I want to put into words what has become apparent to me in recent months: our president is a fad.
Here’s the standard definition of a fad from Professor Philip Kotler: A temporary period of unusually high sales driven by consumer enthusiasm and immediate brand popularity.
Yes, Barack Obama, whose meteoric rise as a brand amazed everyone seems to have fizzled. Does our president have more in common with Justin Bieber or the Hula Hoop than anyone might guess? The answer is a resounding yes.
Looked at through the marketing lens, the classic fad pattern is easy to see.
Let’s take the Hula Hoop and our president:
1) Sudden and unjustifiable adulation and excitement for the product and the person. Overnight a piece of plastic becomes something everyone must have. Overnight a junior Senator from Illinois becomes the man to beat in the race for American president;
2) Massive demand for the product and the person. Demand is not controlled by the producer and often far outstrips supply. Hula Hoops sell out and are back ordered; candidate Barack Obama is barely able to keep up with campaign trail demands. Every word out of his mouth and slightest gesture makes waves. He can fill any size arena while his competitors struggle to draw crowds;
3) Product and person achieves market saturation. Finally, Hula Hoops are owned by everyone in America; Barack Obama elected president of everyone in America;
4) Product and person oversaturate the market and begin to wither under ensuing scrutiny. Too much exposure means that what might have been a longer life cycle for a product or personal brand is condensed.
More important, characteristics that people once considered virtues now seem to be shortcomings. Hula Hoops are a cheap plastic toy that are easy to use but can only really do one thing well: go in sometimes entertaining circles; Barack Obama is a skilled and dispassionate speechmaker whose once dazzling speeches now begin to be seen as circular exercises in talking without any passion or conviction.
The next stage of the fad product life is the most tragic and the most inevitable: rapid brand decline.
The Hula Hoop becomes unwanted and even embarrassing. People are at a loss to explain why they ever liked it and thought it was so great.
In personal brands, like presidents, the same sort of thing happens. Suddenly, people can no longer understand why they once worshipped or even admired the person. Every gesture and word becomes a source of personal reproach. Instead of perceiving motivating speeches and noble purposes, one-time supporters only see their own disillusionment thrown back at them. Where once the person could do no wrong; now he can do no right.
Fact is, this is the kind of feedback I’ve been getting in President Obama’s case from some surprising liberal corners of the political spectrum. Where people once saw a young man with endless potential and possibility who would rebuild a broken world, they now see a kid in an oversized suit whose presidency looks in danger of being broken by a world that he doesn’t even know how to begin to rebuild.
Last week’s speech marking the end of the Iraq War might have just been part of the awakening for many of these one-time supporters –President Obama spoke clearly and even eloquently, but his words simply didn’t resonate or connect.
Bottom line, these folks might not have been Reagan fans, but they could never say that Reagan didn’t get the importance of symbolism and, more important, manage to inhabit that symbolism in an authentic way.
President Obama is an extremely likeable man and a very smart one, but somehow he’s not really presidential.
This week he’s proposing a new fix for the economy that for the most part seems to be more big government spending with a few free market teasers thrown in. But none of this will matter, if I’m correct and we elected a fad. Fads don’t have marathon legs and once their short run is over, it’s over.
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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