he served diligently to see the membership rise from 206 to 101,295 members by 2007.

    He also serves as the vice chairman of the United People's Congress (a political party in Kenya). He also founded The Center For Partnership And Civic Engagement Trust (CEPACET) where he is serving as the executive director. CEPACET is an organization which promotes human rights, democracy and peace in Kenya.

    He also runs The Earth Without Borders Kenyan Chapter.

    Jared has also served as a deputy principal in a private medical training institution (Kenya College Of Science And Technology). He has held teaching portfolios in Menengai Medical Training College since 2003.

    He holds diplomas in medical laboratory science, teaching and research methodology, community development and a certificate in leadership from The Mombasa Polytechnic and Leadership Institute and Management Studies.

    Tirelessly active as a volunteer in community affairs, Jared served leadership roles for the promotion of a peace and reconciliation process during the post election violence. He co-ordinated a worldwide vigil of peace where over 25,000 people prayed for peace in Kenya during the post election violence. His activity in co-ordinating peace initiatives continues unabated.

    Jared's ability to unite, inspire passions and warm hearts is remarkable.

    His aspiration to run for the Presidency of the Republic of Kenya in the year 2012 comes along with the dream of bringing change in a country he so much loves.

    His humble background and empathy for the plight of the poor give him an edge in implementing his strategies to address poverty, unemployment, poor infrastructure, human rights, and lack of information for rural people.

    Above all, he believes that these are times for generational change in the world; times when the future has come and youthful leaders should be given a chance to serve with their fresh energy and ideas.

    Jared's motto is, "TOGETHER WE ARE THE CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN!"

    Email: center4partnership@gmail.com

  • kin kin

    Brands are dead and Obama is proof positive of that fact... Obama is a new type of entity in politics that works equally well in business - he is relevant and remarkable. He has become relevant and remarkable because he has put himself outside the Brand, Value Add, Strategy, etc paradigms.

    What Obama brings, like him or not, is not as simplistic as a new Brand or a new Spin on politics - he brings something much more complex and interesting. He brings a presence that appeals to youth and cynical people alike - interestingly most of these people do not yet really know why he appeals so much to them...
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  • Kandy White

    Really? When is this President going to stop being a celebrity and when will the American people stop praising this President for doing nothing in the White House. Corrupt - the media, this Nobel Peace Prize-what a joke-based on bringing Muslim's together with the United States? Muslim's hate the Western way and want us dead. America is in trouble!

  • lily tendai hute

    he said"Relax, I've got game. I've got plenty of game."and for he has. i think if we start taking things from general to specific the world would be a better place. today it shows that his statement really is true hes got game and if can go back to the hoops right now then he will just hit the three pointer

  • Iris Turner

    The poor choices available to Republicans (a cheerleader and a flipflopper that is out of touch with the economy and Americans), that ignore the sufferings of Americans who have lost jobs, health insurance, their homes, is amazing. The economy is at present in its healthiest state thanks to the greed of banks, wall street, insurance companies, and mortgage lenders according to Republicans. Ideology that is out of touch with the suffering of the masses has put into motion a clear choice, and that is why people intuitively know that they have already chosen Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States, and will vote Democratic in November. Accountability over the government and financial institutions that prevents another bout of the worst financial disaster since the great depression is what people want, not more suicides and bankruptcies.

  • Samuel Campbell II

    It is sad that your supposedly educated/integent readership completly misses the point made by this article. I believe that it is abundantly clear that the author sought to give businesses a proven strategy for winning in this new media world. Whether it was Obama or some other person is really not the issue. The method employed by his team are worthy of emulation if you want to reach the media savvy masses in this day and age.

    Those who have commented are obviously blinding by their party preference and can't see the simple wisdom and it will indeed be there loss. To quote the author, "A business that ignores this message does so at its own peril."

  • Jason Hoyt

    Halisi,...well, all of you, actually,...

    I can't believe that in a business magazine, that promotes capitalism and free markets, and individual responsibility and the power of consumers to think for themselves and make their own choices of what to do with their money, where to invest, spend and save,....that anyone here is actually promoting someone like Barack Obama,...as the way to promote a brand?

    Okay,...swell,...he's a great public speaker and has a positive message of "hope" and "change",...but my goodness, has anyone been paying attention to what he says when he rarely provides us a glimpse into his actual views? He's ignorant on the economy, believes in raising taxes because of "fairness" (from an interview on CNBC with Maria Bartiromo), bragged because he travelled to 57 U.S. states (during a campaign stop in Oregon) and also in Oregon, said that “We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times … and then just expect that other countries are going to say 'OK.'"

    He is one of the most liberal U.S Senators out there, and the results of his policies would be catastrophic to this country. He survives and thrives on the ignorance of the electorate who want "a change", without actually examining the consequences.

