Tag Archives: Bloomberg

Obama: the brand

Jim Messina was an undergraduate when he managed his first campaign, and has won every race since then. He’s now manager of the Obama reelection campaign and going to great lengths to maintain his record.

source: huffingtonpostMessina has purportedly read volumes of US election history, but he spent the first months before beginning the Obama campaign in earnest meeting not with successful senators and former campaign managers, but with CEOs and senior execs of Apple, Google, facebook, Zynga, and DreamWorks. While Obama looks for support from left side of the House and Senate, Messina’s also brought Stephen Spielberg and Vera Wang into the campaign. Messina’s campaign, he says, is more based on wunderkind business strategies (Zynga and facebook, for example) than any elections from previous centuries.

The most interesting part to me of Messina’s campaign is the part focused not on intellectual persuasion, but attachment-building via branding. To contrast this with Mitt Romney’s campaign, look at the merchandise pages of each of the candidates’ websites:

Romney’s store has:
2 types of bumper stickers
a window decal
2 buttons
4 different t-shirts (2 of the with just the semi-unrecognizable logo on them)
a baseball cap
a lapel pin, and
(regrettably) a heather grey quarter-zip-up sweatshirt

All of his products are on one page, and most of them look like print-screened logos on shirts from AC Moore.

Obama’s store includes:
iPhone cases,
Earth Day packs,
“I bark for Barack” magnets,
v-neck shirts for women under 45,
calendars,
yoga pants,
a $95 Monique Pean scarf,
a Vera Wang bag, a $95 “Thakoon Panichgul“, whatever that is,
dog bandanas,
dog sweaters,
Joe Biden mugs,
Obama jerseys,
rubber bracelets,
pint glasses,
aprons,
bangles,
cufflinks,
baby bibs,
grill spatulas,
soy candles,
golf divot tools,
and a six-pack cooler.

There’s also about a billion different types of tshirts, buttons, and bumper stickers, and a “for Obama” series: women for Obama, nurses for Obama, veterans for Obama, African Americans for Obama, Latinos for Obama, Hispanics for Obama, Asian American & Pacific Islanders for Obama, and environmentalists for Obama.

Romney’s shirts say, at most, “Romney” or “Believe” – one of Obama’s shirts says “Health Reform Still a BFD.” Granted, Romney is aiming at a different demographic (LL Bean fans, eg), but Obama’s 19 pages of merchandise make Romney’s 1 page look pitiful, from a branding point of view.

The Obama campaign’s brand-focused strategy is closely integrated with its other image-focused tactics: assigning Romney the cold, out-of-touch persona, for example.
While critics of the Bain capital narrative put out by the Obama campaign said that things like negativity and party inconsistency (Bill Clinton’s subsequent praise of Romney’s management skills, eg) rendered the move moot, an article in Bloomberg said that Messina may not have been so concerned about persuasion at that point: “Messina is adamant that the Bain attack succeeded among the uncommitted voters he’s concerned with, who ignore pundits and are only now beginning to form opinions of Romney.”

For a lot of voters, Romney’s business and managing experience are just off the table. The Bain Capital anti-campaign put on by the Obama team wasn’t so much a persuasion for some voters as an excuse to keep holding their current opinion. K street and the hill will argue about the relevance and logical holes in different arguments, and about the influence of different political figures voicing their opinions, but humans decide things more based on instinct than consideration, I think.

David Plouffe, a political strategist, commented: “When people say, ‘How’s the Bain thing playing?’ it doesn’t matter what the set of Morning Joe has to say about it.”

Voters’ behavior and attitudes are hugely dependent on their initial impressions of politicians. People will take things like the Bain story how they want to, based on what they’ve already consciously or unconsciously decided. And some might criticize the Obama campaign for putting a lot of money into what seems like frivilous merchandise, but things like brand and image aren’t meant to persuade – they’re meant to create a stronger identity and community within the already-present supporters. Such branding is what made Facebook, Google, and Apple such monstrosities – and they are precisely where Messina went for advice.

Hurricane Occurs, Media Freaks Out About Itself

As Hurricane Irene swept up the east coast, the President issued a warning for 10 states (plus DC and Puerto Rico), people stocked up on fresh water and condoms, and, importantly, vaguely famous country singers tweeted about it.

Another name ruined for at least another year.

But as the storm moved north and decreased in intensity, eventually being downgraded to a tropical storm, grumbling started among people who had spent two hours looking for bread, and New Yorkers especially began saying that the hurricane was gratuitously over-hyped. A New York Times article noted that, unlike the forewarnings, “Windows in skyscrapers did not shatter. Subway tunnels did not flood. Power was not shut off pre-emptively. The water grid did not burst. There were no reported fatalities in the five boroughs. And the rivers flanking Manhattan did not overrun their banks.”

People are generally accepting a better-safe-than-sorry-but-I’m-still-kind-of-annoyed attitude, like the building superintendent who said of NYC’s mayor, “Bloomberg, he did O.K., but he made people crazy and spend a lot of money.”

And there was quite a bit of hype about Irene, mostly in the northern states, where hurricanes are less common and therefore more exciting for meteorologists, like this poor weatherguy who pretends to be buffeted around as people hang out on the boardwalk:

(The worse part is when the anchor says “There are, like, people sightseeing behind you. We can see them.” and he says “That’s because they are hardcore weather-watchers!“)

George Will even had nuggets of wisdom to dispense on the topic, saying “[Journalism] shouldn’t subtract from the nation’s understanding and it certainly shouldn’t contribute to the manufacture of synthetic hysteria that is so much a part of modern life. And I think we may have done so with regard to this tropical storm as it now seems to be.”

New Yorker Editorialist Adam Gopnik called ‘startling’ “the relentless note of incipient hysteria, the invitation to panic, the ungrounded scenarios—the overwhelming and underlying desire for something truly terrible to happen so that you could have something really hot to talk about.”

Many commentators, like editorialist Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast called out news stations for rabidly covering anything to do with the hurricane while failing to adequately cover the political events in Libya.

And of course, there have been deaths and significant losses in states all along the coast. Just because New York City didn’t collapse doesn’t mean that Irene wasn’t a significant disaster, and every time a columnist starts to talk about “sensationalism”, they are quickly reminded of this fact. But this just adds to the media’s kind of embarrassingly transparent public introspection that seems to be common now after significant unplanned events.


And just for fun, here’s that video of that reporter reporting while getting covered in sea gunk: