Posts Tagged 'Obama'

There Can Be Only One

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The “team of rivals” concept is utter nonsense. Bringing Clinton to the State Department is a terrible idea, and it won’t take long before Obama regrets it bitterly.

Following intense speculation in the past couple of weeks, it was now confirmed that Clinton will be the new Secretary of State. This is a major event, and one that is bound to shape irreversibly the Obama presidency. In any administration, the Secretary of State is one of the most powerful figures, since it is assumed that the incumbent enjoys the absolute confidence of the President. In this case, the nomination assumes special significance, since it was over foreign policy matters that Clinton and Obama spat more bitterly.

Less than six months ago, Clinton was scolding Obama for wanting to engage in talks with Iran regarding its nuclear program, joining McCain’s line in depicting him as naive and dangerously inexperienced. Obama, on the other hand, was fast to point out the fact that Clinton supported the Iraq War (while he was strongly against it from the beginning) thus portraying her as a backer of Bush’s most loathed policy decision.

Could it be that they’re now seeing eye to eye on matters over which they were tearing each other apart during the primary trail? Or has Obama, despite all the idealistic platform on which we was elected, already succumbed to the real politik diktat, and felt the need to disarm Clinton by having her on the team? Is he living by Corleone’s maxim of “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”?

Obama’s supporters call the move a “master stroke”, speaking about building a “team of rivals” that has the potential to make this the most accomplished Democratic administration since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One can understand the argument: Clinton is, after all, an undisputed political powerhouse, and, thanks to her former role as First Lady, will be able to hit the ground running when she starts touring the world capitals.

So, by nominating Clinton to the State Department, Obama accomplishes two things: one, he ensures that she is kept on board with the administration, instead of being left loose on the Senate, where she could become a rallying figure for Democratic discontent over unpopular measures he will be forced to take. And two, he gets a Secretary of State with instant face recognition, who will be warmly welcomed in the chancelleries where (right or wrong) Clinton’s consulate is kindly remembered as the golden age of multilateralism.

All this, however, pale in comparison with the immense downsides of having a fake believer on the team. It’s true that, by having her on the State Department, Obama saves himself, and especially the Senate Democratic leadership, the trouble of having to constantly appease her over each and every measure expected to pass the Senate. On the other hand, he risks seeing barricades erupting at Foggy Bottom, with everything, from Israeli-Palestinian peace plans to withdrawal from Iraq to positioning towards Iran subject to endless and paralyzing bickering.

Given the present state of Brand America, and the dimension of the challenges ahead, the last thing the new president needs is to voice a dubious message through a staggering positioning. It is, however, very hard to see how a coherent strategy can emerge out of this “team of rivals”.

Veni, Vidi, Vici – The Success Of Brand Obama

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Branding and decision-making laws played a decisive part in Obama’s historic victory. Obama’s powerful and coherent narrative vanquished McCain’s flimsy and shaky one, paving the way for the ongoing Liberal Revolution.

In 1961, Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy predicted that in 40 years a black man could become President of the United States. It took a little longer, but RFK prediction just came true. Barack Obama is the new President of the United States.

So, how did he do it? How did he manage to, in just two years, go from virtually unknown junior Senator from Illinois to President-elect at the helm of a new Liberal Revolution, backed by strong majorities both in the House and in the Senate?

First of all, he had momentum going for him. After two mandates of George W. Bush, a lot of resentment had been generated, and that boiled to a point where a strong dynamic for change was created. Obama was the right man at the right time to ride that wave to the Oval Office.

But he didn’t just stood there like the anointed one, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Obama built a strong narrative that was crucial to stir passions and keep that wave rolling and growing. As Seth Godin points out on his latest post, “the story is what people respond to”. And Obama’s had one of the finest in living political memory.

Obama seems to have learned from Kerry’s mistakes in 2004 and understood that having strong arguments isn’t enough. Either you use them as building blocks to assemble a powerful narrative, or you can just forget it. Of course that stronger bricks build stronger houses – but, in the end, is the house that people buy, not the materials.

