Obama’s campaign on Tuesday will go down in history as the biggest day ever in the history of marketing

Canadian Prime Minister Steven  Harper in today’s Globe and Mail  calls the win by Barack Obama “a remarkable campaign.”In particular, Mr. Harper spoke of “his admiration for Mr. Obama’s primary race victories and said his people would be studying the win”. He stated that Mr. Obama, in a sense, “came from out of nowhere to beat established political machines.”

Perhaps I can save Mr. Harper and his staff a lot of time . He can simply read this blog to find out how a relatively unknown man younger than all of his opponents. Black. With a bad-sounding name could become president of the USA. The simple answer to Obama’s success can be found in most  marketing books. Maybe the Prime Minister should hire some marketing advisers or better still read some marketing books.

According to Al Ries in the latest edition of Advertising Age , It didn’t matter who Obama’s competition was. Barack Obama had a better marketing strategy than either Clinton or McCain “Change.”

As he points out.” If you tell the truth often enough and keep repeating it, the truth gets bigger and bigger, creating an aura of legitimacy and authenticity. ” Ries asks: What word did Hillary Clinton own? First she tried “experience.” When she saw the progress Mr. Obama was making, she shifted to “Countdown to change.” Then when the critics pointed out her me-too approach, she shifted to “Solutions for America.”
What word is associated with Ms. Clinton today? I don’t know, do you?


Then there’s John McCain.  An Oct. 26 cover story in The New York Times Magazine was titled “The Making (and Remaking and Remaking) of the Candidate.” The visual listed some of the labels the candidate was associated with: “Conservative. Maverick. Hero. Straight talker. Commander. Bipartisan conciliator. Experienced leader. Patriot.” Subhead: “When a Campaign Can’t Settle on a Central Narrative, Does It Imperil Its Protagonist?”
Actually, Mr. McCain did settle on a slogan, “Country first,” but it was way too late in the campaign and it was a slogan that had little relevance to the average voter.
Tactically, both Ms. Clinton and Mr. McCain focused their messages on “I can do change better than my opponent can do change.”
“Better” never works in marketing. The only thing that works in marketing is “different.” When you’re different, you can pre-empt the concept in consumers’ minds so your competitors can never take it away from you.

Now how often do I as a marketing educator and consultant talk about consistency and the importance of crafting a strong message and sticking with it through “thick and thin” but what happens in most cases, organizations  keep changing the message and worst they develop messages and tactics with out a strategy. A recipe for disaster. Communications people in particular  are notorious for being all about tactics and not being strategic . Marketing requires you to be disciplined and to STAY ON STRATEGY (EVEN WHEN IT RAINS OR THEIR ARE BIG STORMS ON THE HORIZON)

Ries states that “about 70% of the population thinks the country is going in the wrong direction, hence Obama’s focus on the word “change.” Why didn’t talented politicians like Ms. Clinton consider using this concept? Based on my experience, in the boardrooms of corporate America “change” is an idea that is too simple to sell. Corporate executives are looking for advertising concepts that are “clever.” For all the money being spent, corporate executives want something they couldn’t have thought of themselves. Hopefully, something exceedingly clever.

Yes Simplicity Sells i.e. the KISS principle (KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID)

Early in my career I had the opportunity to work in the marketing operation of a very large retail operation and one of my assignments  was to meet with the VP of Marketing every Wednesday to go over the weekly/monthly advertising campaigns. His golden rule was consistency and stay on strategy and anytime I was off- strategy or our campaigns were not consistent with the overall branding I would get the proverbial “arrow in the heart” . After yanking out a few arrows out of my chest, I learned quickly to be consistent and on-strategy.

What did Obama do?

Reis points out that

“What’s wrong with 90% of all advertising? Organizations  try to “communicate” when they should be trying to “position.”
Mr. Obama’s objective was not to communicate the fact that he was an agent of change. In today’s environment, every politician running for the country’s highest office was presenting him or herself as an agent of change. What Mr. Obama actually did was to repeat the “change” message over and over again, so that potential voters identified Mr. Obama with the concept. In other words, he owns the “change” idea in voters’ minds.”

What have we learned over the past few decades in marketing and positioning, here are just a few concepts : Make sure you target a corner of the prospect´s mind that´s still virgin;- think outward (I.e. from the customer´s viewpoint), always look for a niche to occupy before the competition, and give the customer what (s)he wants to listen about your organization; the message you convey should be your actual strategy; keep your message as long as possible to achieve your strategic goals: don´t change your mind or the customer will change his/hers as well.

This stuff is almost 30 years old but I guess Obama’s people read the marketing books on positioning.

Here is Ries again.
In today’s overcommunicated society, it takes endless repetition to achieve your marketing goals. For a typical consumer brand, that might mean years and years of advertising and hundreds of millions of dollars.
Most companies don’t have the money, don’t have the patience and don’t have the vision to achieve what Mr. Obama did. They jerk from one message to another, hoping for a magic bullet that will energize their brands. That doesn’t work today. That is especially ineffective for a politician because it creates an aura of vacillation and indecisiveness, fatal qualities for someone looking to move up the political ladder.

“If you’re losing the battle, shift the battlefield” is an old military axiom that applies equally as well to marketing. By his relentless focus on change, Mr. Obama shifted the political battlefield. He forced his opponents to devote much of their campaign time discussing changes they proposed for the country. And how their changes would differ from the changes that he proposed.
All the talk about “change” distracted both Ms. Clinton and Mr. McCain from talking about their strengths: their track records, their experience and their relationships with world leaders.

Mr. Obama was selected as Advertising Age’s Marketer of the Year by the executives attending the Association of National Advertisers’ annual conference in Orlando last month.

Note that  I did not include in this blog  the way Obama used social media and the Internet for fundraising and getting his message out, or his strategies for getting workers out in the community to encourage people to vote for him , or his coolness and approach to giving speeches , yes he is a great orator but a great speaker is only as good as the message he gives. So I have not discussed his tactics , which may be another blog . My message here is marketing is about strategy especially positioning and Obama had a great strategy and his opponents did not and that is why he won.

 

 

 

 


About jimmintz

Managing Partner, CEPSM Jim Mintz is a veteran marketing professional with many years of experience as a practioner and academic. He is presently Managing Partner at CEPSM and Program Director of the “Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing” at Sprott School ... Specialty Areas: Social Marketing, Integrated Marketing Communications, Public Sector and Non Profit Marketing
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One Comment

  1. I can tell that this is not the first time at all that you mention the topic. Why have you decided to touch it again?

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