President Levin stands smiling in front of a blue-gradient backdrop. Emblazoned above him, in all-caps white Gotham font, is an all-too-familiar buzzword: “CHANGE.” Below, the slogan continues in light blue, not with “WE CAN BELIEVE IN,” as you might expect, but rather with “NEW HAVEN.” It’s a Facebook ad for the President’s Public Service Fellowship, and in graphic design and content, it’s hoping to evoke and capitalize on the most successful brand of our — and maybe all — time: Barack Obama.
Marketing has become Obamafied almost overnight. Ad-men have moved quickly to exploit the mad excitement of a Hope-drunk America.
Ben & Jerry’s recently introduced a new ice cream flavor, “Yes Pecan!”, and Southwest Airlines announced their “Yes You Can” sale for the month following the inauguration. Pepsi just unveiled a new logo that is strikingly similar to Obama’s, and its new Web site features a “Dear Mr. President” section, where you can send a Pepsi-themed message to BHO himself. The soft-drink company’s new series of peppy ads feature catchphrases like “Yes You Can” and “All For One” — of course, in the pervasive Gotham font — with the trademark O’s replaced by the new logo. Pepsi even stole everyone’s favorite Obama spokesperson, Will.I.Am, for its latest commercial. And their new tagline? “Refresh America.”
We shouldn’t be surprised. President Obama’s meticulously designed brand image has a whole portfolio of positive, wallet-opening associations: youth, cool factor, new beginnings. Of course corporations are going to hop on the bandwagon with us as we happily head towards the restorative utopia that many Americans expect of Obama’s presidency. Can they really be faulted for stealing some typefaces and slogans along the way?
What are we to make of this new phenomenon of Obamarketing? Many find it derivative, obnoxious and cheap. President Obama’s campaign branding had substance behind it, and his election was truly a watershed moment for much of the nation. Trying to capitalize commercially on the success of one of the most monumental political upheavals in American history seems, in a way, to trivialize it. Some have accused the strategy of being downright manipulative. Could corporations really be trying to hawk their wares by subliminally linking them to that senator-cum-president we all (well, most of us) know and love?
Yes, they are. But we shouldn’t be upset. Marketers are just doing what they’ve always done: identifying the newest, coolest thing, and associating it with their product. The only odd part of the situation is that this hip new thing is the president.
Branding reflects current social trends; it always has and always will. It can only help that the Obama campaign seized onto America’s collective psyche with graphical and verbal elements that struck such a resonant chord. Why shouldn’t the Don Drapers of the world piggyback on the Obama campaign to sell espresso makers? Corporations have the right to shamelessly appropriate the verbiage and themes that inspired millions. After all, it’s their “hope and change” too. If it works, it works.
When World War II veteran and former senator Bob Dole stands up to pitch Viagra, we don’t complain (though we may cringe at the implication). And when Apple uses “Think Different” to tap into the progressive sensibilities of a generation of young people, we pat the company on the back for its tactful brand management. And practically every company, from Starbucks to Yale, now has its own eco-friendly “green” initiative.
The nation is still Obama-giddy. Our cultural zeitgeist revolves around our new president, and advertisers are taking notice. This could have positive effects. In fact, in a bum economy, exploiting Obama’s buoyant aura could do much for consumer confidence.
As markets freeze up, credit runs dry and incomes sink, we need all the encouragement we can to get out of the house and buy, buy, buy. It can only help to be reminded, as we reach for a Pepsi can, that change might really be on the way. In a country where many would rather sell their soul than their house, we want to foster that pervading sensation of potential that the Obama campaign so ingeniously marketed.
In short, let’s take advantage of this new, hopeful atmosphere, use it to sell stuff, and give our nation’s businesses a much-needed shot in the arm. FDR’s economy-jumpstarting line, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” might have had an even greater effect if it had been printed on T-shirts sold around the country.
In a panicky economic climate, the Obama brand’s soothing coolness and its fresh, zesty air of possibility should be appropriated, multiplied and redistributed as much as possible. Obamarketing just reminds us of what we should already know: Change isn’t a man on a podium; it’s a societal state of mind.
As its subliminal aura pervades, and marketers capitalize on the brand intrinsically associated with it, the change mandate comes out of Obama’s hands and into our own. We play the most crucial role of all. Positive outlook and consumer optimism will do much for the economic crisis.
In short, we may, after all, be the change that we have been waiting for. And you can print that in Gotham.
Alex Klein is a freshman in Davenport College.