Ad Age: Obama Named Marketer of the Year


The Obama "movement" was named one of the "marketers of the year" by Advertising Age.

Just weeks before he demonstrates whether his campaign’s blend of grass-roots appeal and big media-budget know-how has converted the American electorate, Sen. Barack Obama has shown he’s already won over the nation’s brand builders. He’s been named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008.

This has obvious snark value– to me, it suggests that Obama’s "change" rhetoric is not much more than rhetoric and marketing ploys. As has been amply documented, his foreign policy looks to be about as imperial as the Clinton administration–slightly less brazen and slightly more willing to talk with allies than Bush, but not that different. See this recent article from Jonathan Schell in The Nation – while Schell drinks the Obama kool-aid to some extent, he also notes the many militaristic aspects of Obama’s policy formulations.

However, there’s a deeper issue here. I think the Obama campaign has truly done a (tactically) great job of marketing and building the Obama brand. Of course, as most mass-marketed brands are, I’d argue that the Obama brand is manipulative, in that it tells us that one vote on November 4th is enough for "change", and that Obama will save us all from war, the financial crisis, etc. But… even people on the Left need to get their message out, and some form of "marketing" is necessary to do that, whether we call it that or not. The question is, how much marketing and what kind of marketing is it ethical for the Left to use? I particularly wonder about Lakoff‘s (political) ideas (which should really be the subject of an entirely different post). While to some extent using metaphor and framing devices intelligently is just part of good writing and rhetoric, how manipulative do Leftists want to get? Shouldn’t the Left concentrate more on presenting its case clearly and accessibly, rather than looking for the magic phrase that will suddenly convert thousands of Reagan Democrats?

Bringing my post back to Obama, can the Left learn from the tactical successes (so far) of the Obama campaign in marketing? The Advertising Age blurb specifically mentions the web 2.0 parts of the campaign– the creation of an attractive Obama-focused social networking website, with discussion forums, email lists, etc; as well as the widespread use of existing web 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, etc). While there are ZNet and Parecon groups on Facebook and MySpace, as well as a large sophisticated site with social networking features (this one), there’s nothing like the buzz around Obama. I’m sure that money is a factor– ZNet and the Parecon movement has nothing like the funds behind Obama. But there must be other factors… what are they?

Leave a comment