Brand Obama

I just read Fast Company’s cover story this month: The Brand Called Obama. It’s wonderful to hear someone else realize how many things he’s done right, Web-wise. I’m trying to help McCombs figure out social networking right now, and I found myself underlining many passages for possible inclusion in my upcoming presentation to the marketing council.

“Barack Obama is three things you want in a brand,” says Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide. “New, different, and attractive. That’s as good as it gets.” Obama has his greatest strength among the young, roughly 18 to 29 years old, that advertisers covet, the cohort known as millennials — who will outnumber the baby boomers by 2010. They are black, white, yellow, and various shades of brown, but what they share — new media, online social networks, a distaste for top-down sales pitches — connects them more than traditional barriers, such as ethnicity, divide them.

The question is how. Social networking poses challenges for marketers, no matter what — or whom — they’re selling. Traditional top-down messages don’t often work in an ecosystem where the masses are in charge. Marketers must cede a certain degree of control over their brands. And that can be terrifying. (Remember that “I got a crush on … Obama” lip-synched YouTube tribute?)

Yet giving up control online, in the right way, unleashes its own power.

What’s true in politics is no less true in business. “There is a new, authoritative consumer empowered by the Web,” says Karen Scholl, a creative director at the digital-advertising agency Resource Interactive. “And they can smell a fake.” The agency has coined the term “OPEN brand,” an acronym for on-demand, personal, engaging, and networks; it is a framework for companies to think about distributing brand messages in new ways. With Obama, “not only do people feel they know who he is, they feel trusted to share their views,” Scholl says. “And they get constant feedback from the campaign and from each other.”

Being an OPEN brand can be daunting when something as simple as starting a company blog can entail interdepartmental reviews and legal vetting. But, Scholl points out, “you don’t have to cede all control, just some.”

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