Obama’s story worked wonderfully because it was built upon a clear-cut positioning. In everyone’s minds, Obama was the candidate for change. Those who supported him believed this change would be for the better, while those who were against him feared that he would change things for the worse. But no one disputed that Obama stood for “change”.

Owning the “change” category in a time that begged for it proved an insurmountable advantage, one that managed to deflate potential shortcomings like inexperience and, yes, race.

One of the strongest sub-plots of Obama’s narrative was that he managed to assert himself as a post-racial candidate. Rather than being seen as a “black candidate”, he was perceived as a “candidate that was black”. It may seem like a tiny nuance, but it makes a world of difference.

That, however, was only made possible because the top-of-mind category was already occupied with “change”, pushing “black” to the lower echelons. America’s racial issues didn’t disappear overnight, they were just bypassed by a shrewd use of decision-making laws. People didn’t elect a black candidate – they were just too busy looking the other way to pay much attention to the fact that the candidate they were electing was black.

Of course that Obama’s stately figure, with his low-tone commanding voice and perfectly-pitched speech, helped a great deal. But had it not been for his flawless positioning, and all those arresting qualities may have not sufficed.

Having laid the terrain for his story to grow, Obama took great care to trim it cautiously, never loosing sight of the master plan. The result was a rock solid narrative, from which all the inconsistencies had been carefully extirpated. Obama wasn’t denouncing the big sharks on Main Street just to be seen gleefully swimming with them on Wall Street. His speech was the same everywhere, his manners equally stately and respectful, among white and blue-collar workers alike. It suffices to see his response to the soon-to-be-forgotten Joe the Plumber to see what I’m talking about.

Again, the reactions to his speeches were opposite – those who supported him saw them as inspiring, while those who were against him decried them as nothing but a rhetorical void. But everyone basically agreed that  – hopeful or empty as you may see it – his narrative was pretty much the same everywhere.

One could point out that only a fresh player like Obama could reach for this degree of message consistency. Well, it’s true that seasoned political players like Hillary or McCain have a harder time maintaining consistency, if only because of the amount of speeches they’ve been letting out over the years. But it wasn’t inconsistencies regarding their positions 5 or 10 years ago that sank their narratives. No, their record over the campaign trail proved more than enough for that.

Although impressive, Obama’s consistency wasn’t totally foolproof. In September, I wrote here about the dangers that the passage of the off-shore drilling bill posed in terms of puncturing the consistency in the Democratic message. Has I pointed out then, more than the substance of back-tracking (which was little) it was the appearance of back-tracking (which was huge) that should have scared the Democratic leadership into not doing it at the time.

This, however, was poorly explored by the opposite camp – after all, it’s hard to punch holes in the other’s boat when we’re hard at work making them on our own – and the economic crisis soon eclipsed the issue altogether.

Obama held another trump to help him overcome this glitches, and that was his authenticity.

Not only was he saying that he was the candidate for change, he was also perceived to be authentic in this claim. This was key in coating Obama with that rock-star glow that made hundreds of thousands flock to see him. He was different, and he was the real thing. Bono knew what he was talking about when he made that song.

Finally, there was another powerful quality to Obama’s narrative, and that was that it was hopeful. No matter what the issue or how grim the assessment that Obama made of it, he always managed to offer a glimmer of hope, to somehow make people feel they could, and would, turn things around.

That was crucial in involving the audience in his narrative. People need to feel that things are not going well for them to want to change, but they also need to feel that the situation isn’t hopeless, or else they’ll turn apathetic.

Obama managed to strike that elusive balance perfectly. While the “change” tagline addressed the need for renewal, the “Yes we can” slogan provided the much-needed call to action, at the same time encapsulating beautifully the mythic American “can-do attitude”. Maybe he could have done even better in strategic terms. But I really can’t see how.

In the end, the man with the best story won. Given its tremendous qualities, it’s no wonder.

“Wassup” Obama Ad

This unofficial Obama ad, released by 60 Frames, builds on the famous “Wassup” Budweiser campaign from 2000 that got DDB a Cannes Grand Prix and a Grand Clio.

Eight years later, instead of relaxing “seeing the game, having a bud”, the friends are now stressing over War in Iraq, economic and environmental catastrophes, unemployment, home foreclosure and rising healthcare bills.

