The Marketing of Hope vs. The Marketing of Fear: A Modern Day Political Drama

Mike Smock has some strong opinions about the Obama campaign. Since the Ohio and Texas returns are coming in, this seems a good time to explore Smock’s thinking.

It’s interesting to see many in the marketing, advertising and creative communities lining up to support Barack Obama’s version of “hope”. Interesting because these are many of the same folks who peddle ‘hope” in the form of predatory loans to low income households “hoping” to own their own home, $200 sneakers to inner city kids “hoping” they will make them the next Michael Jordan, and lottery tickets to single moms “hoping” this ticket holds the key to her personal happiness.

In other words, the creative community likes Obama because he’s a promotable product (the collective) we can hang our dreams on.
What an incredibly cynical point of view.

Barack and his current cast of supporters do not have the skills or the experience to deliver his notion of “hope” any more than NIke sneakers can turn a “hopeful” kid into the next Michael Jordan. But most importantly, for all Americans with really great hopes and dreams for America – whether for strength, faith, prosperity, innovation, or service, Barack’s brand of hope is a cynical manipulation of the folks who need “hope” the most.

Cynical manipulation is tough talk from a cynic. But is it warranted?
I’ve seen Obama as a mainstream candidate from the beginning. A fact which prevents me from believing too deeply in his words. I too am a cynic, it seems.
At the same time, I want to believe. I want to know hope is not lost. I want to see cynicism put in its place. I want millions of smart people to honestly critique our societal ills and find creative ways to fix them. In short, I want to be an idealist again. Not a cynic.

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. Hi David,
    For the record my post is about the “hows” and “whos” behind Barack’s “hope”.
    You’re right I’m very cynical when it comes to the energy powering Barack’s campaign.
    And I’m very hopeful that his nomination will lead to an easy McCain victory in November.

  2. it may have escaped mr. smock’s attention but obama isn’t happening in a vacuum. he’s looking to replace what is arguably the most disastrous presidency in history.
    and is he seriously looking for detailed plans of exactly how obama will execute his campaign promises? really? what is he, 12 years old?
    mr. smock: it may come as a surprise to you, but politicians make all sorts of promises to get elected and then react to the circumstances as best they can when and if they do. that’s how it works. you’re not REALLY supposed to believe them.
    remember how george w. bush ran on the premise of being a “compassionate conservative” in 2000. i know it seems laughable now, but that actually happened
    the “hope” here in 2008 is for a better decision-maker. that’s all. and obama is very obviously a hell of a lot smarter than than bush. he can actually string sentences together all on his own, for example.

  3. “and obama is very obviously a hell of a lot smarter than than bush. he can actually string sentences together all on his own, for example.”
    Well… yeah… that’s a start. But that’s also true of most people I know, I wouldn’t want them in the White House.
    It would be nice to once – just once in my lifetime – actually have a presidential candidate that I could genuinely be excited about.
    Here we are in 2008, voting for Senator Obama mostly because he represents a radical change from the Bush administration and the promise of true racial equality in the USA, but mostly because he is the perfect canvas onto which we can project our neo-JFK fantasies of youthful, hope-driven, worldchanging leadership.
    What we see is what we want to see, and though Senator Obama is all too happy to be a vessel for our political fantasies, he may not be much more than that: A vessel. A canvas.
    This isn’t Obama for President. It is either about “not another George Bush” for President, short-sighted idealism, and cultural narcissism.
    Maybe history will prove me wrong, but Obama is no Kennedy, and the ability to smile big and string together sentences does not a great President make.

  4. And sometimes, I even use gewd grammar. Just not today.

  5. olivier,
    i would hope from my comment you would gather that i’m no idealist. i just want someone in the white house who has the courage to pull the plug on our insane imperial adventure in iraq and use the money to prop up our failing economy. and i’m betting obama is the guy who might do that.
    i don’t see the president as my leader. i see him as a manager. and the current one has messed things up on an epic scale. all i want is some common sense. you know, like in other western countries where the leaders don’t refute basic science and overrule their generals. stuff like that.
    and i agree that stringing sentences do not a great president make. but you might think that the inability to string a few sentences would be a hindrance to being elected to minor local political office. much less the president of the usa. but apparently not.
    i don’t think i’m asking for too much. pretty basic stuff really.

