The branding isn’t off – it’s finally in sync with the product.

A good friend of mine (in advertising) likes to say, “Good advertising is the best way to kill off a bad product.”  If your marketing drives everyone to try a product that isn’t ready… you’re done.

From “Obama Loses His Cool” in The New York Post:

Three years on, Barack Obama — overexposed, way too talkative and kind of cranky — now exists in what the Harvard Business Review calls “product limbo.” It’s a byproduct of the content not aligning with the sales pitch

What’s most perplexing about all of this: Barack Obama had undeniably the greatest, most successful product launch of the 21st century. Weeks before winning the presidency, he won Ad Age’s “Marketer of the Year” Award, beating such brands as Apple, Nike and Coors. It was a hard-won honor: No presidential campaign in history had been run with such airtight, top-down control, with veteran political consultant David Axelrod stressing an aesthetic and thematic unity that resulted in the consistent use of a lovely font, two pithy slogans and high-tech advances. One of the first applications designed for the iPhone was the official Obama for America app.

Even the so-called “grassroots” movement was carefully cultivated, with the campaign recruiting graffiti artists to tag electorally important neighborhoods with demographically targeted street art…
Still, it all felt very organic and authentic, inviting and human. But when then-White House social secretary Desirée Rogers sat for a glossy profile with the WSJ magazine in April 2009, she let slip a cynical truth: “We have the best brand on Earth — the Obama brand,” she bragged. “Our possibilities are endless.”

Well, at the time they were. Or seemed that way. Today, the Obama brand is not only confused but sullied, and the latter perception is most dangerous. As the brand goes, so goes the presidency, and vice versa.

Two years ago Jonah Goldberg wrote that the administration’s solution to every problem was more cowbell (another speech by/exposure to the president).  This weekend Mark Steyn makes the same point in political science terms:  much of a president’s ability to get things done (as the chief executive) relies on his brand (as head of state).

Walter Bagehot, the great English constitutionalist, used to distinguish between the “dignified” and “efficient” parts of the Westminster system – ie, the monarchy and the executive. The United States combines them in one person. Judging from the 40-car conga line to stage a pseudo-browse at a mom’n’pop bookstore on Martha’s Vineyard, President Obama and the court eunuchs of the media seem to prefer the ceremonial side (“dignified” hardly seems the word for these leaden rituals).

But, whether in one person or two, the “dignified” and “efficient” parts of a functioning government are supposed to synchronize. Here was last week’s pre-Martha bit of ersatz presidential theatre, in the less fashionable zip codes of Minnesota:

Passing trade deals is something that “Congress can do right now,” remarked President Obama Monday at a town hall meeting in Cannon Falls, Minnesota.


The truth is that Congress can’t do anything on free trade agreements “right now,” because the President has yet to send the agreements to Congress for final approval.


I am assured by my liberal friends that Barack Obama is not intentionally attempting to destroy America. Let us also grant that an honorable man would not intentionally deceive the burghers of Cannon Falls for cheap political point-scoring. So what does that leave? That the President is merely ignorant, incompetent and doesn’t know his job?

That single line from a single speech is an almost perfect vignette of everything that’s wrong with the Washington leviathan. The American taxpayers pay for a luxury Canadian bus, dozens of accompanying vehicles, salaried aides and federal speechwriters in order to zip the President halfway across the country to blame somebody else for something only he can do – if only he’d stayed back at the office.

In many organizations, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. We’re way beyond that. Not only does the President’s left hand not know what the right hand is even supposed to do, but his left hand cannot even issue a cheap self-serving whine about something his right hand has failed to do without blowing gazillions of taxpayer dollars.

I don’t think the branding is off, I think it’s finally in sync:  we elected someone not yet ready for the job.  Michael Barone has posited a theory about a 16-year cycle in American politics in the modern era:  every 16 years the country takes a flyer on some unproven candidate because the marketing theme is so good (JFK, Carter, Clinton, Obama).

There’s an idealistic streak in American politics that is not always wise.  For instance, the notion that politics can be pure, with no horse-trading, log-rolling, or partisanship (i.e. disagreement).  President Washington naively thought we could do without parties.  President Reagan had it right when he said, “They say politics is the second oldest profession, but it bears a striking resemblance to the first.”   If “independent” voters could bear that in mind perhaps fewer would get schnookered every 16 years.
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4 Responses to The branding isn’t off – it’s finally in sync with the product.

  1. jiddins says:

    I think your post was absolutely great. It pointed out some interesting insights about how the country came to buy Obama. As one who has absolutely no faith in centralized power or bureaucracy, I think that so long as the American establishment is still standing, all we have are false hopes and good branding. I think the Obama brand has been successful even though nothing substantial has been accomplished. Of course, my definition of success at this point in the game (as good as success can get) is a highly visible weaver of words who consistently maintains the brand image. Oddly enough, I think this is enough of a distraction from the troubling political reality for many people.

    • John says:

      Thanks James.

      His brand may be loosing some luster. They’ll always be hard-core supporters (of every prez) but with a little luck he’ll bring more discredit to a whole bunch of ideas I oppose. At least for 16 years…

      I think it was Lady Thatcher who said something along the lines of how surprised she was to have to continually win the same arguments. Btw, the new flick w/Meryl Streep is coming out soon. I saw just one clip, but Streep was fantastic. Some muckety-mucks Tories are telling her she has potential but she will have to change how she dresses and work on her voice. Her response – I don’t know if it’s real or just good script writing – is priceless.

  2. Paul Marks says:

    Yes, a person who has not even served a single term in the United States Senate becomes President.

    No achievements in business, no military service, no achievements at any level of government – or in anything. Even Bush served in the Texas Air Nation Guard, and ran a business, and was a Governor – Obama, nothing.

    A person sent to a private school and who then wasted his time there – smoking dope and just hanging around. But (thanks to the pull of family and, more so, friends of the family) gets sent to a series of elite universities – none of which on the basis of his grades. And he publishes nothing of note at any of these universities – and yet gets appointed to a teaching job as the University of Chicago, and is appointed a series of important positions on the boards of major charitable foundations. And then is supported for first State Senate (where he does nothing – but is given the credit for the work of others) and then the United States Senate (see above).

    A “golden life” – without either effort or achievement. And yet he winds up as President of the United Startes.

    This is indeed the triumph of marketing – of undefined (empty) slogans like “hope and change”.

    But the marketing would not have worked without a friendly (indeed cult like) media.

    They refused to subject candidate Obama to any serious examination – just acting as a vast echo chamber for his campaign.

    And, of course, they refused to really investigate his life long political associations. He was indeed a “red-diaper baby” and the connections that gave Barack Obama vital help (at every stage of his life) were of that world. But people would not know that by the msm coverage.

    • John says:

      Yup, well said Paul. Thanks.

      My biggest surprise, still, is that no enterprising young journalist looking to make a career has gone to Chicago and dug up the dirt. I figured BHO’s popularity would fall enough at some point – I thought 9 months in – to inspire someone (other than Stanley Kurtz) to amass the evidence and hit him hard, make a career out of it. Maybe yet…

      I love Steyn’s turn of phrase: court eunuchs of the media.

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