The once good-humored cry of “wassup” now assumes a distinctly desperate tone, with one of the characters even trying to kill himself has he watches the stock market crash on his computer screen (but he ends up also crashing, in a reminder of the suicide scene of Emir Kusturica’s Arizona Dream)

The sequence acts as a powerful indictment of the disastrous Bush years, to which McCain is almost subliminally linked (if you pay attention, you can distinctly hear McCain’s “evil wizard” voice coming from the TV set at the beginning of the ad).

Taking on the upbeat nation portrayed in the original 2000 campaign, Bush now leaves a busted and depressed country, in which the most positive character is actually the one fighting in Iraq (although it could be said that’s just because 60 Frames wouldn’t dare to serve voters more graphic imagery than a soldier calling home from a payphone – and, by the way, they were smart not to overpress the point).

After all the gloom and doom, however, there’s a soothing note, as an Obama ad plays on the TV set, prompting the hopeful line that “change” is coming. Yes, the country may be broken, but there’s no reason to start hanging ourselves from the ceiling.

Well, not yet at least – we can always leave that rope in reserve, just in case we wake up on November 5th to the doomsday scenario of Palin walking around in the Oval Office without a straitjacket.

Fortunately, though, that’s looking increasingly unlikely. And in case you pick up the phone to one of those McCain’s robocalls, you can just shout back “Wassup!!” I bet that will make you feel a whole lot better.

The Original Ad

Obama, Bond in a BMW. McCain, Jack Bauer in a Ford.

If Obama was a car brand, what would it be? According to a just released survey, he would be a posh BMW. John McCain, on the other hand, would have to conform with the more blue-collar – but extremely “real American” – Ford.

No wonder, then, that Obama would be driving that BMW as the übercool James Bond, while McCain would be thrusting away in a Ford pick-up as the red-blooded Jack Bauer. Well, at least that’s what respondents to the just released 2008 Presidential ImagePower survey say.

With voters striving to survive the barrage of polls and surveys thrown at them 24/7 by every media outlet, branding guru Landor and market research firm Penn, Schoen & Berland found a clever way to still get some of that ever-shortening attention span.

Forget all those dull questions like “who do you see as more trustful” or “which candidate do you regard as more reliable on the economy”. Right, like any of that really mattered. At the end of the day, people will vote for the candidate they like the most, and they choose it based on the narrative he has attached. The rest is just pointless babble.

In this consumerism-plagued world, what better way would there be to gauge the narrative attached to each candidate than to find out what brands people identify them with? So, in a repeat of the exercise premiered in 2004, the Presidential ImagePower survey now pitched Obama, McCain, Palin and Biden against a set of brands, in 15 categories, to see how people perceive them.

In most categories, the brands selected for each candidate reflect the common perceptions about both men. When asked to name some attributes for the candidates, people characterized the Democratic nominee as charming, approachable, compassionate, intelligent and unifying, while his GOP opponent was seen as strong, reliable and respected.

So, while Obama is a Google, McCain is a AOL. Where McCain is a Wall-Mart, Obama is a Target. There are also some similarities, with both candidates being identified with the game-changing Ipod, as well as with Starbucks and MySpace. Each of this brands is seen as transformative, and this is how both Obama and McCain are perceived. One being the eternal Republican maverick and the other the first black candidate to the presidency, there’s no great jolts there.

There are, however, some startling surprises. In almost half of the categories (7 out of 15), respondents attributed the same brands to Obama and… Sarah Palin! They are, for instance, both identified with Google and People Magazine. Will Palin be shocked to find herself in such, uh, “un-American” company?

The similarities are even more pronounced between McCain and the Democratic candidate to the vice-presidency, Joe Biden. They share brands in 12 of the 15 categories.

In a presidential race that is all about change, both tickets have strived to stake a claim to the concept. As Scott Siff, exec VP at Penn, Schoen & Berland explains, “this similarity in the candidates’ brand strategies also indicates that whichever candidate best achieves the positioning they are both trying to claim may well be the winner on November 4”.

