How Obama got his branding right

How Obama got his branding right
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First Published: Tue, Feb 12 2008. 11 43 PM IST

Firm beliefs: US presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s strategy of focusing on one word, ‘change’, worked brilliantly.
Firm beliefs: US presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s strategy of focusing on one word, ‘change’, worked brilliantly.
Updated: Tue, Feb 12 2008. 11 43 PM IST
Whether you are selling a politician or a product, your objective is exactly the same: build a brand in the prospect’s mind.
Firm beliefs: US presidential hopeful Barack Obama’s strategy of focusing on one word, ‘change’, worked brilliantly.
In the case of the politician, the brand can transcend several generations. There have been 38 presidents of the United States. Six of them have been related: John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and George Bush and George W. Bush.
Currently, Hillary Clinton is trying use the Clinton brand to do the same thing that George W. Bush did. She may well succeed. Clinton launched her campaign by focusing on “experience”. Not a bad idea, because it’s a word that differentiated her from her chief rival, Barack Obama.
While Clinton was clever, Obama was brilliant. He focused on the word “change”, a concept that matched the mood of the American public, yearning for change after seven years of Republican rule. Obama’s theme: “Change we can believe in.”
Almost immediately, Clinton realized her mistake and jumped on the change bandwagon. Her new theme: “Countdown to change.”
It’s too late. Today, Clinton looks like a follower instead of a leader. But, still, the Clinton brand is very strong so she still might achieve her goal. (Look at the power of the Gandhi brand in India.)
When George W. Bush ran for the Presidency in 2000, he called himself, “the compassionate conservative”. His opponent that year was Al Gore. What word did Gore try to pre-empt? I don’t know, and most voters didn’t, either. After he lost the election, Gore focused on a single concept, “global warming.” Today, he is one of the world’s best-known individuals, and a winner of a 2007 Nobel peace prize. Most politicians and companies ignore one of the most fundamental concepts in marketing: Own a word in the prospect’s mind.
If you want to run for office, if you want to launch a new brand, if you want to jump-start your business career, the first question to ask yourself is: “What word do I want to own in the minds of my prospects...” That would be an easy question to answer, except for the last part of the question, which is “... a word that nobody else owns?”
Al Ries
In the world of marketing, many major brands owe their success to the principle of owning a word. What I find almost impossible to understand, however, is the disconnect between a brand’s advertising and the word the brand owns in the mind.
Toyota is widely known as the most reliable car you can buy, yet the theme of Toyota’s advertising is “Moving forward”. Coca-Cola is widely known as the authentic cola (the real thing) while all other brands are mere imitations, yet the theme of Coke’s advertising is “The Coke side of life”.
Budweiser is widely known as the “King of Beers”, yet the theme of Budweiser advertising is “The great American lager”.
What keeps brands like Toyota, Coca-Cola and Budweiser on top of their categories is the incredible ability of a human being to retain ideas and concepts once they are firmly implanted in the mind. Even though those ideas might be decades old.
When picking a slogan, marketing people often make three fundamental mistakes:
1. Developing a slogan in isolation: A slogan doesn’t exist in a vaccuum. Rather, it’s part of an advertisement, a brochure, a press release, a website, etc. That’s why you shouldn’t judge a slogan apart from the rest of the message.
Instead of developing dozens of possible slogans and then picking the best one, a good marketing person would first develop a “pattern” advertisement that reads like the strategy of the brand. Then figure out the best “sum-up” concept to put at the bottom of the ad.
2. Trying to develop an exciting or emotional slogan: Take a joke with the punch line, “Professional courtesy.” In itself that’s not an interesting or funny line until you hear the preceding sentence: “Why don’t sharks bite lawyers?”
Take the slogan “Marlboro Country.” It’s only a powerful slogan when combined with the cowboy visuals.
3. Thinking in years instead of decades: Some of the most successful advertising programmes have been the ones that have run for decades, not years. This year the Marlboro cowboy is 55 years old. It took 25 years of cowboy consistency before Marlboro passed Winston to become the No. 1 selling cigarette in the US. Suppose some new marketing manager had arrived and said, “I’m tired of cowboys. Why can’t we use football players?”
Change is a powerful idea for Barack Obama, but it can be devastating to an advertising programme.
The author is a globally renowned marketing expert. He is chairman, Ries and Ries, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, and author or co-author of 10 books on marketing.
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First Published: Tue, Feb 12 2008. 11 43 PM IST
More Topics: Al Ries | Barack Obama | US | President | Product |