Branding Political Campaigns

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How Effective Are Branding Approaches For Electoral Campaigning?

A review of branding approaches in the context of Obama’s electoral campaigns of 2008 and 2012

Change – as soon as the word flashes across television screens or on placards, the average American thinks of President Barrack Obama (Keller 2009). Getting people to attribute the value of change to Obama’s persona has been a deliberative and purposeful branding strategy, and this paper looks at how ‘Brand Obama’ has been established.

Brand Obama signifies transformational change that transcends racial boundaries, where Brand Obama itself is a symbol of the rise of an oppressed minority to the rank of a leader. Barrack Obama made history by becoming the first African-American President of the USA, and challenged the status quo through his candidature. This challenge to the status quo, and the change that he promised was translated by him and his team into a single, focused underlying motto that has shaped Brand Obama’s persona. Even though Barrack Obama had everything that a candidate on merit would have, the spread of his credibility and vision was something that would be vital in Obama winning the elections. This spread of a leaders’ promise could be accomplished only through purposeful and strategic marketing.

This paper is founded on the notion that branding strategies were an important element in the success of Brand Obama and that they bore down heavily on election results (McDonald and Chermetony 2006). The topic of this paper has been chosen so that the impact of branding in the political arena can be better understood to provide a wider base of knowledge in applications of branding theories.

A sound branding campaign can create affinity between the brand and the consumers and can become a part of the consumer lifestyle much the same way as a family member. In a similar manner, President Obama has been marketed as a premium up-market brand and his campaign appears to be engaging in political branding. A surprising fact however that is the components of Obama’s campaign and presentation were quite similar to Hillary Clinton (Adolphsen, 2009).

Barrack Obama’s campaign was instrumental in changing the way election campaigns are run. His campaign benefitted from the fact that he is the first African-American to fight for presidential status in the country. That is the reason why there was a revolutionary tinge to the campaign designed to benefit from this facet. The campaign focused on the youth segment of the American population through the use of ICT (Information Communication Technologies) and social media sites. In this respect the campaign was effective in targeting the idealistic sentiments of the youth, and urged the new voters to participate in a process that promised them change (Keller, et al. 2011; Takaragawa & Carty 2012). However there have been concerns that the branding campaign was a lot of rhetoric aimed only at helping Obama win the elections of 2008, but the efficacy of these short term strategies in making a long term impact is yet uncertain.

According to Takaragawa & Carty (2012) “Throughout the election cycle Obama talked about changing politics in Washington, ushering in a new era, and how his experience as a community organizer provided him with unique skills to listen to and work with the grassroots. This resonated deeply with those disillusioned with politics as usual, especially with young voters. Yet, these changes have not manifested themselves. This begs the question, was the goal of the Obama team to merely get him elected without pursuing a progressive agenda as promised?” (Takaragawa & Carty, 2012).

President Obama’s campaign was a hallmark for short-term branding success because it had the mix of appeal and practical elements that convinced the youth and people looking for a transformation in the status quo. The message that the campaign held was that America had finally made it so far that it was ready to have a President from a previously oppressed race and that people who voted for him would finally be part of this change and progress. The campaign had a message for the rightly targeted audience which worked very well as a brand-building strategy (Bearden & Etzel 1982; Keller, et al. 2011)

This paper addresses the topic of using branding in election campaigns, particularly the 2008  campaign of President Obama due to the fact that Obama’s campaign were different from any of those in the history of American politics. The initial campaign functioned as a social movement, inspired people and encouraged voter turnout. According to many experts the secret of his success lay in the integrated and sound marketing strategies that the Obama camp employed (Cornelissen 2001; Ewing 2009). That was the reason why Obama was successful in the 2008 elections, and this paper seeks to examine how branding was part of the reason for his successful elections.

The 2012 elections scenario; however, was markedly different, while the 2008 campaign promised change, the performance of Obama in the four years after was not as many had expected it to be.  According to USA Today reporter  Susan Page, (Page, 2011) Brand Obama was established on Hope and change in 2008, but 2012 dynamics were different as the economic indicators – most important for the American public, were not up to their standard.

There has been a lot of interest shown in the academic world with regards to this aspect of branding given that political figures are always in the limelight; however, this paper is different with regards to the answers it aims to achieve. This paper, unlike others already available, seeks to establish the link between branding activities and success of those activities in retrospect, providing readers with anecdotal as well as statistical evidence based on an analysis of the material and content already available.

Research Problem

The main research problem that is being addressed here is as follows:  ‘How have branding theories been useful in making the campaigns of president Obama successful in 2008 and in 2012?’ This research problem is quite broad and attempting to answer it holistically requires that the problem be broken down into its component objectives which are mentioned in the section below.

Research Objectives

  • Analyse and evaluate branding theories and frameworks suitable for political campaigning.
  • Select a model that is ideal fit for political campaigning and compare that with ground realities of the policies implemented in the presidential campaign of Obama.
  • What has been the role of branding and implementation of branding theories in making Obama win the elections in comparison to his rivals
  • How did his campaign team respond to the changed contexts in 2012?

The research objectives have provided a structured process of answering the research problem and each objective serves a unique purpose. The first objective aims to analyse existing branding theories in order to evaluate which seems to be most suitable for election campaigns. Some of the theories in branding that have been considered here include ‘customer value proposition’, ‘value-based marketing’, and ‘integrated marketing communications’ (Finne & Gronroos 2009; Hartley & Pickton 1999).

The second objective is to identify one particular strategy from among those discussed as answers to the first objective. This strategy is a mix of several strategies discussed and the selection has been based on observation of the marketing campaign of Obama, and how the marketing team built the brand of Obama for the American public.

The third objective is to identify how these strategies were effective, and whether or not they had any role to play in the success of Obama’s campaign.

This paper therefore is analytical in nature and considers the Obama campaign in retrospect as it is easier to link actions to results and evaluate them in detail in order to find consistencies that enable a better understanding of the causal relationships, if they exist, between the actions taken and the results achieved.

Branding Political Campaigns
Branding Political Campaigns

Research Methodology

This research is aimed at a retrospective analysis of the election campaigns of President Obama in a bid to understand the key success factors of the campaign. Therefore, the main crux of the research has been focused on secondary research in which available literature and information has been analysed and evaluated in order to better understand how the campaign worked. However, there are two different aspects of the research and secondary research has been used to address both these elements.

The first aspect is the review of material based on the marketing and branding theoretical models, which includes detailed discussions on all the contemporary marketing and branding theories. Journal articles from peer reviewed and established sources have been used here for topics related to branding in mass consumer markets. B2B market articles are not relevant here as the election campaign was intended to appeal to masses, in a similar manner to that of mass-consumers’ products and services.

The second aspect studied published work that is available on the presidential campaigns and analysed the published material on rivals as well as Obama. Election campaigns in America receive world-wide coverage from authentic as well an unauthentic sources, which means that while there is a lot of information available regarding it, not all of it can be relied upon in a research such as this. For this reason authentic and creditable sources have been used, in a bid to have original and verifiable information that has validated the conclusions drawn from this paper.

As a part of the literature review: journals, articles, opinion pieces from periodicals have been reviewed which have particular reference to papers addressing topics such as branding political campaigns. The key topics that were given special consideration were top of mind recall, brand-building, social movement and marketing, and a positive brand image. In order to analyse the information collected, content analysis has been carried out of the relevant material available so that justifiable conclusions can be drawn.

Literature Review

This literature review focuses on publications that cover all the aspects of the topic that the paper aims to cover. Starting from branding, which is a marketing concept referring to the psychological and physical advantages associated with a product or service, to how branding has been used in politics, the review aims to cover what experts have said about the issue.


As a concept, branding refers to the psychological representation of a product or service (Scammell 2007). Branding therefore involves not only the product that offers core features but also refers to the emotional and psychological advantages that ownership offers. Politicians have long used the concept of branding in their campaigns, and lately so, in Obama’s campaigns of 2008 and 2012, it could be seen that branding in politics has really become a necessity – a must for success.

Woods (2004) cites a model of branding which states that at the outset, a brand has boundaries which are the functional and economic advantages that a consumer derives from or perceives in a brand. This is the tangible benefit that the product confers. This is followed by an inner boundary, which can also be called the brand differentiator or the emotional elements of the product that the consumers associate with it. This emotional association can be of three different types. The first is the psychological differentiator which includes everything that appeals to the consumers’ cognition and subconscious. Another type of differentiator is a social one, in which consumers relate some social advantages. These could be associations of social status in owning a brand, for example owning a particular brand of a car might be associated by a society as a success symbol, and it is this symbolism that works as a social benefit for the consumer.

Branding as a projection of the products’ perceived benefits and values resides in the minds of the consumers, and marketers can change this projection by attributing value to the brand that the consumers prefer. Keeping the fact that the image can be enhanced or distorted, marketers strive to send out messages that enhance the image of the brand in the direction that they would like. This is what makes branding an ideal tool for political campaigning.

