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February 20, 2019

Marketing Medicine

Brand Obama : How is the health of this visiting Presidential brand?


 All eyes in East Africa are upon Kenya this week, as the most powerful man on the planet comes to call. There’s something for everyone.

Car buffs are ogling pics of the Presidential Hummers. Military aviation nuts are peeking over the straggly fence at JKIA to spot Ospreys, Apaches and Globemasters. Space buffs are craning their optics to see if they can pick out spy satellites in new geo-stationery orbits. A Kikuyu man has assembled a dowry for the eldest daughter of America’s Commander. And Western Kenyan eyes are fixed upon the great man’s granny, for signs that she’s about to split for a homecoming party that they might otherwise miss.

Nairobi is replanted and repainted; street children have been relocated. Kenyans are united in the hope that their long lost brother will shower them with benefits.

And why not – don't we all need something to look forward to, even marketers? So let’s consider where in the marketing life cycle is Brand Obama?

CNN suggests that legacy is the order of the day for this brand: "After the Supreme Court twice refused to gut the Affordable Care Act and a deal with Republicans revived his trade agenda, Obama is two-thirds of the way to three big wins that will help define his place in history."

Certainly the prospect of a nuclear deal with Iran, offering to break 30 years of visceral hostility between Washington and Tehran would be high on his legacy list. CNN is of the view that Obama senses a circle closing and feels vindication for his first presidential campaign in 2008 that set out to deliver transformational change.

With Obamacare he intends that people no longer have to worry about going bankrupt when they get sick. "That's when America soars, when we look out for one another and we take care of each other. When we strive to do better and to be better than the generation that came before us and try to build something better for generations to come," says Obama.

In early 2009, the newly appointed White House social secretary mused about the “endless possibilities” ushered in by Obama’s sweeping victory the previous November. “We have the best brand on earth: the Obama brand,” Desirée Rogers insisted.

This month The Globe and Mail, liberal/progressive conservative newspaper of record in neighbouring Canada, opined “It’s been a while since anyone in Barack Obama’s inner circle dared make a claim that bold." The Obama brand, or what’s left of it, is now a niche product, says the ‘Mop and Pail’. If Republicans have a problem attracting minority voters, the Obama era has left Democrats with the opposite problem.

Washington Monthly, a left-of-centre US political magazine has laboured to assemble 50 Obama achievements. Beyond healthcare reform these include economic measures like the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to spur economic growth amid the greatest recession since the Great Depression. Linked to that was necessary reform of Wall Street and the financial sector. Obama is down as ending the war in Iraq (which may come as news to some Iraqis) and beginning the draw down of war in Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden was eliminated on his watch; so in effect were Gadaffi and Mubarak.

Brand Obama, says Washington Monthly, has improved America’s image abroad. From 2008 to 2011, favorable opinion toward the United States rose in ten of fifteen countries surveyed by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. No more recent results are cited.

Brand Obama has worked to create conditions to begin closing dirtiest power plants, passed credit card reforms and protected two liberal seats on the US Supreme Court. (I’m beginning to sense a scraping noise here). More sensationally Brand Obama let Space Shuttle die and killed planned Moon Mission (well, that wins no plaudits from me, I’m a badge toting NASA fan).

Down around the bottom of the list of 50 we reach pushed broadband coverage and avoided scandal. Now, if we are judging the health of a political brand I think the latter achievement should rank much more highly. As of November 2011, Obama had served longer than any President in decades without a scandal, as measured by the appearance of the word “scandal” (or lack thereof) on the front page of the Washington Post. And I’m not aware of any sleaze since then, private or public.

Finally, way down at 49/50 we find helped South Sudan declare independence, to which we may soon add helped Kenyans feel better about themselves for a weekend.

You’ll note that I haven’t included what Republicans think about brand Obama. As Paul Waldman, senior writer at The American Prospect says,"It’s safe to say that no president in modern times has had his legitimacy questioned by the opposition party as much as Barack Obama. And as his term in office enters its final phase, Republicans are embarking on an entirely new enterprise: They have decided that as long as he holds the office of the presidency, it’s no longer necessary to respect the office itself."

What this short review has shown me is that the Obama brand has survived against the political odds, involved itself in a myriad of areas, communicated pretty well and held itself above scandal. So I wish the President a safe and happy visit to our region, the memories from which should enhance his personal legacy.


Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people.


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