  6. Tom Messner says:

    If Hillary Clinton wins Pennsylvania (as looks likely), it will be interesting to see the battle over seating the Clinton delegates from Florida and Michigan. Won’t it? Terry McCauliffe versus Reverend Al Sharpton.
    Then the battle over the wavering/fence-sitting superdelegates. How many times can Lewis switch allegiances? Which way will Richardson go?
    Then the convention which will either be a replay of 1968 in Chicago minus Buckley-Vidal and Daley-Hoffmann or a Dr.Phil-Oprah produced joining together of hands, no more hypocritical than Reagan embracing Bush in 1980 or Kennedy sucking up to Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1960.
    How does American idol compete with this?

  7. Bush also ran with these two things as tenets of his platform: Humble foreign policy and that the military shouldn’t be used for nation building.
    I agree it’s naive to think Obama is the answer to all that ails, but I’d rather take a gamble than bet on either of the two losing horses he’s running against.

  8. we simply CANNOT elect another clinton.
    bush/clinton/bush/clinton would be shamefully embarrassing.
    we should lose our license to be a democracy if that happens in america in the 21st century.

  9. Carl LaFong says:

    Veedub derides Mr. Smock for wanting “detailed plans of exactly how obama will execute his campaign promises,” asking “what is he, 12 years old?” He goes on to say that “politicians make all sorts of promises to get elected and then react to the circumstances as best they can when and if they do. that’s how it works. you’re not REALLY supposed to believe them.”
    That may be true, but it doesn’t make it right. What exactly is wrong with wanting to know just how a candidate plans to change health care or Social Security or foreign policy? I’m not asking for an 800-page white paper — just a little substance to go along with the style. How can we make an informed choice in the voting booth if we don’t know all the facts?
    I’m as cynical as the next bastard, but even I think we should expect more from political candidates than vague platitudes and pie-in-the-sky promises.
    And I say this as an Obama supporter.

  10. I don’t know that we’re mad enough as a nation to change much. Some are raging mad, for sure. But it takes things like The Depression, Civil Rights, the Vietnam War to actually move millions of people and the institutions of government to act and think even a little bit differently.
    I don’t share Smock’s political views, but I do share his and Carl’s skepticism.

  11. Carl,Veedub,
    Actually, all I wanted from Obama was a few solid “hows” and “whos” behind his “hopes”. Which happen to be the same “cynical” questions I pose to some creatives and marketers when they come forward with new marketing and branding notions full of hope but not much else.

  12. carl, mike,
    pre-election promises are like business plans. they’re theoretical. and should be taken with a grain of salt. and it’s just naive to think otherwise. just as it’s naive to believe what the management of advertising agencies say.
    i think americans really shoot themselves in the foot by expecting their presidents to be some kind of white knight who has all the answers. they’re politicians! all politicians are full of S**t. the world over. they always have been. being vague is what they do. and maybe get some legislation passed.
    all this sifting of detail and scrutiny of candidates positions would be fine were it not for the fact that we currently are squandering hundreds of billions of dollars occupying foreign countries in a completely avoidable quagmire that’s going nowhere. but we are.
    in that context, soc. security and health care are small issues by comparison.

  13. Carl LaFong says:

    I hear what you’re saying, Veedub. And I don’t completely disagree.
    God knows I certainly don’t expect the next president “to be some kind of white knight who has all the answers.” That would be unfair and unrealistic. But some specifics about how they plan to achieve their goals would be nice now and then. (By the way, I only cited Social Security and health care as examples of the issues a president must contend with. I didn’t necessarily mean to place them on a par with our misbegotten foray into Iraq — although I’m sure plenty of people forced to choose between getting the health care they need or putting food on their table might respectfully disagree.)
    And yes, given the uncertain times we live in, presidents can’t remain shackled by the constraints of campaign pledges. Reality always trumps theory. They must be flexible and creative enough to respond to unexpected changes and unanticipated challenges in the nation and in the world.
    Still, far too many polticians will say whatever it takes to get elected. Remember “Read my lips: No new taxes?” Remember “I’m not about to send American boys to do what Asian boys should be doing for themselves?”
    And what about our current fearless leader? As yikes pointed out earlier, “Bush also ran with these two things as tenets of his platform: Humble foreign policy and that the military shouldn’t be used for nation building.”
    The bottom line is, I don’t make promises I can’t keep. I expect the same from our leaders. If they don’t, they should be held accountable. Accuracy may be one thing, but integrity is another.
    I don’t know if all this makes me excessively cynical or hopelessly naive. Maybe both.
    Come back, Lyndon LaRouche. All is forgiven.