The aim of political campaigns is to garner votes by convincing people of the suitability of a candidate to be a leader for the country for the next four years. By using branding, as part of political campaigning effectively a leader such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton got into office, but this was not long-lasting as both the leaders became unpopular due to their actions in office. Bill Clinton and his Scandalous affair alongside his inability to take a strong stand on political and economic matters made him loose credibility. The same was the case with Tony Blair, leading to the conclusion that branding and marketing is effective in helping candidates win elections, the same way in which advertising and marketing are able to convince people to buy the brand at least once. However, unlike branding in products and service where these don’t impact lives in a long term and profound manner, political campaigning enables political leaders to win the elections and obtain the office. Once in office, the next term is dictated mainly by the past performance of the candidate (Rutledge, 2013).

Moreover, political campaigning in the United States has been used more frequently and as compared to any other country in the world. Millions of dollars are spent by candidates vying for congressional slots, while a president’s campaign can run into hundreds of millions of dollars, to be specific President Bush’s campaign was worth $600 million only in terms of television advertising in 2004 (Kaid & Holtz-Bacha 2006).

Given this rising awareness of what branding and purposeful marketing can achieve, election campaigns are increasingly becoming innovative in their approaches. A book on the people’s choice was published as early as 1948 and focused on the two-step communication flow, and the techniques behind conveying information to voters. The book was a classic, and works on political campaigning in subsequent years used the book as a guide in order to develop the theory of branding and marketing political campaigns in the same way that marketers execute product marketing campaigns (Lazarsfeld 1948).

Lazarfield stated that the power of the two step model was not in the mass media, but that it lay in an individual interaction of candidates with opinion leaders. Opinion leaders are individuals who have influence in their groups and communities, which meant that convincing opinion leaders would lead to a spill-over effect, where once opinion leaders are convinced; they would be able to convince others in their groups of their ideas as well. The advent of social media in recent years has made developing connections with individuals easier, and as people are able to share information speedily in communities, conveying marketing messages too has become easier.

Elements of Successful Branding

Branding theory has several models, all of which have defined certain elements that make a branding exercise successful. Some models will be discussed here in order to evaluate the presence of these elements in Obama’s campaigns, and how this presence resulted in success for the first African-American president of the USA.

Needham (Needham 2005) uses a framework which defines six main elements of success in branding which include simplicity, uniqueness, reassurance, aspirational, value-based, and credibility (Duckworth 1991). This implies that the branding exercise should not be complex so as not to confuse the consumer, should be brief and focused. The campaign should also be  such that brands and brand personas cannot be copied, and at the same time is should reassurance consumers and evoke aspirational values that not only adhere to personal benefits, but also adhere to the value systems of the consumers. Credibility, the last element implies that a brand’s promises are to be trusted and that the company and the brand will not let the consumers’ expectations down. (Needham 2005)

Value-Based Marketing

Value-based marketing suggests that brands should be socially responsible and should espouse values that can create goodwill in the minds of the consumers. (Doyle 2000) Peter Doyle, in his book about value-based marketing presents a framework through which the mind, heart and the spirit of consumers can be touched so that the brand remains firmly entrenched as a part of their lives. Marketing 3.0 as it has been labelled by a renowned marketing expert, Philip Kotler has been presented in a matrix framework below.

Marketing 3.0 Matrix Framework (Philip Kotler)

According to the principles of value based marketing, the mind, heart, and spirit of consumers interact with three aspects of a company, which are mission, vision and value. The mission answers why the company exists, the vision answers what the company aims to achieve, while the value answer how the company aims to achieve its goals.

Kotler’s strategy can be helpful in analysing Obama’s strategy where the success purely in marketing terms can be measured by how Obama’s campaign was able to touch the mind, heart and spirit of the voters (Kotler, et al. 2010).

Integrated Marketing Communications

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is a model framework that has been in existence for a few decades, and is now considered a must in branding campaigns. This model holds that all types of marketing communications should have a consistent message that would help build a vivid and distinctive image of the brand in the consumers’ minds.

Companies’ that use this model effectively know that using brand colours and emblems are only one part of the IMC philosophy.  IMC entails that the consistent message that is sent across should establish a clear image of the brand among consumers so that they are able to associate a single, lasting and distinctive attribute to it. Consistency of marketing messages is vital in brand-building as it reinforces the values that the brand stands for, and at the same time enables the consumers to recognize it immediately from competing products.