According to branding laws, this should spell victory for Obama. The Democratic candidate, having been the first to position himself over the “change” axis, shall have the top-of-mind advantage – something very hard to beat.

However, before we start chanting “President Obama”, it must be pointed out that the 2008 results mirror the 2004 survey in identifying the Republican candidate with mass-market brands, whilst the Democrat is identified with premium ones. And we all know how that election turned out.

So, what to make of this? Will the top-of-mind rule award victory to the Democratic well-constructed narrative of change? Or will Palin’s “real America” come out on top at the end, and again push the red-blooded, down-to-earth guy all the way to the White House?

Obama Wins! … Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year – Advertising Age – MOY 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. (AdAge.com) — Just weeks before he demonstrates whether his campaign’s blend of grass-roots appeal and big media-budget know-how has converted the American electorate, Sen. Barack Obama has shown he’s already won over the nation’s brand builders. He’s been named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008.

From unknown to presidential nominee
“I think he did a great job of going from a relative unknown to a household name to being a candidate for president,” said Linda Clarizio, president of AOL’s Platform A, the sponsor of the opening-night dinner attended by 750 where the votes were cast.

“I honestly look at [Obama’s] campaign and I look at it as something that we can all learn from as marketers,” said Angus Macaulay, VP-Rodale marketing solutions “To see what he’s done, to be able to create a social network and do it in a way where it’s created the tools to let people get engaged very easily. It’s very easy for people to participate.”

Jon Fine, marketing and media columnist for BusinessWeek, pointed to Mr. Obama’s facility with engaging voters in social-media channels. “It’s the fuckin’ Web 2.0 thing,” he said.

via Obama Wins! … Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year – Advertising Age – MOY 2008

Neoconservative Threat: Elect McCain Or Risk War With Iran

OK, you aren’t buying the story that Obama is a “terrorists’ pal” or a “elections riggers’ pal”.  You don’t even seem to care that his middle name is Hussein and that “Obama” rhymes with “Osama” (both telltale signs of a dangerous, un-American terrorist).

But what if I told you that voting for Obama would increase (and not decrease, as you may naively believe) the chance of war with Iran? Ah, I bet that grabbed your attention.

But wait, didn’t Obama say that the was willing to talk to Iranian leaders, and not bomb them? Didn’t McCain showed almost an eagerness to confront them?

That’s true, but here’s the catch: Obama, being the girlie liberal that he is, might never have the guts to actually launch military attacks on Iran, as McCain gladly would. But Bush, or Israel, could.

Confronted with the prospect of a whinny liberal like Obama taking his place at the White House, Bush could feel tempted to launch military strikes in the waning days of his Presidency. On the other hand, if McCain were to be elected, Bush would feel less tempted to embark on this final folly, since he could rest assured that macho McCain would be willing to do the same at any time. A similar train of thought would be followed by Israeli leadership.

So, which one would you choose: Obama=War or McCain=No War? I bet that kept you thinking, right?

I know this argument is more surreal than many would think possible, but that’s what archconservative Bill Kristol, of all people, put forward last Sunday. Having labeled the McCain campaign tactics “stupid”, Kristol proposes the way forward: scare them in a more effective way.

As Kristol sees it, the problem isn’t that McCain has embarked on a smear campaign through an array of negative ads. The problem is they’re simply not working. Despite all of McCain innuendoes and Palin winks and nods, Obama keeps moving ahead on the polls. So it’s time for a change in tactics. Well, sort of.

If your scare campaign isn’t working, what do you need to do? Why, scare them more, that’s what you need. So you brandish your stick and say “vote McCain or Iran gets it”.

Nevermind that McCain recently sang “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” in an election rally. Nevermind also Palin’s view that the US shouldn’t “second guess” Israeli policy towards Iran, thus providing a tacit endorsement for military action.

Nevermind, finally, that the economic turmoil all but invalidates any prospect of the US embarking on a new military adventure anytime soon. Bush might disregard the consequences, but there’s some sane people around him, not least the top brass in the military.

All you need to do is ignore reality and charge ahead with some preposterous, attention-grabbing thesis that will short-circuit the proceedings of rational thought. That’s the sort of shock and awe tactics that, hopefully, will turn white into black and black into white, herding the terrified voters into McCain’s military arms.

