Positioning A President’s Brand, Round II: The State of the Union

by Holland-Mark | February 9, 2012

(NOTE: This is the second post in a series on the role of marketing and brands in this year’s Presidential election. For Part I, see Positioning A President: A Marketing Case Study.)

Recap: Holland-Mark’s branding approach is based on the observation that people have a tendency to boil things down to One Simple Thing™ (“OST” for short.) We do this not only for brands (Volvo = Safety,) but for movies (Rocky = Inspired,) musical artists (Elvis = Rock & Roll,) and even political candidates. If you buy that theory (and let’s face it, you really should,) it’s important to remember there’s an upper limit on the complexity and nuance of any brand positioning strategy. Put simply… If you don’t choose an OST for the market, the market chooses an OST for you.

In this corner, Fairness

Barack Obama worked hard to own Change in an election where that was what people wanted, and as a result became the 44th President of the United States. As the incumbent this time around, he needs a new OST, and in last week’s State of the Union address we got a preview of where he’s headed in the re-positioning of Brand Obama.

President Obama painted himself as the optimistic populist last Tuesday night, but since those are both words only East Coast Intellectuals use, I’m going to go with Fairness. Where things have gone wrong, the President implied or flat-out stated that unfairness was to blame. Hapless consumers sold mortgages they couldn’t afford? Unfair. China keeping out US goods and services? Unfair. Billionaires with lower tax rates than their secretaries? Unfair, unfair, unfair.

Unfair is nice because nobody has to be the bad guy. Fairness is also a deeply held American value, and a concept just one heartbeat away from what the Obama camp expects to hear trumpeted from the other side: Competition. And on top of that, solving Unfair is pretty straightforward. Somebody powerful just needs to make things Fair, and that’s in many ways how Obama sees the role of the President.

Fairness is also a positive value, and the President was careful to strike a tone of optimism and confidence in touting his administration’s successes in stopping the economic death-spiral he inherited, the surging US auto industry, a breadcrumb trail of dead terrorists, and the ongoing inevitability of American exceptionalism.

And in this corner, Wrong Track

I was stricken immediately by the contrasting negativism of the GOP response, as offered by Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Where Obama’s wordcloud featured “right,” and “work,” and “new”; Daniel’s showcased ”wrong,” and “government,” and “must.” Such is the nature of the opposition, I guess, and there’s a pretty strong case to be made that America is in dire straights right now.

It’s also unclear whether the eventual GOP nominee will adopt the party’s OST, and depending on how things go in Florida today it might be a while before we even know which team will be choosing that OST.

History shows that in a struggle between an optimist and pessimist in an American election, though, the optimist usually wins. My bet is that the Republican nominee will be smart enough to know this, and that the obsessive Obama-bashing and doomsaying that’s characterized the primary will give way to a more positive message in the general election. This is especially true if the Spring and Summer bring a continuing thaw in consumer confidence, unemployment, and the economy as a whole.

But what will that message be? And will Obama need to pivot from Fairness in light of that challenge?

Stay tuned, sports fans. Stay tuned.


This post originally appeared on Bostinno.com on February 1st, 2012