Engaging the Voter

Obama’s campaign was not only emotive, it was also practical. According to Chris Gallery, brands not only need to evoke emotion they also need to get people into action. And Obama’s campaign did precisely this. It channelled people’s feelings into actions by providing voters with the tools to help out in the campaign. Obama’s own team was marketing the brand Obama, but using portals such as, and other blogging sites, voters sitting in the comfort of their own homes were also encouraged to spread the word about their favourite candidate against a payment for their services. (Gallery 2009)

According to Denise Shiffman, in her article in Advertising age: Political commentators believe Barack Obama is more popular with web surfers because his followers are younger, and young people are more likely to use blogs, social networks and other new media. That may be true, but it’s far from the only reason he’s faring well. Obama’s campaign is immersed in his audience’s experience (Shiffman 2008).

The excerpt suggests that while Obama might be considered to be popular because of tech savvy youngsters who use social media, it has to be noted that Obama’s campaign has been a success because he has allowed these youngsters and other voters to take part in the campaign personally. General election campaigns talk about the suitability of the candidate, and do not make an effort to engage voters in dialogue. However, Brand Obama broke these perceptions, and was able to interact with voters, and was able to convince them to be a part of his team of brand ambassadors, spreading the message of change alongside the rest of his team (Shiffman 2008).

Use of Social Media in Branding Political Campaigns

Barrack Obama’s campaign is a case in point as an effective use of innovative marketing tools such as social media. Even though the readers of today would not think in wonder about the impact of social media on communities, having been witness to evolutions such as the Arab Spring in 2011, use of social media in the 2008 elections was awe-inspiring and risky. The reason for this is the fact that in 2008 smartphones were not widely used, and social media was in its infancy. Twitter had just started operations, and personal interactions of brands and companies, nevertheless leaders was unheard of. Obama’s team realized the potential of social media, and became a pioneer in using social media extensively for branding and relationship building purposes.

Obama’s opponent in the 2008 elections was Mr McCain, who did not consider the use of social media at all, and this led Obama to be able to target opinion leaders who used social media more effectively and without any contention from opposite quarters. It has to be noted here that Obama truly understood the power of Social Media as a tool to brand himself, and as a tool to reach out to people in an individual manner. Moreover, through extensive use and monitoring of the media, the campaign was able to get real time feedback which was useful for understanding the psychology of voters (Rutledge 2013), which is akin to what author Lazarsfeld noted. He said that communication with voters is effective only when it comes from a trusted source, word-of-mouth messages from a reliable source can be trusted more, and this is the factor that Obama and his team understood well (Lazarsfeld 1948).

Obama’s team considered social media’s power to yield impact as vital, and their spending on this media reflected the importance that they placed on it.  While in 2012, Obama’s social media campaign was $47 million, Mitt Romney spent only $4.7 million (Rutledge 2013).The team was able to mine data and use it to arrange voters according to how easy it would be to persuade them. Obama’s team invested heavily in collecting online data, and used it also to predict donor behaviour as well as to determine what factors influenced people’s decisions in going out to vote (Rutledge 2013).

Obama understood that the real drivers of an effective social media campaign are based on the psychology of social behaviours and are not based on knowledge about current technology, and Obama and his team understood this aspect really well. Therefore, the easier and the more interesting it was to spread content from one campaign, the more popular that campaign would be. Considering that in 2012, Obama’s messages and content had twice as many likes as compared to Romney and Obama’s tweets were twenty times more likely to be re-tweeted. This meant that Obama’s messages were motivational, inspirational and appealed to users in a way that they wanted to share these with their friends, family and colleagues (Rutledge 2013).

Appearances and Success in Election Campaigns

A study shows that when there is a match between the personality traits of the candidate, based solely on his or her appearance, and between the party’s mottos and traits, there is a higher likelihood of success. (Hoegg & Lewis 2011) In fact according to the paper, results show that the competence and intelligence of candidates is decided through the match between the candidate’s looks and the party’s stance.  The paper concluded that Democrats gain when they look or appear intelligent, while Republicans gain success when they look competent. The subliminal messages that appearances have on voter trust is indicative of the fact that consumers do get influenced by marketing activities and branding initiatives.

Moreover, when looking at how negative advertising impacts the trustworthiness of a candidate, it has been observed that candidates who look like they are a good fit with the party agenda are less susceptible to damage from it. (Hoegg & Lewis 2011)


Secondary literature analysis has yielded several interesting results. The results were analysed separately in terms of the different election campaigns in 2008 and 2012. This distinction between the two years is necessary as there were differences in the social, economic as well as political contexts in the two years. While during the 2008 campaign all the campaign team needed to do was to attract voters with the appeal of a Black President and a promise of change, voters in the 2012 campaign had lived the dream of this promise.

