Andy Stubbings writes:
Much has been written about the effect that Barack Obama might have on perceptions of Brand USA; it’s also worth considering what it might mean for American brands. Much of the explicit Obama-related marketing during the election campaign and before the inauguration was fun but gimmicky; from Ikea’s invitation to redesign the Oval Office with flat pack furniture, to Pepsi’s in your face Yes You Can message; to Ben and Jerry’s ‘Yes Pecan’ flavoured ice cream, with initial revenues going to the non-profit Common Cause. Part of the issue for brands wishing to capitalise on the “Obama effect” is that the President remains something of a cipher (a long-standing theme in Obama coverage) and appears reluctant, perhaps understandably, to define himself too hastily.
But perhaps there’s a deeper story at play here. In a long reflective piece (opens in pdf) the management thinker Charles Hampden-Turner describes Obama as “the leader who reconciles” apparent opposites: continuity and change; cooperation with opposition; victory with self-sacrifice. What is intriguing about this is the suggestion that, in the context of current uncertainty, leaders and brands that can manage a massive national cultural transition by reconciling opposites do well.
Indeed, Douglas Holt, Professor of Cultural Branding at the Oxford Said Business School argues that iconic brands are built by seizing on “cultural contradictions” and reconciling them: whether that be a divide between young and old, black and white, or continuity and change. After the noisy simplicity of the Bush years, it may be that some quiet ambiguity from America’s leader – and from its leading brands – is the smart strategy right now. Any thoughts from American readers?
The image at the top of the post is by the graphic designer Andrew Lockhart.