The Marketing of the President (1)

I’m going to follow developments in the presidential campaign between Barrack Obama and Mitt Romney, with an eye on how emotional branding techniques are used to market these two characters for the American electorate.

The US Presidential election is entirely about marketing. 

In the 2004 contest between Kerry and Bush it was Coke vs. Pepsi, or was it Pepsi vs. Coke?

In the 2008 contest between Obama and McCain it was Hope vs. Bumbling Anger. 

It is an elementary rule of branding that if you don’t define your brand, the opposition will do it for you. As the incumbent, Obama has the initiative. 

‘Hope’ isn’t going to sell this year. It remains to be seen what emotion(s) he will chose to project. 

It began with One Chance, a short video that stresses Obama’s role as Commander-in-Chief and reminds Americans that he was responsible for the death of Osama bin Laden. ‘The Commander-in-Chief gets one chance to make the right decision.’ Here Americans are invited to unite in experiencing pleasure-in-Osama bin Laden’s-unfortunate demise.

This is the ‘courageous’ President, facing up to the nation’s enemies, battling a recalcitrant Congress. 


That was a mere two weeks ago. Since then he was ‘outed’ on gay marriage, by unscripted comments by his Vice-President, and forced to take a stand on a potentially divisive issue.

Newsweek’s cover story this week is ‘The First Gay President’. See Newsweek’s Andrew Sullivan on Barack Obama: The First Gay President. Perhaps this is one of the issues Obama has taken a courageous stand on. It would have been more courageous had he had an alternative. My interest here, however, is on how it will be woven into the developing Obama brand narrative.

The halo offers a clue.

See how BAG News Notes pursues this issue inReturn of “The One”?: Our Take on the Newsweek Obama “Gay Messiah” Cover‘. Note the photographs.

Americans may be in for a mystical experience.

My own take on Obama’s First Coming is here: In Obama we Hope. Open Democracy, 23 October, 2009.

One thought on “The Marketing of the President (1)

  1. Hi Richard. I just spent an hour and a half posting to this and then lost it when my password didn’t work. To sum up, while the messiah persona is misleading I think that Obama’s branding is clever and actually does provide the people of the United States with something to believe in-which is really what we want from a brand. Branding connects us emotionally to a “thing” because we can identify and understand and believe in it. In this case, thankfully, it is not a corporation but a person who yields incredible political power working for the American people. The emotion is still hope and I think that it has blossomed into faith. That is clear in Andrew Sullivan’s article; while the title of his article is a little misleading, Sullivan’s message is clear and concise-Obama is keeping the faith by actually standing up for that which he believes in. Yes, there is still quite a bit of cynicism surrounding why he has made his bold declaration, but it is clear that Obama’s political moves are also motivated by a desire to do what is right. Standing up for people’s rights deserves respect-the god-like references are too much, but he is making smart political decisions so far during a time of great upheaval and potential for unrest in the United States.

    While we may feel somewhat manipulated by the branding used here it would appear that, as we have seen all around us, that at least in this instance real results are being felt by the people who are affected. In my eyes this branding has some grains of truth and progress- while some may feel that his “moral sermons distract attention from the immorality of much of what the United States does, to its own people and anyone who fails to bend a knee in submission. Between their lines is the same old America-the-virtuous, with the responsibility for imposing its goodness on the rest of the world.” ( I would like to think that hope isn’t so hopeless. While Obama may not be the great orator we are “deceived” into believing, I, and millions of others, would like to think that there is sincerity there. After having read his book, his experiences as a child and young man (published before he was a candidate for the presidency) provide a window on who he is a person and the struggles he has gone through. If we cannot put a little bit of faith into his words why do we believe in any politicians? Why do we believe in anything? Richard your article very successfully played on my emotions, cutting my hopefully legs right out from underneath me-at least for a moment anyway. Then I reviewed what Andrew Sullivan said in his article and faith and hope were restored.

    I found a branding opportunity that the Onion News has taken to poke fun at Romney and thought it good to change the mood. It is a parody of the Romney campaign and how disingenuous his appeals to the Latino community are being percieved- Good for a laugh anyway.

    Thanks for the food for thought Richard.

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