Much has already been written about the Obama victory in the US elections and I am sure there will be much more to come. This is, after all, a momentous event to so many people, for so many reasons that it could take a long time to raise and explore them all, but, as you might expect, I have a few thoughts on this and I’d like to raise two in particular that are close to my heart.
This week the American people have said “enough” in the most emphatic fashion. Enough talk, enough manipulation, enough aggression and above all, enough indifference. This is no mere electoral vicissitude, the turn-out tells us that. This is proof that the criticism levelled at the US in recent years by many Middle Eastern spokesmen and increasingly from their counterparts in other parts of the world, that the US is not a democracy, is bollocks. The people have reclaimed democracy, this is it in action – big time! For once at least, the pollsters were right and despite the predictions of the Republican die-hards people were as straight-talking at the exit polls as they were in the main event – they said they had voted Obama and they did. Make no mistake about it, the American people have spoken and, at what I believe was the eleventh hour, they have said to the world “Bush is not what we are”.
Of course, there has been a great deal of damage done to at least a couple of brands along the way. Firstly the Republican brand has taken a hammering beyond belief, which itself is an illustration of how a wayward son or sub-brand (in this case Bush) can damage the corporate brand. I have been saying for years that there’s corporate DNA in every sub-brand and batting on about how this relationship works in practice. I couldn’t have wished for a better demonstration. After the most expensive campaign in US history the Republicans are about to discover that it can cost a hundred times as much to bring a disappointed customer back to your store than it does to build on the relationships you already have a sell again to existing customers.
However, the greatest damage has been done to brand USA. This result can leave no compos mentis person in any doubt that it was voter apathy that put Bush into the White House, but life is a learning process and the lesson of the last few years has been that there’s more to this presidential gig that the electorate had realised. The President is your representative in every way possible. What he or she (for that day will dawn too) says and does, is taken by the people of the rest of the world to demonstrate the attitudes of the American people and at last, I think the message has hit home! If you elect a buffoon, we think you are all buffoons, if you appoint an aggressive war-monger we take this as a fair indication of your general state of mind. And who would blame us? You have, after all, always told us you are a democracy.
Just as the president is not just a local act, neither is he or she just a figurehead. As many corporate brands with high profile and popular spokespeople have discovered, its not just a case of putting the right celebrity with an attractive message on your promotional material you have to deliver, and that’s the hard part and my second point! The enormity of the task facing Obama right now is mind-boggling. He has to be certain that his promise is clearly defined – in Full Effect Marketing terms create a brand model. Just as we do with Brand Discovery he then has to ensure that every one who is enlisted by him understands the promise and its implications and is totally committed to playing their individual role in delivering that promise. This much alone could be a lifetime of internal marketing, given the way that governments and civil servants operate. However, only when he has done this can he be confident that every government action or initiative is consistent – that’s consistent with each other and with the brand promise.
Nevertheless, I’m not worried about whether Obama understands this. I am sure he does. What I’m worried about is the possibility that having nominated a driver for this bus the rest of America might think that they can sit back and enjoy the ride. Nothing could be further from the truth. This thing is only going to work if the people play their part too in demonstrating to the world that the brand USA promise has substance. Having mustered the strength of purpose to stop the rot, it would be one of the world’s biggest disappointments if the American people were to slide back into apathy and indifference.
If the lessons have been learned, this could be the biggest watershed in American history since the declaration of independence. This is not just the appointment of a new President, its not even the nomination of the first black President, nor is it just the re-birth of democracy in the land that was founded on that principle, its the chance for the American people to stand around and behind their President and the promise he represents and tell the world this is what they stand for and above all, play their part in making sure America delivers. It never was more true. The world (really) is watching!
November 7, 2008