    A great brand? I don't think so. He's more of a marketing gimmick and ploy to swindle us out of our hard earned money.

  • Toni White

    If you liked this article you will enjoy this one too!
    I knew Jack Kennedy and You’re No Brand !
    Leslie Singer
    President and CCO G2 Branding and Design NY

    Voter’s ears are replete with news reports betraying the media’s desire to attach brand equity to our current slate of 3 presidential candidates. Well, I have some bad news for you, the current slate of candidates have yet to promulgate any distinctive branding, not in the way say a Jack Kennedy or Ronald Reagan projects brand equity.

    Brands are iconic, they are far more than ethereal fads or trends. Jack Kennedy was the scion of a family brand, the surname was rich with iconography. Icons are about rituals, legacies, and a voice that keeps resonating long after they pass. Kennedy is about Hyannisport touch football games, hair blowing on a sailboat, PT-105, a rocking chair in the oval office, a handsome face that informs a sense of aesthetics to sensory branding. A well known womanizer, even Kennedy’s dalliances were part of the brand fabric. Kennedy’s memorable Cold War “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech is legendary, not just for the fact that his snowclone was a misstatement and actually meant ”I am a jelly donut.” Kennedy lives on as an icon in our cultural fabric – and he has been dead since 1963.

    Reagan had brand equity through and through. A Hollywood “B” movie star, he was a hero in the movies and would become a hero on the world stage. Reagan’s lifelong nickname The Gipper came from his film role as George Gipp in Knute Rockne, All American. When Reagan stood up to the Soviet Union, he certainly won one for the Gipper. Without flinching, the Russians blinked, and the rest is history as the walls came tumbling down in the break up which followed. The label ‘Reaganomics’ has worked itself into our vernacular and the words ‘tear down that wall’ will live in infamy.
    And like Kennedy, Reagan had an aura of the virile American who looked good on a horse and comfortable with a gun – and unlike Kennedy even looked good on the big screen. He resonated a masculine power in his blue jeans and flannel with the love of his life on his arm. This is the stuff that icons are made of and create brands that are true.

    Today’s slate of candidates have yet to develop a brand conscience in the minds of voters. McCain certainly owns his space representing the heroism of the Viet Nam era – albeit he is not a brand. Hillary seems to permeate with a More of The Same message when compared with Obama. But neither of them are a brand. If anything, time will tell if there will be a ‘brand Clinton’. If there is, it will be in tribute to Bill - Hillary will get the residue of the label. For his part, Obama may be closer to resonating with the voters as Brand Hope. His unflinching message of Change is idealistic in a way that is fresh and new. If he stays on target and goes head to head with McCain, the articulation of Brand Hope may galvanize the American voters to land him the White House. But to call any of them a ‘brand’ is mistaking the word ‘brand’. They are ‘candidates’ – a mere moment in time on the radar screen of our political arm wrestling. They could become a brand when they accomplish things that resonate for the long term. When long past their tenure their names are used to drive home a point, or are used as a noun or stand for something that becomes culturally significant.

    If Hillary doesn’t win, her relevance will be diminished – ergo she can’t be a brand -- Same for Obama and John McCain. They are all just players as George McGovern, Ross Perot, John Kerry, John Edwards, Guliani, Biden, Romney, Dodd and hundreds of others have been. Just because you are in the news, doesn’t make you a brand. When you start changing the news you are on your way – when you fulfill a promise that change lives and impacts our culture in a way that resonates in the history books – then you are a brand. Anything less, you are a just a moment in time.
    www.g2.com

  • Nathan Bagby

    Obama is definitely running an extremely successful grassroots, "bottom-up" campaign. hmm sounds a lot like democracy...

  • halisi vinson

    StorBrod you make statements with NO FACTS. I'm assuming you're a troll. But just in case, here are some facts about your war hero John McCain. In an interview back in the 80s in defense of him voting against MLK day he said: "They never gave us any meaningful news," McCain said. "They told us the day that Martin Luther King was shot, they told us the day that Bobby Kennedy was shot, but they never bothered to tell us about the moon shot. So it was certainly selected news." I guess by this we are to infer that the assassination of MLK, JFK and BK are not "meaningful". 2. He was part of the Keating 5 involved in the S&L scandals of the 90s that brought Colorado to its economic knees. 3. McCain is now buddy buddy with swift-boater Karl Rove, who called McCains adopted daughter his "illegitimate black child". He has sold HIS soul and his daughter. He has buddied up to people he used to think were immoral. He has backtracked on tax cuts for the rich which he opposed before; all to get elected. I'm not going to even mention his wife. However, I could go on and on and on. But you need to do your own homework.

  • Stor Brod

    It is out of question for Ellen McGirt that Obama is an indecent individual.

    In my humble opinion, he is calculating manipulator, and not comparable favorably to an honorable guy like McCain.

