Branding in Politics

The Use of Branding Techniques in Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

25 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents


1 Introduction
1.1 Barack Obama: From underdog to President
1.2 Target and purpose

2 Brand Management
2.1 Brand definition
2.2 Brand functions

3 Politicians as brands

4 The brand “Obama”
4.1 Tangible elements of the brand “Obama”
4.1.1 Name
4.1.2 Claim
4.1.3 Logo
4.1.4 The packaging
4.2 Intangible elements of the brand “Obama”
4.2.1 The American Dream
4.2.2 Change
4.3 The role of social media in branding

5 Conclusion



Figure 1 The Obama Campaign Logo

Figure 2 Polls: Comparison of candidates’ change potential

Figure 3 The Obama Girl

Figure 4 The Hype Cycle

1 Introduction

The introductory chapter will give a short overview of Barack Hussein Obama’s spec­tacular development from underdog to President of the United States of America and describe the target and purpose of this paper.

1.1 Barack Obama: From underdog to President

When the Senator for the State of Illinois, Barack Obama, announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States in February 2007, he was mostly unknown by the general public. Accordingly, political observers considered him an underdog with little chances of staying in competition for a very long time given the fact that even inside his own Democratic Party he had to deal with famous and powerful opponents like John Edwards, Bill Richardson or Hillary Clinton. (Trankovits, 2010, p. 23)

External circumstances as well as some of his personal characteristics suggested to ex­perts that an election victory was very improbable. Obama apparently lacked political experience and luck: The young candidate had already suffered defeat in 2000 when campaigning for the House of Representatives and it was only in 2004 that he was elected US-Senator. (Tapscott, 2009, p. 243; Trankovits, 2010, p. 28) His most formi­dable opponent in the primaries, US-Senator Hillary Clinton, in contrast, could rely on several years of political experience, was well-known among voters, and benefited from the remaining ample popularity of her husband and former President Bill Clinton. (Dvo­rak, 2010, p. 9; Mitha, 2007) Obama’s Republican competitor during the main elections, John McCain, was an experienced Senator from Arizona and a former Member of Con­gress. McCain was one of the best known politicians in the US and an eminently re­spectable hero from the Vietnam War. (Povich, 2009, pp. 27)

In addition to these external disadvantages, some aspects of Barack Obama’s biography were also considered obstructive. First and foremost, his Afro American ancestry was an obstacle: Many observers were convinced that the American people were not ready for an African American in the White House. His middle name “Hussein” which evoked unfavorable associations with the former Iraqi dictator and Islamist tendencies in gen­eral were also seen as handicaps in the election. (Bryant, 2007)

Considering all those initial odds it seems more than surprising that Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States on the 4th of November 2008 - the first Afri­can American ever to hold this office. 52.9% of the voters had chosen Barack Obama. (Polling Data, 2008)

Experts agree that Obama's election victory is largely due to a unique and innovative election campaign which managed to convince voters. The huge efforts to raise funds to cover the costs and the extensive and comprehensive use of social media are considered the main innovations Obama introduced into his campaign. (Qualman, 2009, p. 64; Wa­ters & Lester, 2010, p. 241; Harfoush, 2009, pp. VIII) They agree on the fact, that “Obama” can be considered a powerful brand: “Brand Obama is a real marketing phe­nomenon. He's not only making politics cool, he's outpacing Google and iPhone, the icon brands of this century”, states David Jones, CEO of one of the world's biggest ad­vertising agencies. (Euro RSCG Brand Momentum Study, 2008)

1.2 Target and purpose

The target of this paper is to analyze from a marketing point of view the mechanisms which helped Barack Obama turn the game around - against initial odds. For this pur­pose, we will first of all deal with the theoretical bases of brand management. We will examine in detail the characteristic features of a brand in order to answer the question as to what extent the comparison of President Obama to a brand is justified. The subse­quent analysis of the functions of a brand has the purpose to explain in what way brands are capable of increasing a product's (or person’s) perceived value to the customer (or voter).

The next step is to try and enlarge our vision in order to transfer the concept of brand management to the field of politics in general. We will show the similarities and differ­ences that exist between the branding of a product and the branding of a politician.

Based on these findings, the next chapter will describe to what extent Barack Obama's campagin is a prime example of the strategic use of branding techniques. To this pur­pose we will study the core elements of the assumed brand “Obama”.

The subsequent chapter describes the channels which were used to communicate the brand “Obama”. A special focus is laid on social and digital media, which apparently formed the hub of all operations in Barack Obama's communication department. We will analyze, to what extent the selection of these channels corroborated the purpose of positioning the intended messages and of attracting new targets.

2 Brand Management

Whether “Obama” can be considered a brand, is a question which requires first of all a clear definition of the nature of brands. This is not an easy task as there is a huge range of different approaches to the brand concept. (Low & Fullerton, 1994, pp. 173) The dif­ferent models proposed vary widely due to the distinctive elements which are defined as being constitutive of brands: Some authors ascribe great importance to the tangible ele­ments of brands like the name, the logo and the product design, without going into much detail about the more intricate connections in the structure of the brand system. At the opposite end of the spectrum there are authors who predominantly stress emotional and representational components, noting that the physical aspects only account for the first stage in brand building. (De Chernatony & Dall’Olmo Riley, 1997, pp. 1076)

2.1 Brand definition

For our purpose we will consider brands as a combination of both tangible and intangi­ble elements: We will assume that brands manifest themselves in different ways; brands can be names, images, symbols or combinations of these elements; these tangible ele­ments are complemented by intangible ones. These elements refer to the beliefs and meanings created in the minds of consumers by the brand’s marketer through a mix of media and non-media elements. Their nature is a symbolic one and include the brand’s personality; the way brands reinforce consumers’ self-images and a brands’ abilities to represent consumers to others. (Kapferer, 1992; De Chernatony & Dall’Olmo Riley, 1997, pp. 1077) We can say that brands differ from products in that they are not created in factories but in the customer’s mind.

2.2 Brand functions

For quite a few years, most markets have been typical buyers’ markets where the offer by far exceeds the demand. This means that consumers are spoilt for choice: The huge range of similar products available gives the customer the almost unlimited freedom of choice. The decision whether to choose product A, B or C is influenced by various fac­tors which cannot be analyzed in detail here. Nevertheless, it is an established fact that the brand is a main criterion when considering the acquisition of a product. Brands help consumers take purchase decisions by fulfilling three basic functions for them, namely risk reduction, image benefit and information efficiency. (Kotler & Pfoertsch, 2010, pp. 337)

Empirical survey has demonstrated that among these three functions risk reduction is the most important one, closely followed by information efficiency. (Kotler & Pfoertsch, 2006, pp. 46)

From the consumer’s point of view, brands reduce the risk of making the wrong deci­sion: Consumers often hesitate to purchase a product, because it involves the risk of suffering some kind of loss or disappointment. Brands create trust in the expected per­formance of a product and provide continuity in the predictability of the product bene­fits. (Montgomery & Wernerfelt, 1992, pp. 31) In this sense brands can be seen as an implicit promise that the level of quality people have come to expect will continue with future purchases of the same or similar products. In a highly competitive market this is an asset which may well help to increase sales as it offers the possibility of making a favorable comparison with other products. In addition, a branded product will sell at a higher price than a non-branded one.

The second most important function, information efficiency, refers to the fact that brands facilitate information processing. As branded products make it easier for the consumer to quickly gather relevant information about a product, brands are time sav­ing. Bundling information about the manufacturer and the origin of a product in the form of a brand helps consumers find their way in a commercial environment that gets more complicated day by day. Furthermore, branded products have a certain recognition value: Consumers can easily and repeatedly find trusted brands. (Kotler & Pfoertsch, 2006, pp. 43) All in all, for many customers brands are like signposts giving orientation in an often largely confusing marketplace.

The third basic function a brand fulfills is the creation of image benefit: For consumers, the resulting image benefit frequently lies in the self-expressive value that brands can deliver. (Heding & Knudtzen & Bjerre, 2009, pp. 119) Self-expression has an individual dimension as well as a social one: For brand consumption individual consumers look for inspiration from clearly defined reference groups and they use these brands to demon­strate their affiliation to these clusters. Thus, brands are a means of identifying with certain social peer groups. (Kotler & Pfoertsch, 2006, pp. 43)

3 Politicians as brands

During the last few years, brand management has seen an extension of its area of appli­cation. Whereas in the past only products were considered brands, today the brand con­cept includes services, business concepts and even ideas. Furthermore, the concept of brand management is increasingly applied to human beings: Athletes, CEOs of large companies, movie and TV stars, entertainers and politicians acquire brand status. (Busch & Kastner & Vaih-Baur, 2009, p. 13)

In order to be successful, the “brand politician” is subject to the same conditions as product, service or company brands: The brand must represent some distinctive and authentic qualities which make it stand out from competitors. Not surprisingly, the aims of such a brand are quite similar to those of its counterpart in industry. A political brand offers voters the promise of credibility and reliability; it provides efficient information and, in consequence, risk reduction as it gives orientation in the intricate field of poli­tics. Last but not least, the brand offers voters - to some extent - an ideational benefit. (Balzer & Geilich & Rafat, 2006, pp. 110)

It is quite evident that in the case of a presidential election the aspect of risk reduction is the most important one among these features as the voter’s decision on this occasion is a crucial one, having - at least in the voter’s mind - a decisive influence on his own future.

The manifest similarity of a politician brand to a product brand tends to underestimate one important difference which is inherent in the processes of construction of those brands. The establishment of a politician brand is by far more difficult and complex. Communication management in an election campaign which has to get some often quite complex messages across is more challenging than promoting some sort of new product - even if, admittedly, there might be products which may be almost as hard to establish in the market.

Product advertising in order to establish a brand can, however, be planned in detail be­forehand and there is little risk of unexpected occurrences which demand immediate readjustment of the campaign. Taking out ads, broadcasting TV spots and organizing events is possible without much difficulty - under the only condition that the required budget is available. This, however, is not the case in a political campaign.

Financial power, however indispensable, is not sufficient in this case as other socio­dynamic dimensions come into play and have to be reckoned with. This is why journal­istic reporting, i.e. political Public Relations, is an essential component for positioning a politician.

Obviously, this cannot be planned and steered in the same way as an advertising cam­paign for some kind of product. The politician’s campaign has to immediately react to any publication, comment or news in order to always present the candidate from the right angle. At all times, there has to be incessant monitoring of the latest news and con­stant feedback between public opinion, opinion makers and the campaigners. The re­sults of the analyses of these processes must be used for immediate adaptation and, if need be, readjustment of the following messages to be sent.

Thus, the establishment of a product brand is largely a matter of presenting a well- defined image that is mostly static, the establishment of a politician as a brand is a high­ly dynamic affair; the resulting image is the outcome of “work in progress”, it takes its final shape in the process itself. It goes without saying that the management of such a campaign requires highly motivated and skilled communication specialists.


Excerpt out of 25 pages


Branding in Politics
The Use of Branding Techniques in Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign
University of Applied Sciences Neu-Ulm
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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2126 KB
Obama, Politik, Politics, Branding, Election Campaign, elections, communications
Quote paper
Lucie Scholz (Author), 2011, Branding in Politics, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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