The Obama and McCain brands have been rated by branding-strategy expert Patt Cottingham of Genuine Imprints, Ltd . Her paper "Brand Obama or Brand McCain?" is featured this week on brandchannel. It's astute. Here's a summary she wrote for me:
On November 4 the American people will buy the Obama or McCain brand. I think the Obama brand is winning on seven criteria:
1. Logos. The Obama Campaign chose an icon that captured the feeling of sunrise over a field of red and white stripes. There is also a subtle "O" for Obama that is in play here though the name Obama is not used in the icon. This makes it a universal logo/icon to which anyone can bring his or her own meaning. It also communicates the Obama brand style. The McCain Campaign chose a logo that comes directly out of his family heritage of three generations in the U.S. Navy, as well as his prisoner-of-war-hero-status political leader. The colors of blue and gold are the U.S. Navy colors; the star icon comes directly from military-rank designations on uniforms. Graphic icons are more new school in the branding world, indicating change. Names on logos are more old school, indicating traditional values.
2. DNA. The Obama brand has a clearly defined brand code delivered in a simple three-word line. "Yes We Can". McCain has not clarified his brand code. His brand has delivered multiple messages - "Change You Can Believe In", "Country First", "Reform Prosperity Peace", "Don't Hope for a Better Life, Vote for One", "Courageous Service. Experienced Leadership. Bold Solutions".
3. Benefit. Obama has a clear product benefit. "Hope". It is hard to discern from the variety of McCain's brand messages what his product benefit actually is.
4. Positioning. The Obama brand positioning is We/People based. The McCain brand positioning is more Me/McCain based. If you would like to see evidence of this go to the Brooklyn Art Project site and see their Visual Word Maps. These word maps reveal the Obama and McCain campaign strategies by the top words used.
5. Values. If a brand is to be trusted it has to shed light on its values. Obama conveys the values of hope and unity. The McCain campaign has attempted to undermine these values, starting with exploitation of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermon on YouTube. This inspired Obama to give a well-regarded speech on race in America on March 18 at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. This strengthened the Obama brand, as Obama showed he could stand up to adversity. McCain has clearly communicated that he values country and service but it's not clear how this message relates to current economic, energy, and environmental challenges facing America. Television coverage today showed Palin with "Country First" in the place of McCain's name on the campaign logo. These two words sound like implicature - a new word for the ancient practice of implying or suggesting something more than what it said. Saying that McCain puts his country first implies that Obama does not. It's as if Coca-Cola advertised "No Arsenic Added" - a statement that is surely true, but carries the (false) implication that other brands of soda do add arsenic. Sarah Palin at the same time was suggesting that Obama "pals around" with terrorists, the evidence being a long New York Times story on Bill Ayers that in fact concludes that the connection between Ayers and Obama, who both served on the Chicago Annenberg Project, was not very strong.
6. Mission. A brand must have a clearly defined mission so that its messages flow in one direction. Obama's mission is to bring "Change to America". The fact that he is the first African American running for the president of the United States is the embodiment of this mission. There could be no bigger change than an Obama administration and the Obama family in the White House. McCain's claim that he will bring reform to Washington with bold solutions is harder to buy into, no matter how much he positions himself as a maverick. The McCain brand simply hasn't demonstrated that his administration would be different from the last eight years under George W. Bush.
7. Vision. Finally, every great brand must have great vision. The Obama brand's "One Nation" vision is wrapped up in his quote "There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America." This viewpoint is the uniting principle that the Obama brand has promulgated throghout the coluntry. The McCain brand vision is a world that is more threatening and fear based. He says: "We must win in Iraq. If we withdraw, there will be chaos; there will be genocide; and they will follow us home." A vision of fear in how we face our challenges here and around the world will diminish us. It will make us smaller and this is not the America that we want to see at home or how we want to continue to be seen around the world.
Update on the Battle of the Brands: Sarah Palin's folksy but venomous "pals around with terrorists" attack on Obama was foreshadowed by the New Yorker cover caricature. Obama worked on Chicago educational reform with a University of Illinois distinguished professor of education, Bill Ayers, who was radicalized in the 1960s by the War in Vietnam. Ayers was accused - but never convicted - of illegal acts.
The Obama campaign has announced it will respond with its own counterattack, beginning today. In the immortal words of LaFontaine - "Cet animal est tres mechant - Quand on l'attaque, il se defend" (This animal is really mean - When you provoke it, it defends itself.")
Ads will remind the public that in the Keating Five scandal McCain himself was accused by his Senate colleagues of improper transactions with the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which engaged in recklessly risky mortgage investments - the same kind of thing that led to today's financial crisis. The Senate Ethics Committee found three of the five senators guilty of improperly interfering with a Federal Home Loan Bank Board investigation of Lincoln S&L. Senator John McCain, who reportedly was the closest friend of Keating among the five senators, and another senator were found guilty only of "poor judgment".
The person who gave his name to the scandal is Charles Keating, Chairman of the Lincoln S&L. Unlike Bill Ayers, Keating was actually convicted of a crime. He led a push among the S&L's managers to get Lincoln depositors to replace their FDIC-insured deposits with higher-yielding paper from Lincoln's parent. When the parent went bankrupt in the $500 billion S&L meltdown of the late 1980s, some 21,000 unsophisticated Lincoln depositors lost their life savings. FDIC Chairman Bill Seidman called it a "heartless and cruel fraud". Keating went to jail for five years.
Lincoln S&L was based in the same Orange County, California, that gave us New Century Financial and Countrywide, the two large mortgage brokers whose aggressively loose lending practices led the way to the sinking values of subprime paper, to foreclosures and to the financial fiasco now eating away at the heart of America's economy.