Obama and his Brand: Blurring the Boundaries

Months ago, I was out with a boy. A Democrat. Actually, an “Obamacrat.” Like many Obama worshippers, especially ones blessed with superb litigating skills, he couldn’t help but be fanatical in his adoration for his leader’s good words. In an attempt to turn our “spirited” session into less of a “sermon,” and more of an “exchange” among friends, I exercised my first right. I grabbed his martini, his tie, and offered up an opinion that went something like this: The man has plenty of raw talent, deep pockets, and a well-admired wife. However, it’s a shame he’s likely to be a one-term prez. My date took that remark about as well as True Blood‘s Sookie Stackhouse would have tolerated a stake being pierced through Bill Compton’s heart. Now, I have been deposed once or twice before. Never before in a Ritz Carlton bar, however, nor by an obsessed creature seeking my blood. The night ended rather abruptly as the Monstercrat went on to accuse me of not even knowing my “own polling district,” thereby making it personal.

My polling district. Therein, my friend, lies part of President Obama’s brand problem.

It’s not about the polling districts. Though Obama’s branding gurus are acting like it is. It’s not about him either. It’s about him being the President of “us,” as in the United States. While still trying to brand himself as somehow separate from the office, and therefore, separate from the country he’s leading.

Most people are attributing President Obama’s PR difficulties to the wrong issues. Of late, he and his family have been subjected to a lot of flack—mostly for exercising liberties, perks, and entitlements that come along with being the biggest cheese in our land. Despite all the negative media spin, I don’t necessarily fault Michelle for sashaying thru Spain this summer with Sasha and Co. (Be honest. In her shoes, you would have probably taken exactly this kind of siesta, too.) Is it bad that the President favors taking meetings out of the office and onto the golf course? C’mon, we all know great aha‘s happen when tooling around the Vineyard. Nope, no qualms with that either.

However, last month, at a presidential event at the University of Texas, our elected, bi-partisan king showed up for work bearing a very democratic Obama campaign logo—with no presidential eagle seal to be found. Hello, Houston, we have a problem. One liberty the President and his marketing team should not be taking is mucking around with the iconography of the United States. In the recent redesign of the Oval Office, I was relieved to see that the new custom-made carpet with its presidential quotes still carried the Presidential Seal. Marketing tactics are in place, but they seem to involve blurring boundaries where, to my mind, there are definite lines.

Again. It’s not about him. It’s about being the President of “us,” as in the United States.

Channeling Bill Maher, I’m offering up two new rules for your marketing consideration, Mr. Obama:

1- There’s a reason Advertising Age named you “Marketer of the Year” in 2008. You ran a brilliant marketing campaign. You sold us on “Yes we can” and a pretty snazzy logo. Well, it’s now 2010, you’ve won the election and, in fact, are President of the United States. Point being: When you were asked to check your personal BlackBerry at the door, you should also have checked in your campaign trail logo! You don’t get to use your “Brand Obama” logo on the job—except when hanging out with the likes of Anna Wintour. How about you and your award-winning marketing team start throwing some marketing magic into the wings of the eagle and revitalize U.S, the U.S. brand? Your staff may be thinking of re-election—as well they should—but so long as you’re in that office, a huge part of your “brand” is the country and how you’re running it. Your marketing should reflect that.

2- I’ve heard all the crap from Dan Pfeiffer, the White House Communications Director: “Given the difficulty of reaching people in this hyperactive media environment, we look for opportunities to reach people in environments that are not traditional forums for political newsmakers.” Yeah, yeah. But please Mr. President, stay off The View. Send Michelle. I’m glad it’s a show your wife watches, but if Michelle can make it to Spain, she can certainly find her way to Barbara Walters’ lovely studio set. Stop playing it safe. Stop campaigning. If this were a reality show, I would vote you off for being a wuss. Go spend some time with the boys over at Meet the Press, and let’s see you break a sweat, Mr. President—somewhere other than the golf course or the basketball court.