Adam Curtis in the ‘Century of the Self’ links Freudian psychoanalysis to political campaigning, indicating that politics today is more about people’s desires and wants rather than about rational political thought.

Edward Bernays the pioneer of the field of PR was Freud’s nephew, and he was the first one to manipulate the masses in terms of their unconscious needs. He linked the needs of the masses to their desires and made them want things that were irrational, and in some ways defeated logical thought. This concept has been used repeatedly in US election campaigns to manoeuvre the masses into thinking that they desire a certain candidate for certain aspects, which might not make sense rationally (Happiness Machines, 2002).

The branding aspect of the electoral campaigns of Obama, just as the ones of his contemporaries as well as those before him are based on Freud’s psychoanalysis theories in which candidates try to appeal to the masses by making the individuals in the masses feel that each and every one of them is cared about. But the appeal of the subconscious can wear off when the promise is not delivered upon consistently, and four years of a leader’s term are enough to judge a candidate by.

While Obama’s polling show that he fell out of favour from majority vote, the polls show that his re-election was helped not only through branding techniques and clever use of psychoanalysis in which people were guided to be aspired by Obama and his wife’s highly credible and sound academic backgrounds. Moreover, the campaigners made Obama and his wife ideals of success by making them sound aspirational through narrations of their personal success despite belonging to a racially oppressed class (Happiness Machines, 2002).

Therefore the framework that has been chosen here to analyse the campaigns are different based on the distinction between the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. The 2008 campaign is analysed using the model by Needham that has the elements of simplicity, uniqueness, reassurance, aspirational, value-based, and credibility (Duckworth 1991). This model is being used here, because it encompasses all the necessary elements of successful branding and at the same time can be used to apply various schools of thought in the field and this will make the analysis more comprehensive. (Takaragawa & Carty 2012)

Obama’s 2008 Campaign

Obama’s 2008 campaign was lauded the world over for the intensity of emotions that they created, for the inspiration they provided, and for the change that they promised. According to (Gallery 2009) Obama’s campaign was emotive, and inspiring, and that is what appealed to voters who were tired of the status quo in 2008. Moreover, Obama’s campaign allowed for voter engagement, and also allowed voters to use their own versions of promoting him.

Brand Obama, was a well strategized and a far-reaching brand that has attracted voters to a new candidate with nothing but the promise of a changes and brighter future in 2008. When Obama promised change in his campaign, which was the single, underlying message of all his communications, he demonstrated it by having an election campaign that had never been there before (Gallery 2009). When voters were encouraged to spread their own versions of the messages of Obama, brand Obama took a risk, and by adhering to the single message of ‘change’ that was conveyed, changed how presidential candidates and individuals interacted (Gallery 2009).

The 2008 campaign, the message that Obama sent out was “change we can believe in”, which was the party slogan. The simplicity of the statement and the inspiration that it provided to Americans, who were correctly identified as being tired of the status quo, was one of the major drivers of the campaign. Moreover, the slogan was also followed by a chant of ‘yes we can’ which brought around everyone in the crowd to participate.

The slogan and the chant were both giving the population of America a sense of being part of an ideal society, which had reached the milestone of equality for all ethnicities. The chant was a wise branding strategy by the campaign managers, and the simple slogan and chant, which were understood easily by voters made the impact on everyone’s mind-sets very substantial. (Hartley & Pickton 1999)

According to a piece which analysed Obama’s campaign only in terms of the branding, PR and marketing activities experts have suggested that Brand Obama was one of the most well executed political campaigns of its times in 2008. Marketing expert, Allen Adamson, states that while the strategy to market Brand Obama was simple, the execution was relentless, and in this execution, Obama was helped by the army of people siding with him (Sullivan 2009).

Expert Scott Shamberg, the vice president at a renowned marketing agency claims that Obama understood the marketing process and the psychology of his consumers very well, and this is the reason why he was able to use marketing channels in an effective manner to convert people into Brand Obama voters (Sullivan 2009).

Branding is concerned with creating a positive image of the product or service in the minds of the consumer, and this is what the simple slogan and the chant brought about. Under the slogan and by chanting together with millions of other voters, each individual felt that he or she was contributing to changing the society for the better (Takaragawa & Carty 2012).The element of simplicity was present in the communications, where there was no better representative of change in the society than the 44th president of the country being from a historically oppressed race.

