Friday, November 07, 2008
I wasn’t going to talk about the election. I really wasn’t.
It’s not as if there hasn’t been plenty of punditry about what marketers can learn from this bit of history. And I think that part of my reluctance to add to the din has been the enervating familiarity of it all. The glib pronouncements about what Brand Obama got tactically right sound like the same sort of analytical chaff that followed, say, the introduction of the iPhone. Humans who wear suits insist on trying to reduce the behavior of their species to some kind of mechanical stimulus/response model, and fiercely deny the thing that most makes us human: We have souls. We are gloriously flawed, emotional creatures who exist in a perpetual zero-sum game of hope versus fear.
So here’s your answer: At the heart of Obama’s victory was not his brand, but America’s. What he did so brilliantly was not to say, “America is broken and I will fix it.” He said, “The idea of America is great, and we must return to it.” He didn’t only dazzle with clever marketing and deft tactics; he went back to the fundamentals and to the 232-year-old rhetoric of Brand America, and used it to remind the nation of its awesomeness.
H.L. Mencken, a notorious cynic about democracy, once said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” He has never been more satisfyingly wrong, in my opinion, and regardless of one’s politics. Certainly that thumbs-up fella and his moose-hunting sidekick did. No, I think the truth is that, from 1776 until last Tuesday night at least, nobody has ever gone broke overestimating the human appetite for self-respect and a sense of possibility.
Can marketers learn something from that?
Yes we can.