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This is a term paper written for a MBA marketing class. I wholeheartedly and without hesitation nominate the campaign of presidential candidate Barack Obama for best integrated marketing communications campaign in 2008. On first consideration for this paper, choosing a company or product for best IMC campaign made sense. But in 2008, an underdog brand, an African-American, a first-term Democratic senator, and a politician chosen as most liberal in Congress at a time when rightwing politics reigned, Obama ignited the country and won the election with what I believe was the best communications campaign of the year and possibly one of the best political campaigns in U.S. history. And like any powerful brand, this paper will attempt to show through the one-third principle approach how Obama’s campaign succeeded to win the minds and hearts of Americans.
Obama - Best Integrated Marketing Communications Campaign in 2008
Best Integrated Marketing Communications Campaign in 2008
Marketing Communications – Term Paper
I wholeheartedly and without hesitation nominate the campaign of presidential candidate
Barack Obama for best integrated marketing communications campaign in 2008. On first
consideration for this paper, choosing a company or product for best IMC campaign made
sense. But in 2008, an underdog brand, an African-American, a first-term Democratic senator,
and a politician chosen as most liberal in Congress at a time when rightwing politics reigned,
Obama ignited the country and won the election with what I believe was the best
communications campaign of the year and possibly one of the best political campaigns in U.S.
history. And like any powerful brand, this paper will attempt to show through the one-third
principle approach how Obama’s campaign succeeded to win the minds and hearts of
Obama - The Brand
What are the values of the brand advertised and what was the goal of the campaign? Does the campaign target
the appropriate for the brand audience and how can this audience be profiled?
Nike, Coca Cola, Obama. What do these three share? Clearly these three are brands that have
been shown to have brand loyalty surpassing the majority of products, companies or human
brands not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. By looking at Barack Obama as a brand,
we can ask what are the values of the brand advertised. This must start with the values of the
individual and extend to the leader. As an individual, Obama has been known to be liberal,
interested in civil rights, Christian, well educated (a Harvard law graduate) and an engaged
community organizer. One could say his personal brand values revolve around integrity, racial
justice, truthfulness, directness, intelligence and freedom. These brand values form the base in
which U.S. citizens perceive the man Obama. On top of these was built the brand image of
Obama the potential leader and president of America. The top five brand attributes of Obama
the President in surveysi done in 2008 and 2009 (with little change) were: 1. intelligent, 2.
liberal, 3. inspiring, 4. progressive, and 5. good. These attributes, whether planned or not, have
been conveyed to the public and I believe have been key to Obama’s brand message
throughout the campaign.
Obama, as an underdog brand faced many challenges in the months leading up to his
election. The goals I believe the Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod must have set were
to overcome the inherent racism of Americans to choose an African-American president, to
appeal to Americans’ sense of doing what is right to make liberal change happen (universal
health care, being a leader in the green industry, withdrawing from Iraq, etc.), and get younger,
normally unengaged people out to vote for him.
In choosing a target appropriate for the Obama brand, as just mentioned, the Obama
team went after the younger 20-30s public that previously felt unrepresented in the issues of
past leaders such as George Bush. This audience could be profiled as disillusioned by war and
blatant capitalism, environmentally minded, heavy users of social media, well educated,
moderate to liberal, morally minded and ready for a change. The messaging and media needed
to be planned and crafted to attract and recruit this dormant crowd and unleash their
enthusiasm for a new kind of government.
Creative Strategy for Change
Does the campaign uniquely and clearly communicate the brand values? Does the campaign take a creative
approach that no other brand (at least in the category the brand competes) has taken? What are the creative and
executional elements of that make it unique?
Obama's campaign used the slogan "Change we can believe in" and the chant "Yes We Can".
“The campaign's remarkable consistency is the real accomplishment. Across towns, counties,
states -- and with thousands of volunteers, no less -- across multiple media platforms, they've
managed to drive a potent, single-minded design and messaging coherence that should shame
many national brands”, ii said Brian Collins, founder of experiential branding firm Collins.
With this consistency comes a vibrant, young and cool campaign all built around the idea of
change that can be actualized by each one of us. The logo was a key element that became a
symbol for this change and Chicago based creative firm owner Sol Sender described his design
as “The sun rising over the horizon evoked a new sense of hopeiii." Typeface Gotham was
chosen to make a bold, modern, hip image for a progressive candidate. British soul singer Joss
Stone was asked to do the campaign song due to her appeal to black and white votersiv. At the
same time a multitude of creative works spread grassroots-style in digital in forms and often
adopted by the campaign such as a variety of posters (most widely distributed was Shepard
Fairey's Obama poster “hope” used in this paper cover) and songs such as “Yes, we can” by
wil.i.am of Black-Eyed Peas (viewed 14.2 million times on YouTube) and Dave Stewart’s
(with guest celebrities) “American Prayer”v.
Combined with this was, Obama’s intimate, informal and personal manner exhibited
throughout his interactions on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, the candidate attempted to
express “I am one of you”. Looking at he BarackObama.com website (with 2 million+
profiles), design and content highlighted the progressive and smart message of the candidate.
