Erwin: Obama Building a Brand Like a Smart Marketer

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Since Barack Obama's announcement last month that he would forgo matching public funds for his presidential campaign, the decision has raised many questions ... and a lot of eyebrows.

Some have hailed it as the beginning of the end to a flawed process, created in the wake of Watergate crisis, to eliminate the influence of special interests. Others have suggested Obama is changing the rules by employing a populist strategy that circumvents the spending limits that accompany public financing.

As a marketer, I think there may be more here than meets the eye. Take, for example, this week's announcement of plans to conduct an "Open Convention" in Denver, where tens of thousands of everyday folks will have an opportunity to experience the simply electric environment of a presidential nomination and acceptance.

Then there's the campaign's plan to tie fund-raising to the most anticipated political convention in recent memory. Through July 31, anyone who contributes $5 or more will have the chance to be one 10 people to win a trip for two to the convention, including a chance to meet the candidate in person.

Changing the rules? I think the senator may have decided to play a different game entirely. It's called building a brand.

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A former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, Joe Erwin is president of Erwin-Penland, a 180-person full-service advertising and marketing agency in Greenville, S.C., that is part of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos. He has endorsed Barack Obama.