What Obama taught the world on marketing
Being a marketer by profession, the U.S. Presidential Election
intrigued me but, with interesting domestic issues like the Free Trade
Agreement (FTA), Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA),
SAARC Economic Summit and the Olympics occupying my mind, I never got to
analysing the multi million dollar entrenched competitive US
presidential election. Let me do it now and pick up the learning’s for a
new age marketer of Sri Lanka because as I write this Obama is elected
to the way to take the most powerful job of the world to be the
President of the United States of America.
The United States is clearly at a cross road with the economy shaky,
the standard of living under pressure, out-of control in debt, the
growing concentration of wealth among the upper income, disastrous
policies of the Bush/Cheney administration and poll numbers on President
Bush at a dangerous low. Hence It is very clear that 2008 will be the
year where the nation can decide the future it wants.
The CNN Opinion Poll of November 5, 2008 reveal that that the burning
issues that the US citizens wants the future President of the United
States should address are; The economic woes that a typical American
family is faced with -spiraling inflation and increasing unemployment a
tough task for any government to address as its more supply driven.
The second key issue is the war in Iraq. This requires a policy
change that will be relatively an easier decision though it will take a
full year for implementation at the ground end for people to see the
The next issue identified in the CNN Poll was Health Care. This is
linked to the stability of an economy whilst the issue of Immigrants is
once again a policy issue but the decision is a tough call given that
there are international ramifications.
Hence we see that the need profile is quite complexed which means
that the product range (the solution) that each candidate puts together
will have be creatively articulated in the communication strategy.
The challenge is that it has to be done with subtleness as the race
is so close but the message has to be razor sharp so that it registers
in an average American’s mind.
Whilst understanding the complexity of the need profile, recent
research reveals that a new target group is emerging in the United
States -It’s called the Hip Hop Generation. This group is between 18-29
years and is estimated to be worth a 44 million votes who can actually
tipped the scale on Election Day to my mind.
The profile of this group is Whites-61%, Hispanics-17%, Blacks-15%
and Asians-4%. Qualitative research says that this group celebrates not
what is right but, what is wrong in society which adds to the complexity
to a presidential hopeful.
But from a marketing point of view, it’s an emerging market segment
that needs to be addressed. To my mind in such close race between two
candidates the 44 million hip hop group can sure made a difference on
Election Day with a marked increase in voter turnout of the youngsters.
If we analyse the messages on the multi million dollars advertising
moneys spent by both candidates, Barack Obama said the 75 billion dollar
economic stimulus is the way forward on the economy via tax cuts,
directing spending on working families, Senior Citizens, Home owners and
the unemployed while John McCain said in lowering the tax break from 35%
to 25% and introducing R&D into organisation with a financial incentive
which is a very strong strategic road map.
Analyst predict that Barack Obama’s strategy will add $3.4 trillion
to the national debt while McCain’s plan will add $5 trillion which
means Obama’s strategy is more feasible but he the truth of the hour is
that financial reforms must take place if not the heart is pumping the
money but it is not going into the veins and the different parts of the
However, the challenge was how the message was communicated in a way
that it is more attractive to the American voter. Obama has gone on to
make a sea change by recommending that an overhaul of Wall Street
regulation is crucial to restoring trust in the U.S. market which to my
mind is in line with the brand promise he is making of “Change” but once
again the real challenge we saw was how the idea got communicated.
Obama took prime time TV slots spending millions of dollars which to
my mind was the confidence he had on the power behind the idea. What is
the consumer choice?
The adage ‘Money Talks” will undoubtedly hold true. Latest reports
predict that overall political expenditure will reach a gigantic $4.5
billion dollars in 2008 which means that it will be an increase of 64%
against the 2004 presidential election where $2.7 billion was spent. Of
this expenditure almost a $3 billion will be spent on traditional media
like advertising as against the $1.85 billion that was spent at the last
election which means that there has been no actual shift in the
selection of media.
There will be a 66% increase in spend to $1.5 billion dollars in
media such as direct mail, public relations, in-person events and on
line marketing efforts which is interesting but a point to note is that
it is not a sea change in the communication strategy of a dynamic
The advertising on broadcast television is estimated to be at 52.3%
at $2.3 billion as against the 52.8% spent in the 2004 election which
means that traditional media continues to dominate the communication
strategy. I guess given the issues that need to be addressed like the
Economy, War in Iraq, Health Care and Immigrants there is no option but
use stable media that drives credibility. A point to note is that Radio
advertising is said to increase to $272 million.
A new trend seen is that cable TV spending will surge by 94% as
against the 2004 presidential election while Direct -mail expenditure
will also increase by 67% to a $1 billion which means that direct
contact communication is been used at this time Presidential race. Web
site marketing is growing at a staggering 152% which means that more
interactive communication is been pursued by the two candidates but a
point to note is that it is a meager spend of $73 million which is
A new form of marketing that is taking form is the data base driven
zip-code targeting messages where niche audiences can be reached is been
used this time around which may be to the hip hop community who are
between 18-29 years and difficult to reach through traditional media.
Hence what we see is that getting a message across in an entrenched
competitive market requires sharp marketing strategies like what we see
in the current U.S Presidential elections.
But the pivot to the ultimate success is not only the communication
strategy that can fashion an American to vote for a particular candidate
but the actual delivery of that promise. If not it will be like getting
a consumer purchase a washing powder by way of sexy advertising but when
it comes to getting stubborn stains washed the product fails.
Just like the U.S. election which is using a combination of hi-tech
advertising together with grass root level street marketing campaigns an
organisation of today must follow suit with a two pronged strategy so
that a consumer gets involved with the brand. Some call this engagement
marketing or experiential marketing. What ever term used, its all about
building a relationship with a customer.
Barack Obama does this well by focusing on the all important hip hop
community. He has developed an inspirational political music video
titled ‘Yes We Can’ that is linked to his desired brand position of a
young energetic leader who can make a real change to an Americans life.
This was distributed through Face Book which has already hit 13 million
viewers to date.
The importance of social media networks like e-mails, blogs, social
video sites, embedded widgets is all about driving engagement with a
customer. A typical responded can host views which can become viral.
This will lead to influential networks that can lead to call for action
This strategy if implemented properly can drive strong brand loyalty
especially in computer savvy target groups. The most hip sites currently
are Face Book and MySpace. Another area that can trigger unconscious
response is mobile text messages.
These short text messages tend to be read by the wired consumer of
today be it at a meeting or place of worship is what latest studies
reveal. It is said that Barack Obama targeted the 18-29 youth segment of
44 million with a text message campaign on Election Day on the theme
With hyper competition industry situations in everyday life in Sri
Lanka just like the US presidential Election, if one does not embrace
the new tools of marketing one cannot get into the minds of a new age
A key learning from the US presidential election is the importance on
online media so that this viral communications can be used to reach
fragmented consumer groups that traditional media does not reach.
However the challenge is the delivery of the promise once purchased.
Specially when the purchase made, cannot be revoked for four years (In
Sri Lanka it is six). This is where ethics come to play in the world of
marketing. I guess for the US only time will tell.