In terms of uniqueness Obama’s campaign was distinctive as it also allowed the people to participate in a way that they deemed fit. Consider the case of the Hope poster that was designed by Shepard Fairey. This was a stencil sketch of Obama, and was distributed independently by people favouring Obama. Later on, it was recognized by the campaign managers, endorsed, and distributed widely, becoming one of the well-recognized symbols of the campaign. (Needham 2005)

Uniqueness therefore emanated from the fact that the branding strategy of Obama was not planned strictly, but was in such a way that it allowed for flexibility and modifications that could help the campaign along. The additional advantage was that voters could feel engaged in the brand, and would feel that they were also contributors to the success.

The Obama brand reassured its voters of the change that they would bring by talking about policies that were consistent with his slogan. Some of the policies included Obama’s take on the illegal population, which he thought should be given an opportunity to get citizenship. In addition to that, there was an immigration rally in 2006 in which Obama walked as a part of it, and claimed that he had not run away from any issue. This was a factor that made him a credible candidate, as his claims were widely marketed as part of building integrity and trust among voters (Cornelissen 2001).

Many marketers in an effort to define branding state that brands are a promise, consumers come to know a brand because of the trust they place in it to be able to deliver the values that are associated with it. In a similar manner, the Obama’s campaign also offered the promise of delivering on ‘change’ and reassured people by pointing towards his last performance as a senator in the 2008 campaign (Shiffman 2008).

Aspirational slogans have been the hallmark of both of Obama’s campaigns, and these have been touted to be the key in bringing voters out of their homes to poll. George Bush’s Presidential years brought a low to public sentiments where he was considered to be an elitist president, favouring those near to him, and being very confrontational, as well high on war rhetoric. The world-wide goodwill and reputation of the USA also went down in that period. Obama saw this as a gap and pursued this as an opportunity to take advantage of the general public sentiment at the time (Doyle 2000).

However, according to a political science paper, it was noted that people who are more likley to vote are those who are not impacted by negative advertising, and even though a bulk of advertising by both camps was negative, persistent or engaged voters were not offended by the dirty politics being played out on media (Hunt, 2012).

George Bush was seen as a traditional, conservative president, who was alienated from the idealistic youth that form part of any society. This too was a gap that was unnoticed by everyone but the Obama camp, which then concentrated a lot of its efforts on the youth. Obama talked about change, and the youth, who tend to be less cynical of promises and political talk as compared to adults, were driven by this motto. The youth was swayed by the promises of a highly-educated African American young man who inspired them with his talk on the inevitable utopia that society would become under his leadership.

Obama’s 2008 campaign was value-based. The values that the campaign was propagating were that the youth were capable and that with hard work, sound education and merit there was nothing that could stop them from being successful. Obama was the shining example of this doctrine of equality and meritocracy that America’s foundation was based on (Kotler, et al. 2010).

According to Philip Kotler’s marketing 3.0 theories, branding and marketing has to touch three elements in a consumer. The first element is the mind, where the appeal of the brand should be rational and logical so that there is no disputing the benefit that the brand will provide to the consumer. The next aspect is the heart, where the emotions of the consumers have to be touched in order for them to be able to relate to the consumers on a more profound level. The third element is the spirit of the consumer, which has to be satisfied with the brand. By the spirit it means that the consumption of the brand, the consumer should not be causing any harm to the society. Companies do this by aligning themselves to an initiative that is beneficial to the community as well as the consumers, or is one which tries to minimize the harmful impact its products might have on the environment, for example green initiatives (Takaragawa & Carty 2012).

It has to be noted in case of election campaigns that the individual in question is there to improve the conditions of the society. By appealing to segmented groups and by addressing their group concerns in a targeted and focused manner, Obama appealed to the heart as well as the spirit of the people. Such targeting can only come about as a result of through study of the data obtained and a sound data mining program that the campaign of Obama had.

The campaign was made credible as it was perfectly aligned with the kind of personality Obama depicted. As was mentioned in the literature review that the appearance of the leader has to be a match to the values he portrays, Obama was a perfect match for the slogan of ‘change we can believe in’ as he himself was the story of success in America (Gallery 2009).

Obama was born to a Muslim father, which made him a subject of much debate. This however was cleverly played to Obama’s advantage through the use of psychoanalysis to sway the masses. This fact was presented to the public to show that Obama was a candidate despite all odds.

Obama Campaign in 2012

The 2012 campaign, on the other hand had forward as a slogan, which simply stated that the progress towards change was going forward. The slogan added an element of continuity to the last campaign, and promised that the change that had been carried out so far would be going on further ahead. The idea was easily communicable to the masses and was self-explanatory which made its impact even stronger (Bearden & Etzel 1982).

