Obama's campaign shows that brands can be inclusive

There are many theories circulating about the mechanics of President Obama's election campaign. Was it the best use of the internet yet - proof that the web can be a great branding communicator?

Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer at MediaCom
Sue Unerman, chief strategy officer at MediaCom

Was it the best use of millions of dollars - proving that he who spends the most money wins? Best use of great virally distributed content? (Certainly there are lots of stunning examples - I refer you to Sarah Silverman and the Great Schlep and the Wassup 2008 ad both viralled to me and still available on YouTube.)

The US version of Esquire magazine says he was the first president to use the promise of urban renewal and therefore activate the cities and not small towns. The Huffington Post suggests the victory was pre-ordained (in the religious sense). Suite 101.com claims his leadership succeeded because he "meets the criteria of a developed 'Ruler' archetype".

Professor Stephen Coleman, the expert on e-democracy, called the election "the victory of popular politics over the marketing of politics".

Ian Leslie, brand consultant and author of To Be President - Quest for the White House 2008, fundamentally disagrees with nearly all of the above theories.

Speaking at MediaCom's Obama Breakfast earlier this month, he pointed out that the election campaign faced many difficulties that could only be overcome by brilliant strategic and executional marketing of the highest level. From the development of the best logo we've seen since the hammer and sickle through to the obsessive use of data, there are lessons we can apply to our own thinking.

Leslie's blog at www.marbury.typepad.com was a gripping day-by-day account of the campaign and his book captures the excitement of the story - even though you know the outcome it makes for a breathless thriller of a read.

He has two heroes of the campaign (outside of Obama himself, who certainly came across as the most authentic brand in the contest). Those heroes are David Axelrod, the chief strategist and visionary, and David Plouffe, the campaign manager.

Together they put together a programme of activity that combined the best of top-down and bottom-up marketing. They delivered a consistent brand message while inviting consumers to participate. Too often, brand managers think they have to choose between these two routes, which become choosing between brand-controlled order or consumer-generated anarchy. The Obama campaign shows you can invite consumers to participate in the brand without relinquishing control of your image.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom sue.unerman@haymarket.com

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