Why Obama Needs a Good Ad Agency

Obama Needs a New Ad Agency

Something’s wrong.  A lot has gone right during the Obama Presidency, yet the majority of Americans feel bad about him, our country, and our progress.  In fact, “feel bad” is a gross understatement.  The hatred against Obama is palpable.  And it seems that most Democratic candidates are terrified to have any association with him.

This situation is troubling.  America’s problems are far too numerous to waste time on petty politics.  Americans need to work together to rigorously address the myriad of issues that confound us and endanger our future.

So what should be done?

Here’s one small step:  Barack Obama and his Administration should get a new marketing partner.  In-house communications departments are rarely great – and this Administration’s communications activities are obviously failing.  Obama needs a stronger strategic partner to better rally public support.

If Obama were my client, his current brand perceptions would drive me bonkers.  There is a strong case to be made for Obama’s success.  You might disagree with this assessment, but most people probably would agree that the Obama Administration is not doing well from a marketing perspective.

So what might a new Obama ad agency do?

The agency would start by unearthing some positive Obama Presidency brand truths – and they’re not hard to find:

  • The Great Recession was ended on Obama’s watch
  • 5,459,000 more Americans are now employed
  • Unemployment is now 5.9%, down from 10% in 2009
  • 10-11 million additional Americans now have health insurance
  • Corporate profits are at an all time high – up 174%
  • The S&P 500 is up 140%
  • The NASDAQ Composite index is up 205%
  • US exports are 38% higher than the end of 2008
  • US manufacturing jobs are growing again
  • Real weekly earnings are up
  • The deficit is projected to be less than half what it was when he took office
  • Less Americans are dying in war: 469 Americans died in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008; this year, it’s about 50
  • No major terrorist event has occurred in the US during Obama’s presidency
  • Osama bin Laden was eliminated
  • The U.S. auto industry was turned around
  • Fuel efficiency standards have been raised
  • Wind and solar power use is up 241%
  • The banks were recapitalized
  • “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed
  • School nutrition has improved
  • Obama is also helping raise two smart, seemingly well-adjusted daughters

After determining the brand truths, the new ad agency would probably provide some core marketing ideas to help the Administration immediately.  Here are a few to consider:

Marketing Matters – When you have a country (or company) to run, with intractable problems and constant crises, marketing may seem trivial. President Obama has suggested that if he does his job well then he can pay less attention to messaging – and all will turn out well in the end.  He seems to feel that marketing is largely done during a political campaign, but “campaign marketing” is an antiquated approach.  Great marketers no longer run “campaigns.”  Today, highly successful brands are built through a never-ending coordination of activities and messages.

Marketing is not a superfluous, inconsequential endeavor.  In a political context, marketing should rally public opinion and facilitate policy advancement.

Of course, with any head of an organization, it’s not incumbent upon the President (or any CEO) to be singularly responsible for a brand’s messaging.  The President should have a stronger CMO-type, who can articulate compelling messages continuously.  It appeared that David Axelrod played this role at one point, but his presence — or the presence of an experienced CMO-type — is sorely missed.

Establish Essence – Obama is constantly being defined by others.  They say he’s vacillating, disengaged and ineffectual.  The facts belie these characterizations.  The Obama Administration’s counterbalance must be a far greater emphasis on accomplishments – and how much more can be accomplished if we pull together.  A clarified brand essence – that he is a “progressive pragmatist” or provides “calm competence” – could certainly help.

Coordinate Communications – One gets the impression that the White House doesn’t have a rigorous adherence to talking points.  Building a great brand requires clarity and coordination.  This should start immediately.

Offer Optimism – It appears that the Administration is often tepid about touting its success in fear of offending those who haven’t been helped yet.  This hesitancy isn’t a marketing best practice.  Apple wouldn’t say, our products are amazing, but we know they’re really expensive.  The Obama Administration should be more enthusiastic about their success on an ongoing basis.

Enhance Eloquence – There appears to be a dearth of eloquent, telegenic officials in the Obama Administration.  Contrast this to the Reagan Administration, with George H. W. Bush, George Shultz, Donald Regan, James Baker, Caspar Weinberger, Howard Baker, Ken Duberstein, etc. – all of who were highly effective in front of the camera.  I’m not making a judgment on the competence of Obama administration officials; this is just a marketing/communications observation.  Obama can’t be the only standout messenger in his Administration.  Effective marketing/messaging is a team sport.

Message Memorably – Years ago, when the word “Obamacare” was first used as a derogatory term, I suggested to a U.S. Senator and friend of Obama that the Administration should turn the term “Obamacare” from a negative into a positive, and emphatically say, “Yes, Obama Cares.”  Soon thereafter, the Administration used the term “Obama Cares” and today embraces the word “Obamacare.”  Messaging memorably is critical in today’s sound bite world.

Solve Stuff – Truthfully, at the end of the day, great brands and governmental success is dependent on real accomplishments.  I have no doubt that ten years from now, when the daily, politically-charged, ratings-driven chatter about the ills of Obama are not omnipresent, he will be looked upon as a consequential President.  But until then, he should have the wind behind him, so that America can move forward faster and get stronger sooner.

Government will never be perfect – and it’s obvious that we have too many governmental agencies.  Yet Obama and our country could certainly benefit from one more agency now – a great Ad Agency.

Photo: AP

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