'Tis the season of presidential conventions. A time of marketing, messaging, promises and pageantry. And a series of events that comes but once every four years. While we're glued to our tubes watching the commentary fly from political analysts, pundits and broadcast journalists, one group's voice is palpably missing: those of the brand marketers. After all, behind all those balloons are two BIG brands battling to get, keep or sway your hearts and minds.
To commemorate the occasion, I wrangled five of my colleagues–a balanced panel of liberals, moderates and conservatives–to join me in getting this much-needed marketing conversation started. This week and next, we've all agreed to put profession ahead of political party and instead of debating political issues, we're analyzing the marketing merits of each of the acceptance speeches by Obama and McCain.
And we're assessing them just like we would with any other brand campaign in vetting:
First up at bat is Brand Obama, let's see what our panelists have to say--and then we'll ask YOU:
Cam Beck: "If a successful political speech is concrete and traceable to a consistent, specific standard that would guide the speech-giver's decisions, Barack Obama's speech was utterly incomprehensible. But his supporters were predisposed to believing whatever he said. They wanted "change" and "hope" -- exactly what his message has been all along -- and that's what the message was. Obama also took great pains to deal with questions about his patriotism. It isn't consistent with his established brand personality, but it's certainly the message he needs other people to believe. But he's doesn't need to convince the convinced. He just needs to give them reason to feign indignation when someone dares to question his political judgment.
The rest was a bunch of promises thrown around with abandon. Of course, that was perfectly consistent with his core message -- but none of which he, as President, would even have the power to keep, even if we could pay for it all (and we couldn't). I said when CK first approached me with this task that I couldn't be objective, but that I'd hate everyone more or less equally. Bearing that in mind, I give the Obama speech 0 stars out of 5."
Stephen Denny: "Barack Obama delivered a beer ad for the left tonight, selling the idea of having it all -- great taste and less filling, all without the beer gut. Really.
Believable? He was consistent, but his consistency had problems. You can't stand for being "responsible for ourselves" and also believe that government is there to fix your every problem.
Ownable? He turned the phrase, "change doesn't come from Washington... change comes TO Washington," handled celebrity, painted McCain as old and out of touch, and pandered to the Clintons. He was on message.
Relevant? He gave them what they wanted. George W. Bush is apparently the reason you lost your job with General Motors. His quick escape from a real foreign policy discussion didn't address his shortcomings. Kind of like realizing the guy in the beer ad is a bit lumpy and scratching your head over why the cheerleaders are laughing at his jokes.
I'll give him a 3.5. He delivers a great speech. Much like listening to the Clash in college, you can enjoy the music without buying into the anarchy."
Ann Handley: "Believable: Barack Obama was clearly trying to come across as the Democrat's Brawny Man, patriotic and strong on defense: A quicker picker-upper who tonight mopped up the doubters.
Ownable: The best line of the night, from a marketer's perspective, "This campaign has never been about me, it's about you." Ahh– if only all brands felt that way.
Relevant: Obama is an inspiring orator and he delivered an inspired speech. Clearly he was preaching to the converted, but isn't that what conventions are all about?
So how did Obama, the Brand, fare this evening? Well, your answer there is probably a reflection of how you feel about Obama, the Candidate. Bonus points from me because I stayed awake for the whole thing, which is more than I mustered for the previous four nights. Overall ranking: I'll give him a 5. (In part, just to offset Cam.)"
CK: "I found the speech to move between inspiring, bold and comfortable. Inspiring in his message of change/promise, which is consistent with his brand platform. Bold in taking on McCain and the critics MUCH more directly–which is something he must do to show he has the resolve to be Chief Commander. And comfortable in how he relates to people on an "everyman" level.
But, let us not lose focus of whom the target audience is for this speech: it's for the undecided and unsure voters--because he already has the votes of the Democratic party. And to score those CRITICAL, up-for-grabs votes he needed to prove, or at least reassure, that he's not too risky a bet. Because, truly, everyone wants change; the question is to what (and how). And he was very relevant on the "what"...and in the upcoming debates he'll need to hit on "how".
Now, can he accomplish all he promised? Not sure how "ownable" those objectives are, so that can leave him open to attacks. But, all told, he gave one helluva speech that was on message, addressed a lot of needed messages and pushed his popular brand to new heights. 4 stars."
Drew McLellan "Clearly Obama did not get the memo. Of all the speeches he will ever give .... this one wasn't about politicking .... this one needed to be about creating the vision, the dream. This was the night to ignite our passion for his brand promise of change and hope.
But instead of making us hungry for what his presidency promises .... he sounded like every other politician. Bash the current guy. Bash the challenger. He wasted the first 20 minutes talking about them. It wasn't their night. It was his and he missed the opportunity to seize it.
While his key points were consistent with his campaign messages, he dug too deep into the tactical. His brand is aspirational and he should have stayed at that level. This wasn't the time to roll out the taxation plan, this was his chance to make us believe that this time, it really could be different. Instead, we got a standard stump speech.
Barack's power is most palpable when he dreams with us. That's his strength. But he didn't lead with it tonight. I wanted to be inspired. Instead I was underwhelmed and felt like I had heard it all before. Star Score: 2.0"
Alan Wolk: "Obama needed to do one thing last night: prove that he didn't have a stick up his ass. A rather blunt assessment, perhaps, but that's exactly what his opponents have accused him of, only a bit more obliquely. He's a "celebrity." "Too intellectual" "Out of touch with ordinary people."
Well, tonight he showed them that the stick was gone. He did exactly what he needed to do: show some passion, show some chutzpah, show America that there was more to his message than the simple word "change."
He attacked McCain. Hard. On everything from Osama Bin Laden to oil policy to the war in Iraq. He talked about reconciliation without seeming overly wimpy and he kept his message on point about hope and the future and "twenty-first century solutions." He made a wise choice too, in not pursuing the John Edwards "Two Americas" angle and gunning for the rich and for Wall Street. Wise, because that message is all about negativity. And negativity is not what Obama is about.
Obama, as I've written previously, often reminds me of none other than President Ronald Reagan. "It's Morning In America" and "Change You Can Believe In" are really just two sides of the same coin, messages of hope that are about looking to the future, and believing in the can-do spirit of America; messages that are devoid of any negativity and anger. Obama did what he had to do last night and he did it well. I'd give him 4.5 stars."
OK marketers, now that you've heard from Brand Obama–and heard from us–what say YOU? How do you rate Brand Obama's acceptance speech, and why? And be sure to join us again next Friday when we do it all over again with Brand McCain.
PS: Full transcript of Obama's acceptance speech is located here.
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