John Tantillo's Brand Winner... And Loser: Candidate Obama and President Obama

Brand Winner…

   And Loser

John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week:   

Winner: Candidate Obama

Loser: President Obama

Folks, as the one-year mark approaches, the question must be asked: How is Brand Obama doing? 

Take a look through the marketing lens and you’ll see that there are really two brands that make up today’s Brand Obama: Obama the candidate and Obama the president. 

Even though the election has long been over, Obama the candidate is still hanging around. His promise and influence might be waning fast, but we find traces of him all over the White House. More importantly, many voters are still assuming that he is bound to show up sooner or later to take full command.

Meanwhile, Obama the president has not really arrived. Barack Obama has not transitioned into the White House. Even his staunchest supporters don’t really feel like the man in the Oval Office is the change they have been waiting for. 

After all, Obama the president is so unlike Obama the candidate. Where Obama the candidate was bold, fresh and new, Obama the president seems like a helping of big-government Democratic leftovers served cold. This is a dish virtually none of the electorate wants to eat and no one voted for. 

Obama the candidate was a man who effectively united millions of people from different political camps and won with the promise of a new kind of politics. This man is still a winner.

Obama the president is the incredible shrinking commander-in-chief, who has deferred to old-time politics (and politicos) and yielded to disproven big-government ideologies. 

So let’s compare these two brands within a brand and try to gauge where this presidency goes from here.

The Winner and The Loser:

Obama the candidate was an impressive figure. He possessed powerful charm, eloquence and, for many people, a Teflon image. When painted into a corner, this is the man who could find a doorway to the future and walk right out. He did this with Jeremiah Wright and at many other pivotal moments in his campaign.

Obama the president is an increasingly embattled figure. He’s a man whose charm, eloquence and even Teflon image are becoming liabilities —the over-used tools of a man now putting out fires instead of lighting the bright beacons of change.

Obama the candidate was characterized by Forward Motion. Forward Motion is that elusive quality that attracts people to a personal brand. Forward Motion is embodied by energizing slogans like “Yes, We Can.” Obama the candidate made people forget that passing legislation is hard work and that ideological differences are real, because he promised to bring us all to someplace much better than the present. 

Obama the president has lost his Forward Motion. Instead of telling Pelosi and Frank to either join his change wagon or get lost, he has put the Democratic establishment in charge and has decided to play follower instead of leader. 

Obama the candidate promised openness and a new way of doing business. He vowed to reduce the power of the lobbyists.

Obama the president follows Obama the candidate’s advice and releases the White House visitor log to underscore his administration’s new “openness.” Unfortunately, the visitor log reveals more than a few visits by lobbyists. This “openness” looks like more of the business-as-usual, influence-peddling variety.

Obama the candidate strutted the world stage, confidently meeting leaders. He seemed to easily heal deep diplomatic wounds with visionary words.

Obama the president jets off to Europe to use the power of the Oval Office to back Chicago’s Olympic bid and still loses, diminishing the status of the presidency in the process.

Obama the candidate had a unifying vision that was ultimately pro-American. He won the support of many conservatives because he insisted on the importance of the free market and the strength of rugged American individualism. He was the kind of man who appreciated people like Warren Buffet and entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs.

Obama the president doesn’t seem to care about capitalism or small businesses at all. His vision of a renewed American marketplace seems to have a lot to do with the government running and regulating everything. Obama the president certainly doesn’t seem to believe that it is the small business owner who is the backbone of the economy. He also doesn’t seem to recognize that the American dream has a lot to do with the freedom to risk it all in the marketplace.

The list of differences goes on and on, but you get the picture…  So where do we go from here? 

The real question is this:  Does Barack Obama want to be a one-term president?  If the answer is no, then we will have to see more of Obama the candidate —and fast.

Tom Friedman over at the New York Times just wrote about how Obama has lost his “narrative.” I basically agree. Obama’s story has been lost, because the man now in the White House has lost touch with the brand that the people elected. 

Obama the candidate had a story to tell America that said that we were different: a nation founded on freedom and wedded to opportunity, a nation that was facing problems that weren’t systemic, but temporary, and as fixable as those we had faced and fixed in the past.  

Obama the candidate told us a story that connected all the points in our great national story —not points in a long, dull, legislative checklist with a socialist twist. Candidate Obama told us that he would listen to Republicans and involve them in the way forward. He recognized that we were a middle-right nation that wanted to stay middle-right because we believe that capitalism works and big government doesn’t. This simply isn’t 1932, and we don’t need another FDR. In 1932, our nation was center-left, and people were in much more desperate straits than they are now. Socialism, the experiment that would ultimately fail, had not yet been tried.
Obama the candidate carried himself with a Reagan-like belief in America’s virtues and its exceptionalism. We trusted he would carry this belief with him into office, just as Reagan had. Instead, we seem to have ended up with a brand very different from the one that was marketed to us. 

Bottom line: a year later, millions of voters are still waiting for Obama the candidate to show up and get to work. If he doesn’t do so soon (and the experience of being in office doesn’t help do the trick), my prediction is that even his core supporters will defect, we’ll see a big drop in the poll numbers and we’ll be left with the brand that no one —neither Democratic nor cross-over Republican— voted for.

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


If your brand works, don’t break it.


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