Behind the Scenes: Marketers & Political Consultants Hash It Out

Political strategists Paul Begala and Alex Castellanos give a post-mortem of the Obama vs. McCain campaigns, with the added spin of what marketers can learn.

This morning global ad shop Euro RSCG hosted a breakfast-style meeting of the minds: politics & marketing. The A-list speakers included longtime Democratic strategist Paul Begala and longtime Republic strategist Alex Castellanos (Begala is the Clinton campaign vet with a Texas twang and incisive potty-mouth poetics; Castellanos worked on Romney & Bush’s campaigns and for a political strategist is strikingly thoughtful and soft-spoken; both are CNN commentators). The discussion was yet another post-mortem of the Obama vs. McCain campaigns, with the added spin of what marketers can learn from them.


I still can’t shake that we will soon have a president who actually gets Web 2.0 (in fact, many are already referring to Obama’s campaign style as “Web 3.0.”). What’s most surprising to me is the sudden role reversal of government and business: typically we think of government as being the last to understand, nevertheless embrace, innovation. Now all marketers can ooze on about is they want to run their brands like Obama ran his campaign. All the fear companies have been paralyzed by as far as embracing social networking tools and the digital frontier has now been quashed, not by a company–like Apple or Google–demonstrating its power, but a politician. Of course, what we’re now all waiting to see is how Obama will channel his digital prowess beyond campaigning–to actually governing.

For those of you unable to listen-in on the discussion over martini-glass yogurt parfaits, here are some of my favorite moments:

Begala: “In hockey terms, the problem with Hillary’s campaign is she went where the puck was: experience and security. Obama has the ability to see where the puck is going–change and hope–and that’s what he built his entire campaign on.”

Begala: “I think the cardinal sin McCain did was he traded away his brand. Once he did that he was reduced to tactics.”

Castellanos: “If you went to Obama’s early website the first thing on it said: I’m not asking you to have faith that I will change Washington; I have faith that YOU will.”

Castellanos: “He [Obama] created a cause. He was saying to the people: your social worth is much more value than your economic worth. We want to be part of something larger than just ourselves. It’s the same reason why people wear Livestrong bracelets and drive Prius’s. They want to be part of something bigger.”


Castellanos: “McCain instead made it about himself. ‘I put country first.’ But he could have done what Obama did if he argued that ‘WE put country first.'”

Castellanos: “I think McCain was the least Republican candidate. What does that say about your brand when you pick the least authentic person for what you’re supposed to stand for?”

Castellanos: “Obama is a ‘communications age’ liberal instead of an ‘industrial age’ liberal. If he pulls it off governing, the Democrats could be in power for the next 25 years.”

Andrew Bennet (Euro RSCG): “Brands that have the same level of dynamism and trust that Obama achieved are Apple, Google, Amazon, Visa, Best Buy, Aflac, Southwest.”

Andrew Bennet (Euro RSCG):”Does every brand need to have an enemy? Yes. It could be ‘brand x’ or it could be something like ‘complacency.’ Obama chose his enemy–Bush–and stuck with it.”

Begala: “Obama’s never even run a donut stand. But imagine you met this guy two years ago, he had a startup, and then two years later you check back in with him. In two years he built an annual budget of $600 million, open locations in 50 states, had 10,000 employees. He’s an amazing leader.”


Castellanos: “Obama ran his campaign the opposite of Mark Penn [Hillary’s campaign manager]. If you read his book, Microtrends, he believes there are hundreds of “Americas.” There’s no one America. He sees only trees, not the forest. Obama was one America.”



About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton