Will the State of the Union speech tonight mark the resurgence of Brand Obama or just give us more evidence that the man we thought we had elected president simply doesn’t exist?
Let’s face it. Obama was seen by many who voted for him as a man who would be guided by the fundamental center-right beliefs that characterize the majority of people in this great nation -- after all, he frequently praised small business and saw free enterprise as part of the solution to restoring our country. That’s why so many independents and Republicans voted for him. They were sick and tired of the Republican party and they way it had losing touch with its fundamental values. In short, Americans were willing to give an untested brand a chance to usher in a new kind of politics.
Instead, after one year with Brand Obama in the White House we’ve gotten more of the old-style politics than ever before.
Not only do voters not see “change” these days when they see Barack Obama, even worse, they see “bait-and-switch.” Why? Because the brand they’ve bought wasn’t the one they were promised. And this unpromised brand keeps talking your ear off, giving speech after speech and yet we still don’t feel like we have a president.
Tonight, Obama is on the podium again for his State of the Union address. Can he turn his brand around? Will the man that the majority voted for finally show up?
It might just be the recent success of another political brand, Massachusetts’ Scott Brown, who will lead the way back to the brand the voters wanted.
Here’s what our commander in chief told ABC News after Brown’s triumphant victory last week: “The same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office.”
Before you say, “you’re wrong, Mr. President. It’s not the same thing, it’s the exact opposite,” consider that Obama simultaneously urged that the health care bill not be rushed through before Brown is seated in the Senate.
So what was he really saying? I think he was saying two things:
1. That he was voted into office to represent all the people. They have now registered their dissatisfaction and reminded him that ultimately they call the shots.
2. He’s serving polite notice to the Democratic establishment that the Brand Obama is about to drive a stake between old-style liberalism and the White House.
A strong statement of independence is exactly what Barack Obama must send to America and the Democratic Party during his State of the Union address. He needs to start by expressing his willingness to negotiate with Republicans over health care and come up with genuinely novel, free market, small-government solutions. He might even address -- head on -- the real reasons Scott Brown won in Massachusetts and acknowledge that he is renewing his commitment to meet the needs of the electorate.
If we are to get the brand that we elected, Obama can’t stop at with a single speech. He will have to follow this with concrete evidence that he is not in sway to either the Democratic Party or liberal ideology.
Bottom line: I don’t think that Barack Obama wants to be a one-term president and if he doesn’t make a break from the establishment now and define himself he will be.
And, remember, politics is always easier if you keep marketing in mind.
John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and the founder and president of Marketing Department of America. His book, "People Buy Brands Not Companies" will be released early next month.