Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is Barack the new Mac?

The Obama Brand

As time passes, I find my confidence in Barack Obama as a viable President shrinking. To be clear, my perception Obama as a viable candidate is separate from my perception of Obama as a viable President of the United States of America... but of course, that is an explanation from another entry. And, frankly, neither one is too healthy right now.

Like so many others, I was swept up in the zeal of Obama's Audacity of Hope, and my enthusiasm crested when he left the podium to be replaced by the not-so-inspiring, I-guess-perhaps-likable actual Democratic candidate. The guy makes an impression, and that speech brought people to their feet- storming the gates to join the Cult of Obama.

The sweeping enthusiasm and seemingly unending details: "He's black!" "He's smart!" "He's well-educated!" "He worked on the south side of Chicago!" "He's a political outsider!" (and of course the inevitable accidentally racist, "He's so articulate!") thundered through the political pipelines, thrusting the freshman to a seemingly unavoidable bid for 2008. The enthusiasm was warranted. The bid came too soon.

Like the college coach with an already-strong starting line whose new star can only play four seasons, and like the parents of a summer-born child who might trail his classmates indefinitely, the Dems should have red-shirted Obama.

He's refreshing. He's inspiring. He's promising an alternative to the long-reviewed-and-politically-polished plans of the other candidates. The Audacity of Hope was Barack's 1984 Superbowl ad, and it laid an undeniably appealing foundation for the Obama brand in front of millions of Americans, not unlike the one 1984 rolled out for Apple.

And the message wasn't all that different:

"Six months before we knew about Mac, we had this new ad that read, "Why 1984 won't be like 1984," reveals Lee Clow, creative director at Chiat/Day. "It explained Apple's philosophy and purpose; that people, not just government and big corporations, should run technology. If computers aren't to take over our lives, they have to be accessible."

How long before someone discovered Obama were Democratic dreamers sitting around and musing about the potential of a black political figure with the leadership and inspirational qualities of a preacher, the voice of an orator, the virgin veil of a political outsider and a clean record? How long had components of that speech been scrawled on pieces of notepaper in the backs of hopeful drawers? Longer than the six months that 1984 copy sat on Chiat/Day's shelves, that's for certain. The branding of Obama had begun long before Obama stepped into the suit and filled out the profile, and dedicated supporters are coating themselves in Obama the same way that long-haired college students and self-impressed techies have long donned the Apple mantle and matching Converse All Stars.

And with the enthusiasm of the pre-Obama dreamers and the Democratic party at large, Barack's presidential bid came too early.

It's easy to bury under the hype, the passion and the big-name endorsements, but Barack Obama is not and will not be ready for the presidency. He's not politically wise enough to avoid going after Hillary Clinton at every opportunity or experienced enough to run an office like the presidency. Beyond that, he doesn't really have a record yet. Yes, he has local records, and yes, he has high hopes and big ideas, but he isn't nationally proven, and with every article I read, his youth shows a little bit more. It's pretty telling that the American presidential candidate he is most often likened to is JFK, a big sparkly brand name who swept the nation with enthusiasm. JFK was also young (43), also a minority (Irish Catholic) and also a junior Senator. His in-office performance was mediocre at best.

As with any brand loyalty, Obama-loving can be a very powerful thing eventually, but beware: brand loyal customers are far less price-sensitive.

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