Posted by: chasker | July 22, 2008

Does Barack Obama Have a Branding Problem?


It’s tempting to leave this blog post at just that, but have been thinking a lot about branding/taglines lately as they apply to our SQL Server business at Quest Software and five statements are spinning around in my head:

Change We Can Believe In
Just Do It
Yes We Can
Impossible is Nothing
The American Dream

Looks like one of those Mensa quizzes from the American Airlines magazine that I use to while away the time while sitting on the tarmac in either Dallas or Chicago (never seem to have the on-time departure mojo at those airports). In a way it is – there are two pairs of taglines, each with something in common. Two of them are arguably the most recognized taglines in America today. Two of them didn’t really catch on. One of them is a dead brand.

Let’s start with the easiest two. Just Do It! Simple, memorable, impactful message. ‘Get over yourself, don’t make excuses, just get on with it’. That’s what comes to mind whenever I see or hear that. In fact, it’s so sticky all I need to see is the swoosh and those words to mind. Impossible Is Nothing – clever, yes, grammatically incorrect, yes (it is a German company), and sort of demoralizing. The common phrase, Nothing is Impossible, has such as positive outlook. But put Impossible at the beginning and it emphasizes the ‘Impossible’ aspect of the statement, and diminishes the ‘Nothing’, making it almost negative in connotation. So, sorry Adidas, but a clumsy attempt at knocking off Nike’s brand statement, and a big miss. Whenever I see it I just think of Nike, and I am not sure that’s what you want.

Yes, Barack Obama started out the primary season with full blown promotion of Change We Can Believe in, but since the waning days of that campaign, Yes We Can caught on with the masses, who attended his victory and runner-up speeches. It was so easy to say, to chant, to sing – in fact it is a tagline/brand statement developed, not by his expert marketing team, but by his target audience. That is a powerful statement indeed. However, I don’t think it’s the pithiness of the statement itself that has led it to take on a life of its own, but what it represents.

Yes We Can speaks to the very thing that I so admired and envied in America as I grew up in England. That ‘can do’ attitude that is so very American. Always looking at the positive. Whereas we English pride ourselves on examining the negative. Positive Mental Attitude is such an admirable trait, and probably a great deal of the reason we English haven’t won the World Cup (it pains me to have to write that it is a ‘soccer’ tournament – it’s quite a big deal outside the US) since 1966 is because we don’t believe that we can. ‘No we won’t’ is more our brand statement for international football.

That’s why Barack Obama will win the election. His brand (of which he is an integral part) reminds us that yes, we can do anything in this country that we put our minds to.

Yes, We Can; Just Do It; those brand statements may just lead to the resurrection of one of the most powerful brands in history – The American Dream. Now, there’s a brand even a miserable Englishman ‘can believe in.’


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