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Thursday, August 28, 2008

McCain the Warrior vs. Obama the Marketer

The first blood in the Presidential election of 2008 has been drawn and it was drawn by McCain. Baffled political reporters are still trying to understand why McCain is suddenly winning and why Obama is falling behind. They don't understand what happened because there's a shortage of experienced political reporters left anymore.

Most of the media has been taken in by the shiny and glitzy Obama campaign that progressed like a product release with carefully selected design themes, viral marketing, concerts, celebrity appearances and carefully controlled media relations. The media were taken in by it, in large part because the political press today is short on real reporters and long on media reporters who rarely leave a studio, work hard on their makeup and have very little understanding of what it takes to actually win an election. They relate to Obama so well, because their image is based as much on shiny corporate branding as he is.

The media has become increasingly clueless about elections because the media has become increasingly out of touch with the real world outside their own bubble. To them image is reality and they can never understand why the candidate that they relate to most doesn't win.

The problem is that real politics has very little to do with the kind of hollow style over substance displays that characterize the Obama campaign. The media has confused advertising with winning, when advertising is simply one tool to achieve a larger objective, victory at the polls. For Obama, the medium has become the message. "Vote for Obama because he has style and image" is how the message goes now as the Obama image machine devours its own tail.

The McCain campaign has matched its tactics to Obama's weakness, image over substance, hammering away at his ego, lack of experience and substance, rolling out one ad after another at high velocity. The supposedly technocratic Obama campaign's response by contrast has been painfully slow and clumsy. It's a flaw that the Obama campaign telegraphed against Hillary Clinton as it adapted slowly and clumsily to fight her.

The Obama campaign has prided itself on being huge, on producing massive events, on rolling out Obama across America. Where the media saw that as a strength, the McCain campaign saw a weakness, a bloated style driven campaign wrapped up in its own self-glorification.

Where Obama's campaign was a triumph in marketing, McCain's campaign was a guerrilla war. Obama's people excel at branding and packaging, that's a corporate skill and corporations are notoriously slow and unwieldy when it comes to adapting their brand to a changing marketplace and reacting to attacks. McCain's people excel at war.

In the way of war, mobility is more important than visibility. McCain gets that while Obama's people still insist on treating a Presidential election like a rock concert. That's the difference between seasoned political operatives and marketers. The McCain campaign has flexibility and rapid response. The Obama campaign has grandeur and glitz.

Obama's people can package and sell a product, but have no adaptability when the fight gets tough. McCain is fighting a war and adapts to the battlefield.

Obama's people have a shiny product whose success they treat as inevitable and can't reach a decision because the buck doesn't stop with any one man. Obama isn't in control, he lacks the experience and leadership and too many powerful people are standing behind him in the wings pulling the strings. This resulted in the disastrous pick of Biden for VP, a man Obama himself is clearly not comfortable with.

The McCain campaign knows it has a very tough battle to fight but it does have a chain of command ending with one man. He has the experience and leadership to control his campaign, something Obama does not. That means that the campaign can reach decisions quickly, something the Obama campaign can't do.

The McCain campaign doesn't entirely get the internet, but it gets the principle behind it, of flexibility and adaptability, which Obama the supposedly 21st century candidate does not. To the Obama campaign the internet is just another way of outsourcing his campaign and calling it a grass roots effort, which only further decentralizes an already chaotically decentralized campaign.

In the campaign John McCain can do the one thing that Obama can't, lead. While Obama runs a corporate marketing campaign, McCain is running a hard nosed old line political campaign and so far he's winning. And despite the last few weeks the Obama campaign still doesn't get it. The orgy of the DNC convention, the frenetic media coverage, the greek forum, the celebrities and the glamor are mostly wasted effort and only gives McCain more raw meat to bite into.

As a marketing campaign Obama's people still haven't learned their lesson, that branding doesn't win elections. Not only has their candidate peaked too early, but his campaign needs to change dramatically in order to cope with McCain's guerrilla warfare.

McCain's people have demonstrated that they can hit hard and fast and move on, but it takes more to win an election than it does to win a war. Selling McCain to the public though is not difficult because unlike Obama he has the credentials and the image already and that's why he's gone negative.

The McCain campaign doesn't need to sell him as much as they need to unsell Obama. Obama's people have invested a lot of money into creating an inflated image of the man. But it takes much less effort to destroy an image than it does to build one up. A corporation can spend a 100 million on advertising only to have their image destroyed for a few dollars. Obama is experiencing that right now and like the corporations, his campaign has no real clue how to react.

The irony is that Obama's branding is a corporate product, a beautiful piece of advertising pulled off spectacularly, rolled out across magazines, TV shows, ads and gone viral. The supposed anti-corporate candidate is as unreal as a Mountain Dew commercial or a new flavor of Crest whitening toothpaste.

Obama's people have demonstrated that they can sell a completely unqualified and unsuitable candidate over a qualified and suitable candidate purely through advertising and marketing in the Democratic primaries. But now they have to do it again to the entire nation with the element of surprise gone, with a candidate a lot of people are already tired of hearing about and against an opposing campaign that understands how to win elections, while they understand only how to promote a product.

This should be good.

7 comments:

Lemon said...

Obama is the present . It is a world of internet unreal things, words and photos and sickly sentiments that have no meaning. He fits right in.

He does nothing but talk like so many in the world today. It's all about talking about problems in a nebulous way but no real solutions and no action at all.
He is the perfect candidate for today's world.

Keli Ata said...

Ahhhh, now that's the kind of political analysis I can relate to and would love to hear in the post game convention analyses on the major networks!

All I've heard so far is how electrifying the speeches at the convention have been. From what snippets I've watched (thankfully the stations are only broadcasting one hour in prime time) I'm not all that impressed.

Few things on television will move me more than Brian Boitano's performance in the 1988 Olympics when he skated to the theme song from the movie "Napoleon and Josephine."

Boitano's sheer brilliance won him the gold over the Brian Orser of Canada.

Boitano was class with just enough originality to stand out--his trademark 'tano twist with his arm.

American Debbie Thomas lost the gold to German Katerina Witt. Thomas tried to change a classic in her performance of "Carmen". In her bland version, Carmen lives at the end and wears a black one-piece leotard.

Nice upbeat ending but...unfulfilling since everyone knows and has a clear image of how the opera ends and of who Carmen is.

Witt wore all red with dark red lipstic with a red flower in her and died at the end. A very dramatic moment compared to Thomas's positive but dull performance. Witt captured the essence of Carmen, Thomas pretended to.

Witt won the gold in 1988 too. Like Boitano, a class act all the way.

And when she skated years later to "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and then talked about how painful her experiences in East Germany were and why she sought assylum in the US...you respected her all the more and saw even greater beauty and uniqueness in her skating, even though she is older and has less tricks and jumps than up and coming skaters.

But to go back to the "What Would Brian Boitano Do" question: The man and the song exude a type of class and elequence Obama's people haven't been able to manufacture. Because it would be just that, a manufactured product.

McCain is the real deal.

Traditionally (with a few exceptions) presidents have been old or older, white-haired and have served in the military.

Not a snobbish little American-hating brat who went to an ivy league college and used crack.

McCain is traditional but like Brian Boitano has a subtle uniqueness in being a POW courageous enough to talk about his experience.

If you watch the videos I posted on Obama's and McCain's interviews by an evangelical pastor, Obama's responses come right out of a "How to Sound Like A Born Again Christian" handbook.

McCain on the other hand stated that it meant he was saved and forgiven and then described one of the torture techniques his captors used on him.

Given his POW nightmare and that he like many veterans probably felt genuine guilt at having to kill in the line of duty, being saved and forgiven was more heartfelt and sincere than everything Obama said.

Physical and emotional torture versus Obama's contrived "torture" over his racial/religious identity.

And, while describing his torture, McCain's voice was slightly shaking at points. Just hearing that subtle shaking in his voice so many years after the war...I don't know, I have even more respect for him.

No amount of marketing or coaching/acting lessons could have brought out that slight shaking in his voice.



And your 100-percent right. It's a political campaign not a marketing campaign. Obama's people forget that the public gets bored when it gets saturated with the same commercial/ad over and over ad.

(sorry SK for the long comment and segway into what I wanted to convey).

Yobeeone said...

This has got to be the weirdest election I've seen in my little 47 years. The media is cracked. There's not real logic to the way they're presenting any of this stuff. Oh wait! I know what the media reminds me of - communists. :]

Anonymous said...

Very good analysis,it's one of the block buster movies that Hollywood is churning. They are specialists. I'm afraid that it might work because young Americans today can't differentiate between fantasy and reality. Lemon is right, he fits our today world like a glove.
To Yobeeone, the media are the communists (one sided opinions and no dissent alowed) and the only thing missing at this convention are the Red Square parades.

Anonymous said...

How about the McCain's new VP? It looks to me like a war maneuver to block, but from weakness.
He is old, she is young.
He is a man (and white to boot), she is a woman.
Obama didn't choose Hilary, he chose a woman.
Any attacks on his age, allegations of racism against anyone not voting Obama, can be parred by him easier.
Very interesting, like the Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times

Keli Ata said...

I watched Obama's coronation last night and his reincarnation of both black civil rights leader and white Irish Catholic John F. Kennedy. He called it a "defining movement."

For me, Obama's defining moment came when his pastor said "god damn america" and when Barack himself while in Germany addressed an audience with, "People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment."

That really did sound like the opening Hitler might have used in a speech.

That changed everything about the way I viewed Obama and no amount of glitz will make me think otherwise.

As I alluded to in a previous comment, I don't share McCain's faith but I respect how he lives it out and his reluctance to use it as a campaign trick.

I respect nothing of Barack Obama.

Obama may have released figurative peace doves last night it was more like ravens in my eyes.

And Joe Biden and Barack using him to bolster his own inability to lead? Well, not to be flip but that reminds me of the episode of "The Simpsons" when Homer runs for Sanitations Commissioner with the campaign slogan:

"Can't Someone Else Do It?"

That's all anyone will get with Obama. "Can't someone else do it...because I DON'T KNOW HOW TO."


That's it. All done with my Obama rant (for now).


BTW: McCain chose Sarah Palin as his VP running mate.

Keli Ata said...

Shabbat Shalom, Sultan :)

Thank you for the great articles all week, too.

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