In an earlier transmission we wrote about Professor Michael Hogan’s presentation on public address and civil society. Hogan had a number of caller-questioners. One of them, a woman from Penn State Lehigh Valley—if I recall correctly—took issue with Hogan’s characterization of what he called “Dale Carnegie self-promotion.” The caller-questioner cited approvingly President-elect Obama’s 2004 address to the Democratic National Convention. In this address President-Elect Obama famously cited his own biography as grounds for his political views and goals. President-Elect Obama’s biography would later become the basis of his entire campaign. In an online.wsj.com article titled The Axelrod Method, Matthew Kaminsky writes of both President Elect Obama and MA Governor Deval Patrick:
[...] The candidate himself was the message; the campaign dwelled on his personal story, not the issues. As one Patrick advertisement trilled, “His life has been the triumph of hope, hard work and determination” [...]
Kaminsky also writes:
[...] His story provides a useful prism to view the current presidential race. The Patrick campaign is the model for Barack Obama’s effort, down to the messages of “hope” and “change” and the unofficial Patrick slogan of “Yes, We Can!” The men are friends with similar backgrounds (raised by single mothers, educated at Harvard Law) and electoral appeal (unconventional, “historic” candidacies built around an inspiring personal story). More importantly perhaps, they share an image-maker and political guru in David Axelrod, the strategist who told the New York Times Magazine last year that Obama presidential campaign themes were field tested in Massachusetts.
As a path to power, the Axelrod method appears to be the best thing going today. Coming into the 2006 race, Mr. Patrick was a political novice with 1%-2% name recognition in a state that’s 6% black. He faced off against a sitting state attorney general favored by the Democratic Party establishment. The former Clinton administration lawyer energized the grass-roots and youth vote with superior organization and stirring oratory. The candidate himself was the message; the campaign dwelled on his personal story, not the issues. As one Patrick advertisement trilled, “His life has been the triumph of hope, hard work and determination” [...]
In our experience high level political operative-innovators—the Ayers, Atwaters, the Carvilles and Begalas, the Roves—enjoy a useful half-life of about 5 years at the national level. The ground-level organization, the Dean 50-state strategy, and the fund raising operation of the Obama campaign will have changed political campaigning in the U.S. forever. But it is an open question how long the Axelrod method of biography or branding over issues will remain effective. Patrick Ruffini explains what he means by marketing—i.e. branding—it reduces to the decoupling of experience from attribute or specification.
[...] The Obama campaign is not selling Obama. It is not selling a public figure with progressive political beliefs. It is selling Hope — and Change. This is why distant historical references aside, it is deliberately difficult to find the politics in the Will.i.am video.
Most campaigns never get beyond talking issues. The sophisticated ones run on attributes in the foreground (cares about people like me) tied to issues in the background (a health care plan). The Obama effort seems to be something wholly different. The campaign and its marketing seems designed to evoke aspirational feelings that have virtually no political meaning whatsoever. This is what great brands do. They evoke feelings that have virtually zero connection to product attributes and specifications [...]
[...] The end result is that great brands are fungible. They can be all things to all people. The branding approach liberates Obama to be the candidate of the MoveOn wing and of national unity. That’s not a criticism. It is a compliment. Now we’ll see if it stands up in the land beyond the energized core, in the land of 50% plus one nationally, where evangelism alone is not enough [...]
Answer: it did stand up.
I think the notion of branding—as much as I despise the vogue the term enjoys at the moment—captures more precisely the Axelrod method than “self-promotion.”