Your Friend The President

We noted here several times last fall that Barack Obama’s rise to power is a new textbook for brand marketers worldwide. In it, they’ll find chapters on crafting a winning vision, speaking from the heart, and how to motivate people on the ground. All good things to know.
Matt Bai, who covers politics for the New York Times Magazine, explores another question from the campaign–virtual proximity.

The 20th century was shaped by mass media — first radio, then television — that enabled leaders like Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan to help frame the national conversation. What they couldn’t do was to enlist their supporters, literally overnight, as a personal army of lobbyists, free from the interference of local party bosses or news editors. This is what the Internet gives Obama.
The intensely personal nature of Obama’s high-tech presidential campaign suggests that his supporters may stick to him with more adhesive force than those liberals who found themselves disillusioned with Kennedy or Clinton. According to a survey conducted after the election by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, more than half of Obama’s online supporters expect to hear directly from the president or his administration in the months ahead, and 62 percent of Obama voters expect that they will urge other people to support his policies. This suggests an intimacy between president and voter that surpasses anything born of the broadcast age.
This is what technology does, after all — it closes distances.
Obama’s formidable challenge will be to settle on an optimal distance for the digital-age commander in chief, a task requiring him to be more accessible than his predecessors and yet more imperial than he was during his campaign.

What we’re bumping up against here is the concept of brand as friend. Being “friends” with Brand Obama worked. But now what? Now the real work begins, and that means “friending” your neighbor and your community, not a leader or a star. Obama has been careful to say all along it’s not about him, it’s about us and he’s right. Now let’s see what a hyper-networked community of motivated citizens, online and on the ground, in America and around the globe, can do.
BONUS: Obama’s People slideshow

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. David,
    I had an interesting discussion with someone in the media recently who spoke to a high level Oregon politician off the record. There is a feeling that 2010 will be the last year that traditional media buying will be effective in an election. This has the political branding consultants running scared because most of their money is made through media buying. Doesn’t this sound familiar?

  2. Jerry,
    I love that buying your way into consumer’s hearts is a diminished option. I recognize that doing so is still a legitimate strategy for some, but for companies that can’t afford that approach–and 99.9% of them can’t–there’s something else to invest in, namely the power of persuasion.
    Our work in social and/or traditional media is still about bringing people together around an idea. It always will be, whatever functional changes the business undergoes.
    Obama won because he had better ideas, not just a better Web team. That he has both the ideas and the tactical ability to deliver them is a winning combination–one many of us want to emulate.