advertising / Obama / work

The Building of Brand Obama

I could not be prouder today of our whole country for making the choice to elect such an amazing man, for taking the leap of faith, for holding on to hope, and for voting with our hearts. It is momentous. It was awe inspiring to watch as Obama took office, as millions watched on the mall, and it was just breath taking to hear his speech as I drove into to work.

Some of you know that in my “every day” life I work in advertising, specifically in interactive marketing. I’m a project manager for websites and other online work. I’ve been in the online world for ten years, which well, makes me a veteran. I went through the dot com bust in the Silicon Valley, and I was let go from a fairly well known startup when it went under.

One of the things that absolutely fascinates me the most, from a logistics perspective, is Brand Obama. Here is a man that has a truly inspirational and aspirational message, who has researched and known his demographic, embraced technology, and executed a highly successful integrated, interactive campaign in the way few others have been able to do, and he did it with heart. Here’s what I saw him do, and do well:

A good brand knows its core values.
We know what Barack Obama stands for because he was able to continue communicating it to us in everything he did. It’s CHANGE and HOPE. Plain, simple, easy to understand, and presented in a time that we all needed it most. And, as I said earlier, this is a value that is true to Barack Obama’s beliefs; it comes from the heart and it stays true to his earlier writings. It is a part of him, and it comes across loud and clear.

A good brand starts with a strong logo.
Obama’s logo is reminiscent of the heartland, of the sky of the prairie states. It reminds me of Kansas or Missouri, and of small towns that I have visited as I’ve driven across the country. By pulling in visuals that resonate with our thoughts of the hard working farmer, Obama is delicately saying that he is one of us. He has worked hard, he has come from a town like ours and he understands our needs.

Moreover, where many brands have very strict guidelines and restrictions, throughout the campaign Obama encouraged groups to make his logo their own. On his campaign site, he offers variation on his logo for Environmentalists, People of faith, first Americans, Hope, kids, LGBT, Latinos, Students, Veterans, Women, Pacific Islanders, every state in the nation, Americans abroad, Republicans, Sportsmen, and National Delegates. He’s inclusive in his logo, changing it every time with a nod to the group that may use it. It’s not just in words and font, they’ve truly modified the logo to fit each group.

A good brand understands the media it is using and plays to the strengths of that media.
With this strong logo in place, Brand Obama made the move to use the interactive space to its best advantage. While new media is indeed new, we have never seen a politician play so confidently, so smartly or so integratedly in this space. Obama embraced YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg, to name a few. The brand jumped full force onto Al Gore’s best invention and used the internet to its potential.

A good brand recognizes a viral phenom when it happens and rolls with it.
Shephard Fairey is the street artist who created the now iconic Obama HOPE poster. Done entirely as a individual project, Fairey distributed the posters in downtown Chicago on his own. The image became so popular that Fairey ended up distributing 500,000 posters and 300,000 stickers by the end of the campaign, all funded with his own money. Later the image was picked up by the city of Chicago to help celebrate Obama’s win, and were found on banners throughout the city in November of 2008. On January 17, 2009 the image was placed in the National Portrait Gallery, and became part of the permanent collection.

The important thing here is that the Obama campaign embraced this image and encouraged Fairey to continue its distribution once they knew of it.

Another viral effort, also unfunded and un-endorsed by Brand Obama was the “Obama Girl” video, with its song “I’ve got a crush on Obama,” which hit YouTube on June 13, 2007 and currently has 12,877,668 views. While it is a SNLesque video, complete with a scantily clad girl and ridiculous lyrics, Obama himself has never said much about it – other than he worries about what his family might think of such a thing. But message is out there, and remains.

A good brand builds relationships with people and works to maintain them.
From the moment you landed on his campaign site, you recognized the brand and were immediately familiar with its look and feel. The site looked like the TV ads, which looked like the print pieces, and looked like everything the Obama campaign put out. The wording of everything sounded like Barack Obama’s speaking style. Everything about the campaign and its outbound communications built on every other piece, and it all provided a solid, singular voice for the brand.

Beyond building that integrity through look and feel, from the moment you landed on his site, you were encouraged to sign up with your email address to be a part of the movement. After you signed up, the emails came regularly, and still do. And, the campaign was very smart to offer incentives, like a magnet, for making a donation. Not only did I want to participate, but I was excited at the prospect of receiving a gift that helped broadcast my enthusiasm for the campaign. Brand Obama did a great job of balancing involvement with support, and asked for donations in just the right way.

Beyond that, while the communications were regular, the requests for assistance with the campaign were both unassuming and respectful. Obama asked for our time, our money, our vote, but was grateful for whatever we could give. The campaign met us where we were, understood that the public may not have a large sum to donate individually, but that as a collective, we could offer a whole lot. In that respect and with that gratitude, we were happy to help how we could.

Brand Obama moved beyond traditional advertising that offers one way communication via TV and print, and very successfully navigated the world of new media, opening up two way communications in ways no other political campaign has in the past. Like Apple’s embracing the transfer of electronic music and creating iTunes, Obama saw the strengths of the media and jumped in, reaching out to a demographic (those that are 18-30) that historically does not vote as often in elections, and started a grassroots movement with them. The brand created a Flickr group that encouraged photo sharing, created profiles on Facebook and MySpace, and continued the dialogue with people who had shown interest in the campaign. And, a YouTube channel exists for his footage. By doing this, Obama was living the message that he so proudly has on his site “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington … I’m asking you to believe in yours.”

This communication, look, feel, and branding is consistent on the relaunch of The White House site. Brand Obama continues here, with the font, the graphics, and the messaging that we’ve come to associate with him and with his campaign. They have changed the navigation to read “our Government,” (instead of Government) posted photos of the Obama Family at the National Day of Service, and added a blog. The campaign that started with Barack Obama’s campaign has already evolved to include what appears to be the look and feel of his presidency. A presidency that looks to be filled with Change, Hope, and to be inclusive and communicative. These are the messages he has been sending to us all along, and this is a marketing campaign that shows advertising and its potential at its best. It is true to its purpose, true to a Brand, and is communicating the true messaging of a man and his vision.