Challenger Brand at Work

Ah, finally. The 2008 presidential election has come to an end and all of America can go back to watching “not so” reality TV. But before we forget all about it, I want to share my story of how branding can effectively move people to action. I’m going to apologize up front for jumping on the “Obama as a Brand” bandwagon, but it struck me when my father said “I’m voting for change.” You see, my 69-year-old father voted for the very first time in his life when he cast a vote for Barack Obama, and that was his reply when I asked him why he finally decided to vote.

Regardless of which side you were voting for, how did Barack get to my father? My father, who lives in rural Pennsylvania, is not an Internet user, so the social networking campaigns that the Obama campaign has become famous for weren’t a factor. My father doesn’t subscribe to any magazines or newspapers, and he rarely puts on the radio. I will admit my father watches TV; usually between the hours of 5am to 9am and 3pm to 6pm – which means he didn’t see any of the debates or SNL skits. My father voted for change because the messages he did receive were consistent and compelling, and he believed them. He believed them because they came from credible sources, as they were discussed on TV programs he watches regularly, and from friends and family who engaged him in conversations. He believed them because they were coming to him from someone other than Barack Obama himself. And he believed them because they spoke directly to him.

So what can we learn from this famous Challenger Brand campaign? First, make sure your message is consistent and true to what you believe. Second, make sure you’re communicating in a language your target understands. And third, follow the KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid).

2 Responses to “Challenger Brand at Work”

  1. Andrew O. Ellis

    I think it’s worth mentioning that another strength of the Obama brand has been its versatility. A lot of companies worry that they can’t control their brand in its entirety once it’s out in the marketplace. On the other hand, the Obama campaign anticipated and even embraced this.

    I’ve seen the ‘O’ logo and change/hope message integrated into everything from silkscreened posters to home-made rap videos. They made it easy to get involved this way by having a very accessible website and even providing downloadable design elements on that site.

    The message was clear and simple enough, and the look versatile enough, that the ‘credible’ sources you reference could be customized by and for anyone. It really spoke to the inclusive grass-roots attitude of the campaign.

    Politics aside, it struck me as a very effective way to get people involved, and in the end, it looks like that’s what made the difference.

  2. Belinda


    Thanks for your comment, and you are absolutely right. The Obama Campaign encouraged Citizen Marketing and embraced it in a way that would make many other politicians and corporate America uncomfortable. Traditional marketing teaches us to control messages, however we currently live in an era where that is no longer possible. The Internet makes it way too easy for messages (whether they are good or bad) to be shared with the masses. Challenger Brands that stay true to who they are can grip this phenomenon and let their followers do the talking.



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