However, he was unable to deliver as effectively as promised, which was a let-down for the public. According to a news report citing what to expect in 2012 elections, a journalist noted that (Page, 2011): “Obama’s initial presidential job-approval rating in January 2009 was 64%, the highest of any new president in more than a quarter-century. In the daily Gallup survey, his approval rating was a middling 46% just before the bin Laden raid, then rose to 52% within a few days.”  (Page, 2011)

This goes to show that while branding enabled Obama to get the office in 2008, a lot was relying on his actions as a leader in the 2012 elections, as people saw a weaker leader in him than was expected. In some ways then, a strong initial election campaign in 2008 was a double-edged sword. While Obama was able to win the 2008 election comfortably based on the high and mighty claims, once, when Obama failed to live up to the larger-than-life expectations of change, 2012 proved to be a difficult year as he had failed to live up to voters’ ideals. Therefore even if his performance was mediocre, high expectations subdued these acheivements.

The 2012 campaign of Obama was decidedly different. According to a news report nearly 80 per cent of the advertising messages sent out by the Obama camp were negative, while 84 per cent of his opponents’ were negative (Hunt, 2012). The two campaign differed in their approach and while the 2008 campaign relied more on promises, the 2012 campaign was based on mitigating the effects of Obama not fulfilling expectations attached to him in 2008. The results are proof of this lack of trust in Obama, which branding was able to marginally address. Moreover, eexperts have felt that Obama seems to have lost control of his brand positioning, and that Obama has to come back on track with policies that should be centred on his message of change (Sullivan 2009).

There were some positive aspects in the 2012 campaign for instance when Obama tried to bring in the factor of uniqueness by announcing that he was in support of same sex marriage. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) society of the USA had been a major contributor to Obama’s campaign, and after the announcement, the LGBT community become the largest contributor to the campaign. This was a purposeful strategy through which Obama identified a target segment which was in his favour, and could be easily converted into campaign money and votes (Hartley & Pickton 1999).

Another factor that rendered the 2012 campaign unique was the team’s approach towards building Obama’s brand. The campaign headquarters was Chicago, Obama’s hometown, rather than Washington DC. This fact lent to the uniqueness of the campaign as they were able to communicate with voter groups in a targeted manner. If Obama’s campaign would have been based in Washington, the uniqueness would have been played down as voters would have perceived him as a politician behind the elitist bars. However, by operating from Chicago, Obama was perceived as being someone who was accessible to the masses, and as someone who was not elitist, but someone who knew his roots and held secure to his values.

Additionally, in 2012, the expenditure on social media by Barrack Obama was very high at $47 million; his competitors’ was much smaller at $4.7 million (Finne & Gronroos 2009).Therefore, Obama recognized the importance of the youth as social media users, and the importance of social media as an effective tool to communicate and change the opinions of the masses in his favour. In turn the social media wave was focused on aspiring the youth towards change, and  towards voting for a president that was promising them an ideal society with values that would help America redeem its reputation in the world (West 2014.)


The paper is based on a secondary research of the campaigns of Obama in 2008 and 2012. What this study aimed to do was to find out the root causes of the branding aspect of the election campaigns and how they lent to the success of Obama in both.

The changing dynamics of the world owe their progress to technology which has made information processing and sharing easy, cheap and convenient. Facts, figures, knowledge and opinions can be shared with worldwide audiences at the click of a button or a tap of the finger. Mobile cameras make it easy to capture images, and internet connectivity costs nothing to share. As more and more information is available publicly it becomes difficult for political leaders to remain in the shadows, forcing transparency to take the lead. (Hoegg & Lewis 2011)

Obama’s 2008 campaign was relatively better in comparison to his candidate solely because the campaign managers knew how the social media worked, and more importantly how the minds of the people on social media worked. Even though in 2008 twitter and Facebook were new, and there was no iPhone, Obama’s campaign was clairvoyant in recognizing the dynamics of voters and the importance that would be placed on social media.

That is the reason why Obama’s campaign spread like wildfire on the internet, which was further abetted by the fact that Obama’s managers knew that once the information was shared and once it spread, it would be difficult to control it. And acting out of a clear sense of purpose, the campaign managers realized that rather than controlling information, they had to guide the information sharing process in such a way that it would lead to success. That is the reason why, when people made additions to the campaign contributing, for example, as Shepard Fairey did by distributing the sketches, the campaign managers officially endorsed it and made Shepard and all other followers an active part of their campaign. In this way, it was not only the official employees who were campaigning; it was also the individuals who took a liking to Obama to be part of the campaign. This helped in not only churning out votes, but also helped in in terms of contributions made online (Finne & Gronroos 2009).

