The Peace Prize Is Damaged Goods

No doubt about it: The Nobel Prize committee has just done its brand significant long-term damage by awarding Barack Obama the peace prize.

Any prize —big or small— courts controversy. People will always debate the worthiness of particular recipients and the criteria used to pick them.

But the reason everyone —right and left— is so shocked about the Obama award is simple.
The Nobel Prize committee basically violated their core brand characteristics and squandered 100 plus years of credibility in one false move.

The Nobel Prize is retrospective —not prospective. It’s all about achievement —what you’ve done. Not what you will do.

Unlike President Obama, the prize is not only about hope.

So let’s look at this decision from the perspective of other Nobel prize categories.

Imagine a young scientist. A guy who has plenty of optimism. He’s gotten great grades in school; his professors love him. Now he wants to cure cancer. Mind you, he hasn’t even started the work he needs to do to cure cancer. In fact, there is no evidence beyond his optimism and energy that he will ever cure cancer. He doesn’t even have any clear ideas about how to cure cancer.

Then imagine this guy being awarded the Nobel Prize. Fuggedaboutit. The science prize would lose all credibility. It would become a joke.

Now the peace prize is a little looser than the science prize, but bottom line —it’s still about genuine achievement, not hope for future achievement.

So what’s to be done? Well, the president’s brand emerged as a winner amidst the Nobel Prize committee’s fiasco. He handled this uncertain award gracefully, admitting right up front that he didn’t deserve it and announcing that he would donate the prize money. Some are saying that he should reject the prize outright, but that would probably be a mistake. Why? Because it would essentially be a negative brand statement, and negative brand statements often have serious unintended consequences.

The road forward for the Nobel Prize itself is less certain. In addition to violating the core brand characteristics, there’s what I call the “Wizard of Oz effect.� Basically, the less people think about how a decision is made, the better. (It’s like that old saying about politics and sausage making: it’s best done out of sight.) As far as most people are concerned, the Nobel Prize has always been handed down from on high. But now we all know that it’s chosen by five left-leaning Norwegians. We’ve seen behind the wizard’s curtain, and we’re not impressed.

The only way to undo the damage will be with time. The prize next year (and the year after that and the year after that) has got to be unassailable and re-assert the Nobel Peace Prize’s brand essentials of achievement.

And hey, if they’re lucky, Obama will live up to the potential they see in him and they’ll all look like geniuses (and we’ll forget the wizards pulling the levers behind the curtain).

And remember, the business of entertainment, politics and prize giving is always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.

John Tantillo is a marketing and branding expert. He is the founder and president of Marketing Department of America.