John Tantillo's Brand Winner... And Loser: Fox News and Jimmy Carter

Brand Winner…

   And Loser

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week:   

Winner: Fox News (and Barack Obama)

Loser: Jimmy Carter (and the Racism Flap)

Folks, without further ado:

The Winner

Fox News is the winner this week for being slighted by Barack Obama during his Sunday Morning talk show extravaganza. (Appearances on 5 networks!)

Now, it’s true that Fox likely would have welcomed the chance to be the sixth network to interview the Commander-in-Chief, but they rolled nicely with the snub. Chris Wallace said, “Today, the president is talking and talking. But we have a 'FOX News Sunday' exclusive, the only place you won't see Barack Obama making yet another pitch for health care."

Undoubtedly, a large part of the reason for the snub is the fact that Fox has been been tough on the President and that Obama doesn’t stand a chance of selling Obamacare to Fox’s audience. Obama’s snub stemmed from the strength of the Fox Brand.

From a Fox perspective, the snub was a boost for the brand. After all, the network that prides itself on being a media powerhouse while remaining outside the mainstream media couldn’t get a bigger stamp of legitimacy than being passed over by a President who still went to most of the other major networks. This distinction can only strengthen Fox in the eyes of their Target Market.

Bottom line, Fox gets a boost to its brand but, interestingly enough, so does Barack Obama.

Why? For a while, many people have been arguing that Obama misunderstood the lesson of FDR —namely that FDR never really bothered to win over the other side, choosing instead to push much of his legislation through and pay the consequences of unilateralism later.

It is just possible that Obama is learning this lesson now, and that the Fox snub is the first sign of the re-emergence of the Chicago pol who would throw his mother under the bus for a vote.

The President recognized that he had no chance with the Fox audience and didn’t want to waste his time. Moreover, he wanted to broadcast the rebuff to his base to let them know that he was with them and not a wishy-washy bipartisan who was too ready to compromise. After all, during his appearances, Obama made it clear that he didn’t need Republicans to support the legislation.

The Governor Paterson flap (i.e., that the White House supposedly doesn’t want the beleaguered governor to run) might be more of the same —the political Obama as opposed to the idealistic Obama. A moment of political inside baseball. Pols are always worried about who occupies the top of the ticket. If it’s someone profoundly unpopular (like Paterson), the theory is that the voter will jump to the opposition’s column and select their candidates all the way down the list, thus handing the opposition party a big electoral victory down the ballot. 

The biggest problem with this transition and Obama’s decision to avoid Fox is that he runs the risk of being seen as having abandoned the idealistic part of his election platform: The “Yes We Can” of working together and across the aisle. 

Bottom line: Fox emerges the clear winner this week by sticking to the core features of its brand, which were re-enforced by the President’s decision. And the President may also be emerging with a new winning brand strategy —the caveat being that this strategy might contradict some of his brand fundamentals and end up alienating some of his Target Market. Stay tuned to see how this plays out for the Obama brand…


This week, the loser must be Jimmy Carter and the racism flap. I wrote about it over at Fox News and don’t think I can do better than repeating that post here:

Folks, as a marketer and an American, I've got to say: I’m fed up.

It's just not about race.

And it is high time that President Obama, who marketed himself as a post-racial candidate, take the lead and move the current flap of Joe Wilson’s outburst last week far beyond racism.

From a marketing perspective this is critical for two reasons:
1)    Obama was elected by a majority white nation —this in itself is a statement that racism isn't a definitive factor in our nation anymore. If it was, he'd never be President: end of story.
2)    Obama was elected because he promised to move the nation beyond the old ways of doing things. Well, making claims of racism is one of the old ways of doing things that he needs to decisively move us beyond.
The electorate and Barack Obama's Target Market are waiting for a strong response, and President Obama is the only one who can deliver it. But will he?

Unfortunately, others seem to be speaking for him at this point, and what they’re saying is only making us backslide.

Then in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams, Jimmy Carter said this:

"I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man."

That was the last straw. Fuggedaboutit.

I am not saying that racism doesn't exist, or that it didn’t figure at all in Joe Wilson's words, but marketing (like true political leadership) is about what should be emphasized and what should be de-emphasized. And President Obama has consistently marketed his presidency as an issues-driven one. Whenever faced with ambiguity or bad feeling that comes from who-knows-where, he has wisely chosen to either ignore it or treat it directly in a way that has made it much less toxic.

There's an old song that Bing Crosby made famous. It goes something like this: You’ve got to accentuate the positive/ Eliminate the negative/ Latch onto the affirmative/ Don’t mess with Mister In-Between...

This isn't a Pollyanna sentiment; this is about making a positive choice to keep your eye on the issues that matter and making the ideal —in this case, a post-racial society —a reality.

Bottom line: at crucial moments in our nation’s history, we have always been about accentuating the positive and ignoring the ambiguity that would have wrecked us.

To become a nation in which we had a president and not a king, we had to make affirmative choices. We had to emphasize our belief in one ideal over another old way of thinking. The attraction of monarchy remained (heck, we still talk about an imperial presidency), but it was gradually lessened first by George Washington's affirmative choice to be a president, not a king, and then by election and after election and presidency after presidency, until the presidency was rock solid in our land.

Just as he made a famous speech to explain Reverend Wright, President Obama must now make a statement that accentuates the positive and doesn't mess with Mister In-Between.

Obama’s brand is a post-racial brand, and like any brand, he must promote those post-racial characteristics like there's no tomorrow.

First, he needs to say that he believes that Joe Wilson's outburst and much of the animosity toward him from tea partiers and others is not about race. But then he needs to finally and firmly acknowledge what most of us already know:

The widespread anger and doubt (the hundreds of thousands marching on Washington) is about genuine ideological differences between the president and his opposition. It's about belief. It's about palpable fear that the Obama brand believes in a radically different vision of America than many Americans do: a creeping nanny state, a place of big government and too little opportunity for re-invention and prosperity for the little guy.

Simply put, this vision and the opposition to this vision are color blind —and it's about time that our president made this fact unmistakably clear.

And remember, the business of politics is always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.


When you make a change, make sure that it’s in keeping with your brand essentials.


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