The Obama Marketing Vice-Grip

Now that we’re a bit removed from the elections the picture is getting more clear to see how exactly Obama won roughly 70% of the electoral college. While I’m sure there are tons of political types on television who will take the politics of it apart, I thought I’d offer some observations of the campaign from a marketing perspective.

#1 Obama’s website was an amazing expression of web 2.0. There were tons of places to leave comments and get involved. You could create an account at my.barackobama.com and even get lists of people to call! McCain’s site tried to catch up but, like Hillary Clinton’s failed site before him, it was too little too late. I said over and over again that the candidate with the best website would get to move to the White House, do you believe me now?

#2 “Change” as a campaign slogan. Obama told supporters, “We’re going to bring change” [inclusive language] and that left McCain with the only marketing response available, “this is what I’m going to do.” [singular language] A “we” message is always more appealing than a singular “me” message.

#3 A better chant. From the onset of Obama’s campaign tens of thousands of people chanted “Yes we can!” at rallies. I was shocked to hear it for the first time at the RNC and doubly shocked to hear “drill baby drill” as the chant of the Republican party rallies. It’s as if they didn’t care about voters in the middle or swing voters at all. “Drill baby drill” is offensive on a lot of levels and a horrible marketing slogan!

#4 Obama got on the right side of attack ads. It’s not that Obama didn’t have nasty ads, it’s that he took the defensive stance of “that’s all they have is negative campaigning” first. So every time the McCain’s marketing campaign put out an attack on Obama, the Democrats had already put the defense in the head of their people watching the ads. “That’s all McCain has left… negative ads.” This is not just good politics it’s good marketing!

#5 The pendulum was swinging to the left hard favoring Obama. I think the person who could distance himself from George W. Bush the most (from a marketing perspective, that is.) faired the best. The pendulum of American politics had swung super far to the right with GW Bush to the point that it was just going to swing hard to the left. In the process, on election night you saw some traditional Republican states go to the Democrats. There was no way to market a conservative agenda in this election, which was more evidence that Palin was the wrong candidate for VP. McCain would have done better, from a marketing perspective, with a more liberal VP pick. Going to the right of himself was a bad marketing move… conservative religious voters were already locked in.

#6 Rock star status. Let’s face it… Obama’s ability to draw massive crowds had a huge impact from beginning to end. The McCain campaign drew small crowds of mostly white supporters to their rallies. This was never more clear that at the party conventions. Games sprung up on Twitter to find the minority at the RNC. Again it was the popular “yes we can” vs. the small “I have the experience.” Tough on marketing for mass appeal.

#7 We vs. Me. I’ve alluded to this a couple of times but it deserves more attention. Obama would say “we can bring change to Washington” a lot and McCain often said “I know how to change Washington.” Which is more appealing? Which is easier to market? I’d like to know how I can be a part of changing our nation much more than I’d like to support a single person, claiming to be a maverick, who claims to know how to change Washington. It was a marketing trap McCain couldn’t get out of!

#8 The Fey/Palin connection. Unlike some other people, I think Tina Fey actually helped Palin from a marketing perspective. When you looked at the polls it was clear McCain would lose several weeks ago, from an electoral college perspective. In making fun of Palin I think Saturday Night Live actually created a hit out of a dud. I have no doubt that there will be a hockey mom on tour with Women of Faith soon.

#9 Bad color choices. I don’t mean race. I mean the colors of the campaign merchandise, websites, emails, etc. McCain’s stuff looked very presidential and reminded voters of the incumbent Bush. Go back and look at some of Obama campaign stuff and you’ll see how he used colors to distinguish his campaign from it’s “blue” heritage. In their minds blue = President Bush = bad. McCain’s Indiana State flag rip-off just reminded your sub-conscious how much he looked and talked like Bush. Bad marketing move there. The flipside is that once Obama hit the homestretch and it was clear he would win the election… nearly everything he did was using Presidential colors. His acceptence speach was one penguin away from being a White House event.

What about you? Where did you think Obama or McCain did a good or bad job from a marketing perspective?

Note: I originally wrote this to publish on November 6th. But it was clear most folks weren’t ready to think abstractly about the elections just yet… are you ready now?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

4 comments

  1. Do you really think that the SNL skits helped, rather than harmed, Palin? All I ever heard after people saw them was, “Dude, she such an idiot!” Not exactly helpful…unless you mean, helpful to Palin now that the election is over and she might be looking for a new gig?

  2. I think that Fey helped Palin, because Fey helped soften Plain’s image. She looked like an idiot on her own and Fey helped her look funny, especially after Palin went on the show.

    Good post, Adam. The RNC needs to get out of the dark ages and realize this is the internet age and change the way they campaign or they will keep losing ground.

  3. I thought you would like this, Adam. Did you know that Obama is doing a weekly address and posting it to YouTube? Using the Internet to communicate (kind of) face-to-face with his constituents…brilliant.

    Kind of like Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats of today…probably where they got the idea in the first place.

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