Kristol, after all, is an expert on this matter of ignoring reality in order to build a scary narrative. He was one of the main promoters of the Iraq War. And he still hasn’t given up on Iran.

Could offshore drilling cost Obama the Presidency?

The House of Representatives today passed a bill allowing for off-shore drilling in the US coasts.

The Democrats have been strongly against the measure, but now they decided to cave in and allow for drilling to take place between 50 miles (80 km) and 100 miles (160 km) off the coast.

For years the issue has been an even-splitter, with as much support for extended drilling as for conservation efforts.

But the recent surge in oil prices – which saw gas jump to over $4 a gallon in the US – caused a shift in public opinion. A recent Gallup poll found 57% of Americans now supporting offshore drilling, with 41% still against it.

Looking to ride the wave of public feeling on the matter, the McCain campaign has made the issue a constant talking point, with McCain being a very vocal supporter of offshore drilling.

That wasn’t always the case. In fact, until May this year, John McCain was against offshore drilling. But then he decided to ditch the maverick approach and get with the conservative program.

Now it’s time for the Democrats to also switch tracks on the matter. Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker and a Florida Representative, was staunchly against offshore drilling, pledging that she would not budge because she was “trying to save the planet”.

Well, now she just did. She may not have had a choice, at least since Obama opened the way to the turn-around when he recently signaled that he would look favorably on a compromise on the issue.

It’s true that Senator Obama wrapped his change of position – from “no, never” to “well, just a little” – in very sensible words about compromise and moving forward on the subject of Energy Security.

I’s also true that the measure that today passed the House is a very watered-down version of the bill the Republicans wanted.

Instead of the 3-mile limit they were after, a 50-mile limit will be imposed, which is no small difference: according to estimates, 90% of the oil lying off the US coasts is within this 50-mile limit, and would as such be off-limits to oil exploration.

Some may see it as a smart move from the Democratic camp: defuse an explosive subject that was working well for McCain, while ceding little ground on the matter.

Actually, what the Democrats did was add vinegar to the wound.

Even a Republican-style full opening of off-shore drilling would have little impact US energy independence, and none in short-term fuel prices.

In fact, the Energy Information Administration, in its Annual Energy Outlook 2007, clearly stated that “the projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.”

The Democratic-endorsed bill will have, for all the fanfare surrounding it, an even more risible effect.

However, in the political world the fanfare is, as they say, “of the essence”, and it’s in this respect that the Democrats have made a blunder.

With this bill, they opened themselves to two kinds or Republican attacks:

First, that they are trying to deceive the public – already the McCain camp is portraying this as a mere token effort to address the issue without actually moving forward – which has some measure of truth in it.

Second, and most damaging, it exposes the Obama campaign to charges of flip-flopping.

True, McCain also changed his tune. However, it’s not as bad for McCain to flip-flop on this matter, since he is actually falling in line with the expected conservative position of “drill, baby, drill”.

Obama doesn’t have the same get-out-of-jail card, since he will be perceived as abandoning the long-standing Democratic position on the matter and as bending with the wind on a crucial matter.

As recently as June this year, Obama was pledging that, if elected President, he would continue to uphold the moratorium on offshore drilling. He noted that this stance “may not poll well”, and accused his rival of changing his position to appease the public sentiment.

Obama concluded that his job was not to “go with the polls”, but to “tell the American people the truth about what’s going to work when it comes to our long-term energy future”.

He should have stuck with that position and prized consistency over this kind of expedients.

The Democrats understood that being perceived as not doing anything to lower gas prices was a risk they couldn’t afford. Well, they’re wrong. Being perceived as inconsistent is the risk they can’t afford.

Whereas McCain is reenforcing the consistency of the Republican message with his flip-flopping, Obama is weakening his, and muddling the Democratic positioning in the voters’ mind.

At a time when the two candidates are shoulder to shoulder on the polls, that is something that he should not want to do.

With the specter of John Kerry hanging over the matter, we have to ask ourselves: could this bill cost Obama the Presidency?


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