    Unfortunately, Hillary is also a damaged character, and represent no contrast to Obama.

    So all blind Obama supporters can do themselves and us one favor, end your dreams, and wake up.

    Obama is a very negative asset to the American politics.

    I have had hopes that Howard Dean and John Edwards could make it, but the Kerrys and Obamas ended their chances.

  • david grandison

    Excellent, article!
    A truly insightful explanation of branding 2.0 and the power of social networking and "on message" communication to bring about change as well as to politically mobilize the masses.

    He must be doing something right because he has incited the "hammer and sickle" references and "red scare" tactics that are usually employed by imperialist to stop the development of embryonic democracies in 3rd world countries. Is this what America has degenerated to under the current regime?

    Hang on if you are still living with a MacCarthy Era mindset the world has changed...we hope.

    Win or loose--this movement is an example of democratizing ability of the web.

    Keep up the good work--I'm going to subscribe!

  • llamos

    I had a recent opportunity to hear Senator Obama speak here in Indianapolis. I'd been an early supporter of Senator Clinton and had felt some ambivalence about her candidacy, so I relished the opportunity to see what his candidacy was all about --from about 30 feet away.

    Amidst his discussion of his platform (which was much more clear than I'd thought it would be given the assertions that he was an empty suit with a nice speaking voice), he said something that left me walking out with a bit of a headache...and a new appreciation of his leadership. He told those of us gathered that we had a part to play other than simply voting--that the days of waiting for the government to "do us" are over and that if we saw something missing, it was up to us to put it in (and to ask for assistance when we ran into trouble).

    OK.

    So, on the way out of the gathering, I talked with two of Senator Obama's campaign staff. I'd been asked to pass along a request from a gentleman who wanted to start a Republicans for Obama group in Indiana and another request from the Indiana political bloggers who needed to know if Senator Obama might be interested in an online meeting.

    In both cases, those staffers mirrored Senator Obama's sentiment: "If you think it needs to be done, go ahead and do it and lets us know how we can support you."

    Both endeavors are now underway.

    His candidacy is breaking new ground in terms of leadership in another way than just those the article mentioned: He's infused leadership with community activism. It left me wondering what it would look like in organizations if leaders supported their staff to be in action, providing them with coaching, resources, championing and support rather than the usual topdownocracy we're become so very accustomed to.

    I've been a proponent of open book management in my consultancy for years. Now, I can see the shift in culture that needs to be generated that needs to be generated from the top for it to really flourish.

  • James Belle

    great analysis, I think even Hillary Clinton agree's; she recently acknowledged being struck his unwavering appeal!

  • Leighton Haynes

    An insightful explortation of one of our most provocative personal/political brands.

    There's sure to be disagreement about Obama's ideas, strategy and poltical credentials. However, as your article convincingly articulates -- the power of Obama's appeal to emerging domestic and global audiences, his adaptive leadership style and audacious message are generating a healthy dose of engagement and excitement in our all-too-often stale & predictable political mix. That can only be a good thing!

    And your assessment of the business implications of his ascendency as it relates to leadership and diversity in the global economy are right on target. Well done!!!

  • Jym Allen

    Obama is wisdom in search of solutions rather than answers in search of justifications.
    Obama is meritocracy rather than oligarchy.
    Obama is the 21st Century litmus test for bigotry. To listen to the ideas and reject the messenger is a measure of your own bias, bigotry, and rationalizations approaching stupidity.

  • Anonymous

    Brand? Let's just hope that our intellectual friends in the democratic party are not simply repackaging and re-branding the old hammer and sickle. Communism, Socialism and Keynesian philosophy's proved to be wrong for large populations ending in the late-70's/early-80's. Now we seem to be calling for a return to those failed policies of the past as "change." We'll if that is what this Brand represents, hang-on as history repeats itself and double-digit inflation and unemployment returns to the US and reminds us what a bad economy really feels like.

  • Tim Leberecht

    Henry Jenkins argued in his keynote at SXSW Interactive two weeks ago that accusing Obama of plagiarism (as the Clinton camp did when it brought forward that Obama had borrowed words from past speeches of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick) misses the point: It’s a remix culture, stupid!

    The Obama brand is all software and only a little hardware, and it comes with an open SDK (software developer kit) — a dynamic, modular platform that both individual campaigners and institutional networks can plug into. Obama’s entire campaign is based on the principle of “picture-in-picture web,” as Steve Rubel coins it. Or, to borrow another one of Rubel’s lines: Obama is a web service, not a web site. He is the “blue ocean” and not the (little) rock. He is a franchise brand that anyone can hijack, re-shape, and remix a la carte. That makes him vulnerable and volatile but at the same time powerful and unstoppable. When your greatest weakness is your biggest strength, you are very hard to beat.

    http://www.frogdesign.com/frog...