One last word to my beloved Obamacrat: For the record, I’m a registered Republican, currently in NYC, District number 8. However, I also switch party lines all the time. If Obama’s election (and George W. Bush’s for that matter) taught us anything, it’s that you can make no assumptions about anyone, no matter what their polling district stats say. Now that I have migrated to the City of Angels, it seems right to re-consider my party status, so I have. Although a miniscule speck of a political minority in the state of California, I’m still planning on staying Republican. Sorry, buddy. It could even just be a branding thing. What can I say? Just never been a big fan of the ass

Filed: branding, crisis pr, public relations

Tagged: , , ,


  • Funny piece but a faulty premise.

    Obama is still a media genius. He’s controlling the debate and has accomplished more in his first two years than any President since FDR. Sure his approval numbers are down but we are in a the middle of a severe recession. Regan’s numbers were similar in 1982.

    He has tried to be bipartisan but what does he get for it? The GOP even filibustered small business tax cuts (until two GOP senators who are retiring broke off yesterday). The public knows this. While they are anti-incumbent, they trust the GOP less than the Dems. And despite the GOP’s concerted efforts to block efforts to stimulate the economy (so they can hope to pick up more seats), the economy will turn around and the the POTUS’s appoval ratings wil improve with the rise in GDP.

    And when out with boys, especially thoughtful ones, it’s probably not a good idea to diss Obama; not if you want to get to first base.


    • kwas

      I ask this lovingly Steve: by any chance, are you wearing a tie and nursing a martini?

      Looking at Obama’s overall rising star these past years (and especially thinking back to who even knew his name prior to 2004), he is a media genius indeed. Yet at the same time, just as he’s not a Muslim (although 24% of the public still thinks he is), he’s also not the political Messiah his campaign painted him to be. In offering an opinion about this widening disparity between the myth and the man, which any Brand Girl is entitled to do, I simply pointed out some of his media missteps since taking office. Speculating that Obama might be a one-term prez unless he gets his media act and his policy act together—and playing nice with one another—is no more a diss than thinking Derek Jeter was playing kinda dirty when he faked getting hit by a pitch to get on base. That’s not dissing, and it’s not even playing party politics. It’s just stating the obvious.

      And ’cause I can’t resist: when out with a girl, especially a bipartisan one, allow her a chance to take a full swing when at bat in a pennant battle of the minds. I’ll bet the house that she’ll get beyond first. And she won’t have to fake a thing either.


  • BG,

    I appreciate what you wrote concerning the political implications of an obviously fantastic media master who has not learned what he was elected to do by “some” of the electorate. And from my “R-sided” perspective, his opponents continue to be afflicted by the same disease. They all spend their time trying to be elected in the next election, saying what ever they feel they need to say to be elected, and the electorate not holding them accountable for their words and deeds. I for one am skeptical that any of them will be true to their word or do their job.
    If my neighbor spends himself into bankruptcy, that is his problem. The politicians say they know the answers, have the credentials that show they are intelligent, and are truly good leaders. But, as our president once described the republicans (and as he, as the leader of the country, is doing now), they all are driving the car / country out of the ditch and into the abyss.
    I hope and pray that our country finds clarity. Borrowing $ 0.42 for every dollar we spend is lunacy and a sure-fire path to a country that will not be able to sustain itself? Why are our family members, neighbors, and all Americans not able to see that?
    I wish that America had the clarity of my 8 year old son (when he was 8) the day after his birthday. For you see, on that day, he became the holder of great treasure (if his eyes) that he received from friends and family. He counted what he had, knew where it all was, and was content with his treasure.
    Today, America continues to elect politicians act who act like children who think every day is their birthday; each day will be filled with gifts of other people’s treasure and never will they be required to be good stewards of their treasure. The country deserves a good steward . . . I don’t think our “myth” is the one


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