I Also Want to Write About Barack Obama!

Lessons Learned in Learning Lessons From the Most Spherical Campaign Around

By Published on .

Mythili Chandrasekar Mythili Chandrasekar
The marketing fraternity gets excited when there are lessons to learn, especially when these lessons come from outside the corporate world. So of course, when someone like Barack Obama becomes president, we can pick up many new instructions in management and marketing, mainly from the marketing gurus who love to rush and write about them in the papers. The faster you can figure out the lessons, the better. Now don't get me wrong, they are really good articles. It's just that being somewhat connected to marketing, and also an occasional writer of articles ... I also want to write about Barack Obama.

The first step in Writing About Barack Obama is figuring out whether you have five, seven or 10 lessons. Then you discern who these lessons could be for. CEOs, marketers, organizations and brands have already been targeted.

I'm a planner by trade so my first thought was to reach out to my ilk. But Umair Haque, who wrote "Obama's Seven Lessons for Radical Innovators" for Harvard Business Publishing, beat me there. Sample: "Obama's campaign took a scalpel to strategy -- because they realized that strategy, too often, kills a deeply lived sense of purpose, destroys credibility and corrupts meaning." So "Six Lessons Strategic Planners Can Learn From Barack Obama" was out. As was "Seven Lessons for Radical Innovators."

Also, you need some new concept words to make your lesson unique. You know, like "blue ocean," "flat world," "long tail." According to Mr. Haque, "Obama's organization was less tall or flat than spherical." That's right, spherical. And his organization was "self-organizing." Gosh, I need something like that for my article too.

In this regard, Al Ries' "What Marketers Can Learn from Obama's Campaign," published on this website, was not very helpful. He says Mr. Obama teaches us "simplicity, consistency, relevance." No new concept words there, just good old horse sense. And not at all what I'm looking for. In fact, Mr. Obama does not really teach us any new lessons; he has simply applied the lessons Mr. Ries taught us long ago, but we never learned. (He also says something sarcastic about chief marketing officers who keep changing jobs and slogans, but never mind that for now.) As Mr. Ries points out, we learn from Mr. Obama that we shouldn't change our slogans often; our slogan itself should be about change. And as they all point out, it's not about small changes. We have to change the world itself.

Then there was John Quelch's "How Better Marketing Elected Barack Obama," also for Harvard Business Publishing. The lessons from here include: Be charismatic, be a great public speaker, convert empathy into tangible support (read: money) reach out to all, have consistent messaging, combine functional with emotional benefits, use new media, outsmart the competition, fight the ground war brilliantly and have an excellent marketing and campaign team.

Phew ... if only.

Even still, that leaves me with many brands for which I have no world-changing ideas, no compelling biographies, no funds and, worst of all, no concept words. It also leaves me without a title for my article.

I suppose it could have been "Three Lessons the Advertising Industry Can Learn From Obama." (Just three should do, because some feel the advertising industry takes a long time to learn its lessons.) But apparently Mr. Obama put his money where the ad industry's mouth is now -- in digital! (In this regard, there are anything from 23 to 52 lessons.) He has taught us lessons in logo design, website design, messaging, twittering, mobile alerts. He has schooled us in how to build social networks and e-mail lists, to distribute widgets and to bring in the under-30s. And most of all, a key lesson in domain names. It's not barackobama.com but my.barackobama.com. That's right. Co-create, put the customer in the center of the universe. (See, he has only done what the advertising industry has been saying for five years now.)

And of course the ultimate lesson is his central message: "I can't change anything, only we can." Actually, no. The ultimate lesson is getting that "we" get to pay for his campaign.

Aha! An aha moment. A lesson. If the competition runs expensive TV ads, and your client does not have the money, raise funds from your consumers -- through the internet! That's co-creation. That's the 21st-century organization. That's spherical, surely.

See, we don't want to just run a great campaign with our client's money. We want to change the world ... by launching My.consumerspayforads.com. Ahhhh. There's the title: "One Lesson on Marketing Budgets From Barack Obama." And for all you disbelievers in advertising out there, who think we can't pull this off, there is of course only one message. "Yes we can."

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Mythili Chandrasekar is executive planning director at JWT India. The views expressed are personal. She also blogs for Advertising Age's Global Idea Network.
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