It was no surprise that during the 2008 presidential election the candidates were compared to brands and perceived as brands. And yes, the final two candidates did have trademarks. But does that really make them brands?
It seems as though the notion of “brand” faces a brand strategy (or naming?) challenge: almost everything and everybody is a brand these days. Countries are brands, cities are brands, seasons are brands, we have our own personal brand (does this make my social network log-in and web page my ‘trademark registration’?).
It was therefore no surprise that during the 2008 presidential election the candidates were compared to brands and perceived as brands. And yes, the final two candidates did have trademarks. Obama’s symbol looked like Pepsi’s, which made them smile. And McCain’s logo and star looked a lot like the logo of the McCain fries I ate when I was young. Also, both candidates spent a lot of money on advertising and used the digital realm to engage with the voters. But are they brands?
If Obama and McCain were to be perceived as brands, they would in any case be dated brands. In today’s competitive environment, with an excess of (user-generated) content just waiting to be found via search engines, brands are no longer about image and what they have to say. Brands should now listen to their audience, and respond by acting in a relevant, authentic way. Brands are behavior prompted by what they stand for.
This is the exact opposite of the presidential candidates. During this election, McCain, as a ‘maverick,’ did stop his campaign briefly to address the economic crisis. And Obama put his message of ‘change’ into practice by using the Internet to reach all 50 states and harness a community of followers. Otherwise, it was mainly talk rather than action.
The presidential election, unlike the current marketplace, is still a situation where the audience takes time to listen to the message and accepts the information without any actions to prove it. Will this be different in four years? Will candidates be forced to apply what they believe in? Should they use their time working on solutions instead of campaigning and spend their money not on advertising but to sponsor cases that they support?
As for now, McCain has not been given the opportunity to show how he would act on his message. At the same time, for Obama to cultivate the trust he gained and establish this with the rest of the country, he has to act. Just like a brand.
Obama’s first initiative of listening is a strong one. But the people will expect actions that deliver on Obama’s brand promise of change and hope, whether it is building the administration or make a choice about the First Puppy .
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