Mark, first, congratulations on picking Obama as the winner back in May. Why did Obama Win?
Romney never really had a chance because the Obama brand, created from 2004 to 2008, became one of the most powerful political brands in US history—built on a religion-like faith that’s more powerful than political or economic reality. His campaign received “Advertising Age’s” coveted “Marketer of the Year” award in 2008.
What about the stalled economy, Hurricane Sandy, or the alleged administrative missteps that led to the Benghazi killing of a US ambassador late in the campaign?
Only joblessness significantly tarnished Obama’s brand. About 40% of voters were going to support Obama regardless of the economy. So Obama told the additional 10% of voters that he needed for victory that the economy was improving. He preached hope, calling followers to continue to have faith in him. In my academic field, that’s known as “priestly propaganda”—telling people what they want to believe regardless of its veracity.
So the Obama victory was all about political branding?
Absolutely. Obama resurrected his pseudo-religious brand from 2008 and asked voters for more time to work his economic miracles. His criticisms of Romney late in the race were not designed to gain independent voters so much as to turn out Obama’s base. Obama needed to clarify that he was the godly candidate and Romney was the devilish candidate—hence, the class-warfare rhetoric about poor vs. rich.
What does 2012 teach us about presidential branding?
Both 2008 and 2012 show that presidential campaigns are increasingly “religious”—that candidates need a compelling creation story (where they came from and what they overcame in life), sacred words (like hope and belief), revival-like rallies, sacred icons (reverential images of the candidate), and saintly supporters (like Hollywood celebs and rock stars who publicly endorse the candidate) who testify to their faith in the candidate. I wrote “Charisma: Why Obama Will Beat Obama” in May, when it was clear from the primary battles that Romney’s campaign didn’t understand the religious aspects of presidential branding.
Interview with Mark Edward Taylor, author of Charisma: Why Obama Will Beat Romney, published in May 2012. Interviewed by Quentin J. Schultze, Professor of Communication at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI.