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Disruption: Inviting Wins Out Over Selling in Iowa and N.H.

Posted by: David Kiley on January 7, 2008


I admit I am a political junkie. I watched hours upon hours of the post Iowa and pre-New Hampshire spin, blather and analysis. As I listened to clips of Hillary Clinton’s speeches and debate out-takes along with Barack Obama, something began to take shape in the rhetoric. And I think it is the difference between Obama and the other candidates.

Hillary, in particular, is selling, selling, selling. She sounds strident when she says “I am about change. I have been making change for 35 years.” At times she sounds like a Chevy salesperson trying to talk me out of a Honda. Obama, on the other hand, has had a message and attitude that says “Follow me and we will make change together.”

This, to me, is the difference in today’s media and marketing world between selling with ads versus selling with compelling content that invites people into a brand. It’s the difference between pitching a promise and idea versus a product. It’s the difference, if you will, between a BMW ad and BMW films, or the difference between buying a Saturn and being such a brand advocate that you’d go to a Saturn re-union of buyers.

The Republicans, to me, sound as strident as Clinton, essentially trying to sell themselves on trust. “You need to trust us, not those silly Democrats.” This reminds me a bit of the Detroit executives who, in the mid 1980s, were telling reporters that the Japanese and Korean automakers shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Please, you have to better than tell me that a Democrat can’t fight terrorism or that a Dem will raise my taxes.

I’m not passing judgement on whether Obama would be a good president or not. I have no idea. I’m assessing his style and his personal magnetism strategy for attracting voters. It’s working. And it’s a lesson for candidates and marketers.

Watching the media for a few days, it is also plain that Obama, for the next several weeks at least, is going to be the darling of the mainstream media…some of whom could barely contain the moisture in their eyes when Obama gave his Iowa acceptance speech.

The other candidates may have better product attributes. But Obama has what ad people call “disruption.” He has non-brand loyal people not just thinking about him, but re-thinking the way they think about the whole category of candidates. He’s got Democrats. And at least in Iowa and New Hampshire, he’s got a lot more independents than the Republicans are pulling.



News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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