For years, so many of us who work in the public diplomacy and nation branding business have bemoaned the loss of American credibility in the world. I devoted an entire book to the subject of anti-Americanism with my 2006 book, The Arrogance of American Power. There were many symptoms of Brand America's power loss: Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, Axis of Evil, Shock and Awe, Hurricane Katrina. Then along comes one guy who steps into this media and mind space to reboot our national image in a manner of a year.
Brand Obama has trumped Brand America. Barack Obama's candidacy rolled out subtly from the time he gave his black-man-who-could-be-president speech, "The Audacity of Hope," at the 2004 Democratic Convention, to his inaugural speech on January 20, 2009. His ascent was a triumph in marketing a relatively obscure political neophyte into a figure whose visage is likely to grace Mount Rushmore someday.
Barack Obama is today the most iconic American president since Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. He will likely trump these presidential predecessors' symbolic influences in global society, for we all know that Barack Obama is not just "our" president but the world's hope. Even if the global economy continues to sputter along for several more years, Brand Obama will remain unscathed. There are too many who have invested their better selves in the image and symbolism of this brand to give up on its power to inspire and uplift.
As nearly two million people braved the cold to stand for up to 8 hours just to catch a glimpse of the man who became president on January 20, 2009, they were bombarded by every manner of Obama product imaginable. There were Obama soaps, Obama bottled water, Obama chocolate bars, and a Marvel Comics Spider-Man issue where the superhero alter-ego of Peter Parker thwarts a plot against the president. Another Obama life story comic book saw its cover price of $3.99 jump to an inauguration weekend 20 bucks. Pepsi-Cola's red-white-and-blue label got a facelift with its Obama-like ad lingo of "Optimism" and "Choose Change." I heard one radio listener declare that this was the last drop of Pepsi-Cola he would be drinking.
I was in Washington just days before the Inauguration and the level of excitement was palpable. The presidential product commercialism was omnipresent. As I walked through the gorgeous Union Station in downtown Washington, I came across the Swedish-owned IKEA store's replica of the Oval Office, an add-on to its Embrace Change '09 ad campaign. Obama, Obama, everywhere. So far we're uplifted by the superproduct, with a few exceptions like the former Pepsi-Cola drinker.
Everybody seems to be riding the Obama train. I cannot listen to my iPod without having all my songs remind me of President Obama. This morning's treadmill session went from Aretha Franklin's "Oh Me, Oh My (I'm a Fool for You Baby) to Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing" to Heart's "Magic Man" and "Baby I Need Your Lovin'" by Johnny Rivers. I managed to take several of these love songs and translate them into patriotic tributes, especially Stevie Wonder's plea, hoping somehow that the new president's own plea for collective responsibility will make us work together for a better union.