The movement-like way that Obama was presented, clearly resonated with a large number of
young people because he talked about things that truly mattered to them. This was something
new and matched the values of the target audience. This was often compared with McCain’s
“more of the same” policies. It was memorable because it was simple, consistently on message
and took clear moral stands on policy changes that were relevant to young voters.
“The Media is the Message” Innovation
Is the media plan tailored to the target audience? In other words, how does the media plan help the brand to
effectively and frequently reach the target audience?
Probably the thing that the Obama campaign was most well known for was its strategic use of
integrated media and specifically their use of social media on the Internet. The campaign team
hired Chris Hughes, one of the founders of Facebook, to provide insight and strategy on how
best to use social networking. By tapping social media, the campaign was first able to raise
through small donations (in July 2008 alone) $51 million, with 65,000 donors contributing.
This allowed him to turn down public funding say, "public financing of presidential elections
as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this
broken systemvi." Second and probably more importantly by using Facebook, MySpace,
Twitter, 12 other social networking sites and his own site (totaling 5 million supporters on
social networking sites), he was able to rally the troops, engage people in conversations around
issues that mattered to them and eventually attract people to volunteer to canvas for the
campaign and rally others for the campaign.
At the same time, more than 1 billion emails were sent with 7000 different messages
targeted to specific audiences. This sort of community style activism, learned from his
experience organizing community activism in inner city Chicago in the 90s, provided word-of-
mouth marketing that helped bring the younger audience out to vote. And by his choice of
media itself, he was able to send the message that he was hip, tech-savvy and relevant to
increase his popularity with young people. Obama’s campaign was further strengthened by
McCain’s comparatively limited use of the Internet.
Furthermore, he used mainstream media in innovative ways as well, as can be seen by the
October 29th Obama campaign's 30-minute infomercial "American Stories, American
Solutions" that was simulcast on NBC, CBS, Fox, Univision, MSNBC and more focusing on a
wide range of issues including health care and taxation.
Of course the candidate’s debate strategy and style is also key to success in the polls.
The three debates progressively became a smear campaign against Obama in the part of the
Republican Party, McCain and Palin. To Obama’s credit he kept a cool head and stuck to his
strategy of being a smart talker. This was key as in previous elections Bush smeared Gore’s
character that could have easily been as harmful to the Obama brand. viiOver time the polls
showed that Obama’s consistent message and brand while McCain increasingly looked bitter
and out of touch. In addition, to combat the Republican smear campaign, the Obama team set
up “Fight the Smears” website (http://fightthesmears.com/) to counter mistruths such as Obama
isn’t Christian but Muslim, or another that he actually wasn’t an American citizen. Again this
intelligent use of media to protect the candidate’s image was key to his strategy.
In this way, media was carefully chosen to bring his message to the right people and through
his choice of media sent a poignant message that he was one of us and that together we could
Eyes on the Prize
Has the campaign achieved marketplace success? Has it achieved the goals? In order to answer this part you may
want to use data released by the brand or discussions in the press regarding the campaign’s effectiveness.
The simplest way to check this is to look at the Final Electoral Map (see Exhibit 1) that showed
a final count of 365 (Obama) to 173 (McCain)viii. Between October 29 and November 2 shows
an average 7.3% lead for Obama over Senator McCain. Looking at the demographics, an
impressive 43% of whites voted for Obama, 66% of Hispanic votes, 99% of black votes and
55% of the total female votes went to Obama. He clearly overcame racism among voters
enough to gain the majority vote. Looking at the younger votes, 66% of under-30s voted for
Obama, and 55% of young white voters voted for him. Overall all this shows that his campaign
effectively attracted a high number of first-time voters, 71% who voted Democrat this
election.ix Another indication of his relevancy to the target audience was 2.4 million friends on
Facebook compared to McCain’s 620,000 which is a 380% more supportersx.
From my own point of view, as a person who is loyal to such brands as Apple and
Whole Foods, the Obama campaign accomplished through a tightly controlled brand of smart,
liberal talking and a media strategy of building an authentic persona though social media, what
most companies can only dream of. My vote went to Barack Obama and even now as his
popularity is slipping with American’s mistrust of universal health, I believe the man and his
party are capable of change many in my generation desire. Clearly leadership of a country goes
beyond conventional advertising, however the Obama campaign deserves the nomination for
best integrated marketing communications campaign in 2008.
From Brand Strategy Insider Survey: http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2009/08/the-president-barack-
Marketer of 2008, http://adage.com/article?article_id=131757
Wikipedia: Obama Logo, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obama_logo
Joss Stone, http://www.popcrunch.com/joss-stone-barack-obama-campaign-song/
Dave Stewart, “American Prayer”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVi4rUzf-0Q
Wikipedia: Obama Campaign,
Obama's Can't-Lose Debate Strategy, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joseph-romm/obamas-cant-lose-debate-
Election Polls, http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/maps/obama_vs_mccain/
How Obama Won with Social Media, http://www.slideshare.net/james.burnes/how-obama-won-using-digital-