Barack Obama’s brand is melting down and his ass kicking comment was far from ass kicking. In fact, it reminded us of a major flaw in his brand: lack of executive experience.
The president is simply not behaving like an executive. Executives make hard decisions that are bound to make some people angry but are necessary to get things done.
Executives get angry and sometimes go over the top in their language, but they never use questionable language in calm speech. Why? Because an executive, especially a president, is representing many different people many of whom want their president to have decorum (not to mention the kids for whom the president should be a role model). Bottom line, vulgarity has no place in the White House –at least no official place— and up until now President Obama has seemed to recognize this.
But President Obama is no executive, he is an academic and a legislator. He has had no executive experience other than as president (what a place to start!). This means that his tendency is to build consensus and go slow. This doesn’t work well in disasters such as the BP spill. Sarah Palin made this point when she noted that Obama hadn’t been in direct communication with the executives at BP. Wow, what a mistake. Executives communicate with other executives. End of story.
As a result of this lack of executive experience, Obama has reacted (i.e., the moratorium on off-shore drilling) as opposed to being seen to simply act like an executive (i.e., we’re bringing in the Navy, special task forces, whatever it takes to get this thing capped immediately).
The public rightly can demand why weren’t there a series of possible solutions lined up so that we didn’t have to wait weeks after one possible solution failed to give the next bright idea a shot? An executive would have demanded this kind of approach and, fact is, only thepPresident had the power to get something like this done in the BP case.
Moreover, executives provide an emotional focal point in both good times and bad. This is never truer than of an American president.
But we haven’t had a single moment from Obama when we could say the president really “got” the situation and expressed collectively what we were all feeling as a nation. The latest vulgarity only sounded like a desperate sound bite.
Sure, Bush flubbed this in Katrina with the unfortunate “looking out of the window of an airplane” moment, but Obama has flubbed it even worse because until now even his failures haven’t been memorable. He was like the great disappearing executive. Now he is more like the great, muttering executive.
Can you imagine Reagan behaving this way? Absolutely not. Instead, he would have been down on the shores of the Gulf surveying the endangered coast with a tear in his eye and people would have believed it because everyone would have sensed that this was both personal and national for our chief executive. Meanwhile behind the scenes he would have been getting things done.
Executives who don’t take risks not only aren’t doing their jobs but their brands are at risk to be overlooked or worse ridiculed. Even Jimmy Carter (a former governor) took genuine risks. For President Obama to avoid the “no risk Obama” moniker sticking or something even worse, he will have to show –and show very soon— that he is willing to take charge when it counts.
He should also watch his language. Tough talk doesn’t start with vulgarity, it starts with the ability to get things done.
And, remember, things are always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.
John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert and president of the Marketing Department of America who markets his own services as The Marketing Doctor. He is a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum and the author of a new book "People Buy Brands, Not Companies."
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