The Brand Called Obama / Given the passions of this year's presidential campaign, we weren't surprised by the intensity of responses to our April cover story. There were Obama fans ("I can't help but be inspired") and flamers ("The man blurs the line between socialism and communism"). There were even those who interpreted our piece as an endorsement rather than an analysis of what Obama's rise means for business. (On that score, we plead not guilty.) We disagree with one reader who lamented that diversity will destroy America. But many commenters made insightful points about marketing, the brand of Bush, the lessons of
A Remix Culture
Henry Jenkins argued in his keynote at SXSW Interactive recently that accusing Obama of plagiarism (as the Clinton camp did when it brought forward that Obama had borrowed words from past speeches of Massachusetts governor 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.
San Francisco, California
I agree that Barack Obama is a brand that represents my generation. We know the difference between leaders and bosses, and we are taking social change into our own hands.
St. Paul, Minnesota
Obama may be a brand. He has a nice shiny label (passionate speeches and a smile) that definitely draws attention. But he is not even close to being presidential material. As a brand, he is comparable to the Zune, the MP3 player that Microsoft made to compete with the iPod. Zune has the correct heritage but in no way is it close to being an iPod.
Ellen Mcgirt's piece on Barack Obama shed a nice light on the brand of the man likely to be the next president, but I thought the story was remiss in glossing over the brand-development strategy employed by the current president. For many Americans in 2000, an outsider from Austin, with an iconic one-letter logo and a hollow promise to be a "uniter, not a divider" and a "compassionate conservative," was also "as good as it gets." In many parts of Texas, the "W" stickers on the back of pickups and SUVs still pervade — a regular reminder that a brand developed eight years ago still has some punch within its niche.
The benchmark of a great brand is one that makes a promise and delivers with staying power. Think Apple, Microsoft, the Beatles, Elvis. In this vein, I would have to disagree with Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide. He states that Brand Obama has the three components of what you want out of a brand — new, different, and attractive. What Reinhard is talking about is the trimmings without the substance. The endgame for a brand is not what us media geniuses create. It is what the customer decides to keep around.
New York, New York
It's a Jungle Out There
There are many techniques for how to influence the boss ("Your Boss Is a Monkey," April), but the worst thing that your readers could do is to follow the advice in this article. If you want to destroy your career, treat your boss like a monkey. When the boss is yelling at you, the worst you can do is reply with Zen-like indifference. I know; I've tried it. Leave the exotic-animal-training techniques for lower forms of life like parrots, polar bears, and spouses.
Business Books Bad for Business?
Right on, Ms. Spiers! I agree with you 100% ("Library of the Living Dead," April). A bunch of years ago, I was an executive for CBS when one of our brilliant NYC vice presidents passed out a copy to each of us of The Peter Principle and told us to read it before the next meeting. The majority from that meeting agreed at the next session that our "leader" had reached his "level of incompetence," as described in the book. But business books seem to reenergize the young Turks in any company, and I think there will always be a need for them. Even for the loud, shouting, brassy Jim Cramer types.
William R. McIntire
I will start where Spiers ends, agreeing with her ultimate conclusion: Business books are self-help by their very definition. The implication that they fall strictly into the "I'm okay, you're okay" segment of self-help is where Spiers and I diverge. The number-one reason why people buy business books is to find a solution to a problem, not to abdicate responsibility for the choices they make. Sitting at the educational crossroads between "I know nothing about this" and "Let's hire a consultant," business books contain a high value proposition for the $20 and two hours spent.
Reading all or most of those books is a great excuse to be lazy and avoid risk. No more Trump books for me!
I'm tired of hearing company executives talk about "death by PowerPoint" ("The Napkin Sketch," April). It's not death by PowerPoint, it's death by bad PowerPoint. It would be a lot faster and more effective to use the tools in PowerPoint to produce the perfect pitch than to make childlike sketches on a napkin. Maybe I'll have to do a napkin sketch to make my point.
New York, New York
The ability to convey complex points or large amounts of data with simple images is as much an art as a skill. I'd love to see business schools incorporate an art class.
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A version of this article appeared in the June 2008 issue of Fast Company magazine.