However, as compared to the 2008 campaign where all there was to Obama’s campaign was promise of a better future 2012 was about his accountability in being able to deliver on his promises. Given the fact that the economy was still bleak and the unemployment rate was at 9 per cent along with there being no real progress on his rhetoric on healthcare, the 2012 votes were more than those of his competitor, but less in comparison to 2008. According to a Washington Post report: “President Obama carried fewer states in 2012 than he did four years ago. He won a second term by dominating the nation’s large urban areas — although mostly by smaller margins compared to his 2008 vote totals” (The Washington Post, 2012).

The research problem that this paper set out to address was: ‘How have branding theories been useful in making the campaigns of president Obama successful in 2008 and in 2012?’

The answer to this problem is that the knowledge of consumer dynamics is more important as compared to the knowledge of technology in making branding strategies a success, and Obama’s campaign struck the right cord when it identified the groups, their needs, and how they could be reached. The voter lists to be contacted were arranged in terms of their likelihood of voting in favour of Obama, and this implies that trends among various groups were studied, and the each group’s psychodynamics were evaluated in order to bring the ideal lists into conception. These lists were then used as the basis of further campaigning and communications with target groups in accordance to their aspirations and desires.

The research problem was further divided into research objectives in order to comprehensively address the problem. The first objective of the paper was to analyse various branding theories that exist, and the models that were analysed include staid frameworks that have been tried and tested. Some of the theories discussed in the paper are integrated marketing communications, value-based marketing and the elements of branding success. A psychoanalysis theory that was suggested by Adam Curtis’s Century of the self has also been proposed here (Happiness Machines, 2002). In accordance with the second objective, a model was selected to analyse the branding campaign, and this was the framework that was used by Needham in his paper.

While integrated marketing communications and value based marketing have their advantages, an all-encompassing framework was needed in order to evaluate Obama’s campaign thoroughly. Integrated marketing communication figures into the framework under the category of uniqueness and reassurance, where integrated marketing communications focus on developing a consistent image.

Value-based marketing comes under the brand being aspirational and value-based; therefore the framework selected by Needham was considered sufficient for Obama’s election campaign evaluation in 2008, while in 2012 the election campaign was better analysed in context of the psychoanalysis theory as well as in light of realities as compared to perceptions.

The next objective was to evaluate how these branding strategies were useful in making Obama’s campaign a success. As it was discovered in the final section of discussion, the election campaigns used all six elements of the model and termed the campaign of Obama as resounding success in all elements of reaching out to voters. The role of branding was very important in creating Brand Obama in 2008, in comparison to rivals -in fact the campaign of Obama was so successful that it enabled the name of Obama to be recognized the entire world over as a household name. (Bearden & Etzel 1982) In 2012, however, the story was different as the context differed

The final objective asked about how his campaign team respond to the changed contexts in 2012. Obama’s branding strategy was similar, only it attacked the opponents claims more, and was more on the defensive side, as his actions were accounted for and asked about. The economy, which the 2008 campaign promised to change was more or less the same, and while Obama persisted by saying that his actions would have long term impact, the lower margin of win in 2012 as compared to 2008 clearly indicates that he lost votes and that branding was successful only to a limited degree  (The Washington Post, 2012).

Obama’s election campaign can be considered as a model also for services and product branding as the campaign worked from scratch to bring in a previously unknown brand into public cognition. Obama’s brand image was built in a purposeful manner with target audience psychosis considered and segmented in a manner that was strategic as it was well-thought.

Multinational brands can also learn from Obama’s example and target their market in a segmented way which makes the communication effective and impactful. However, as compared to product branding, political branding is best when coupled with affirmative action following the promises and rhetoric in order to build a lasting brand.

To conclude, it can be said that branding can be an important element for political leaders not only in the USA, but all across the globe in order to gain a following, and while it can be used to create leaders, sustaining them is a matter of real actions and measurable economic results- at least as far as the Americans and their obsession with the economy goes. The paper can therefore be looked at in terms of a starting point, from which more empirical and scholastic studies can surface, and which would probably be more profound if public opinion through primary research methods filtered out. (Cornelissen 2001) Primary research is an element that can be added to this paper in order to enhance the conclusions and to provide a more profound perspective on the topic.


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Branding Political Campaigns
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Branding Political Campaigns
How Effective Are Branding Approaches For Electoral Campaigning? A review of branding approaches in the context of Obama’s electoral campaigns of 2008 and 2012.

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My name is Steve Jones and I’m the creator and administrator of the dissertation topics blog. I’m a senior writer at and hold a BA (hons) Business degree and MBA, I live in Birmingham (just moved here from London), I’m a keen writer, always glued to a book and have an interest in economics theory.

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