Friday, July 25, 2008

Welcome to the Obamalympics

While the Obama not-quite World Tour was underway, the Obama presidential campaign announced something probably meant to address one of the vexing issues for the campaign, a catechism from the punditburo and the McCain campaign that “no one knows who Barack Obama is.”

It’s a debatable point in the first place; Obama has in short order powerfully made known his presence as a national political figure of note; and with the deal in Berlin, that recognition has clearly taken on a global dimension.

If you don’t know who Barack Obama is by now, you’ve been living under a rock. If you don’t know who Barack Obama is by the end of the Beijing Olympic Games, you’ve been living under a rock at the bottom of the ocean.

Advertising Age reported Wednesday that the Obama campaign will be among the television sponsors of NBC Sports coverage of the Beijing Games, set to begin Aug. 8. Ad Age reports that Team Obama has purchased a $5 million package of Olympics spots that includes network TV as well as cable ads, in what Ad Age said was “the first significant network-TV buy for any presidential candidate in at least 12 years.”

The Obama campaign would join a parade of high-profile conventional advertisers including Adidas, McDonald's, Nike, Visa and Anheuser-Busch.

"Both the scale and the scope makes Obama's buy unprecedented," said Evan Tracey, the chief operating officer of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, to The New York Times. "This is going beyond the battleground states; this is coverage that the entire country sees. It sort of validates his 50-state posture."

That’s one way of looking at it. We wonder, though, if all this is a bit … over the top. It’s one thing to rightfully assume the world stage as a natural extension of reaching not just the nation you hope to run, but also the world you hope to lead.

But a big-ass ad buy like this takes campaign “branding” to new levels. The last thing a candidate wants to be seen as is inauthentic, disposable, one-dimensional. The danger with this strategy from Team Obama is that verges on overexposure; and it reinforces the idea of Obama as product, not a good idea when you’re trying to connect viscerally with the electorate.

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We know the Obama campaign will use the time to advance the Obama agenda and proposals, and to make Obama’s case for his approach to leadership in the White House.

But it just doesn’t feel right. There’s a hint of über-alles, flood-the-senses domination about it, something that seems to undercut the drive for a more populist contact with people.

Then again, what’s more populist than TV? Arnold Schwarzenegger used the tube to launch his bid for the governorship of California on “The Tonight Show,” trading yuks with Jay Leno. Reaching people where they live.

Still. We’re just saying. Putting your campaign agenda on the same perceptual par with sneakers and beer may not be wise, or even necessary. There's some risk involved in putting your money where your mouth is when your mouth is doing what money can't do to begin with.
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Image credits: Obama: Public domain. NBC Sports logo ©2008 NBC Sports/NBC Universal.

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