A spate of recent articles about the Obama brand have, in my view as an expert on marketing, neglected the brand’s strategy and focused its verbal or visual expressions. But far more important is the distinction between the short-term brand, “Candidate Obama,” and the long-term brand, “President Obama.” (See Fast Company: “The Brand Called Obama.”)
So far candidate Obama’s campaign exemplifies perfect wizardry in short-term branding. For those who had not yet encountered this terminology, a short term brand is a pre-planned meteoric and relatively short-lived marketing success. “The Da Vinci Code,” is a classic example.
Huge success – but fleeting.
Short-term branding entails the kindling of enthusiasm, expertly and speedily, in a selected target group. Its usual purpose is to motivate members of the group to buy a product promptly and buzz about it. Other times, as in our case, it is to propel the group to volunteer, donate, evangelize and vote on a certain date. In contrast, long term branding endeavors to establish a long term demand (or support) based on an enduring preference and trust. Think of your allegiance to a particular brand of toothpaste.
The relevance of short-term branding to political campaigning is evident. This is true especially
when the candidate is relatively unknown, and his or her political and leadership records are too limited to flaunt.
Every brand, short or long term, holds a promise of benefit to its target audience. It is the
expectation of this benefit that stimulates desire. A short term brand (as opposed to a long term one) presents a transitory opportunity to achieve such a benefit. Thought of this way, the Obama campaign’s promise is clear and unique: “here we are giving you a one-time opportunity to impact history by electing the first African-American President of the United States”.
But isn’t this promise similar to that of the Clinton campaign, if we, say, substitute “female” for “African-American”? It could have been, but it is definitely not. The main reason is that Senator Clinton’s campaign is not
about this equally momentous opportunity. It is about “Clinton as president”. Therefore, Clinton is already
running a presidential campaign, i.e., attempting to build a long term brand. She is trying to inspire trust, while Senator
Obama is spreading enthusiasm, taking advantage of the benefits of short-term
My 80%-20% Marketing Hits Formula postulates that a successful STB
(Short Term Brand) will be 80% conventional format and 20% innovation. The 80%
part is meant to dissolve resistance and to ease acceptance and, therefore, will
challenge the consumer only minimally to learn and adjust. Prima facie, the
Obama campaign has all the elements of such a campaign. It has a logo, an
emblem, a slogan and it employs all the customary one-to-many communication tactics. That is the 80% part.
However, it is the
other 20%—the innovation—that delivers on the brand’s promise and drives the STB phenomenon. The Formula says that the 20% must
be innovative in a way that will entice action. One of the main rules of short
term branding is to use something very contemporary and cool, or something which
stimulates a Wow response of pleasant surprise and wonder, or something that is
twisted, unexpected and provocative in some manner.
The chieftains of
the Obama campaign team opted for cool. Personal expression and activism as
well as social networks constitute the cool “now”. These are the exact trends that the Obama
campaign has used in a pioneering fashion.
Its remarkable use
of the Internet is all about inviting, empowering and enabling people “to
make history” on their own. On
BarackObama.com people can find plenty of means to do that. They can create
their own blogs, send in policy recommendations, find other supporters in their
area (thus creating a quasi-social network), organize events, set up their own
fund raising mini site, get call lists and scripts, download videos, photos,
ringtones and any other “now” cyber service you can think of. The use
of social networks from FaceBook to niche demographic ones such as Blackplanet
and Asianwave sends a message that
everyone is included and reinforces the feeling of brotherhood amongst people
from all races and origins. The many viral clips on YouTube produced by
supporters and fans are a natural outgrowth: people doing their own thing
within the framework of a “history making” movement.
All of that
understood, does the success of the short-term brand ,”Candidate Obama,”
foretell similar success for the completely different, long-term brand, “President Obama?” Not
necessarily! If Senator Obama wins the Democratic Party nomination, we must
expect a switch in voters’ perceptions. They will then begin to give
increasingly more weight to the potentially long-term “President
Obama” brand, at the expense of the weight they had given to the
“Candidate Obama” brand previously. It will not suffice to be a part of
a history making movement. Voters will be interested in the promise of the
“President Obama” brand, which has to be a promise in which they can
believe. In other words, they will want to know how President Obama will
function as president at these challenging times for America, regardless of his racial
“let’s do it together” leadership style that is such a powerful
element of the “Candidate Obama” brand may even become a setback
during the presidential campaign stage. To win against Senator McCain, Obama
will have to more distinctly shape the “President Obama” brand as
well as its promise to Americans in a strongly persuasive manner. Among other tasks he will have to explain in
a crystal clear manner how he is going to redefine the leadership of the United States
in the world and how he is going to integrate its economy with the global
economy in a healthier manner.
If he wins the
nomination, then this will certainly be the next challenge which the “President
Obama” campaign masters will have to overcome: to smoothly handle the transition from
short-term brand “Candidate Obama” to long-term brand “President
Obama”.Time will most certainly