Brand Obama


Today, Barack Obama will been sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Having lived in South Africa as a child during apartheid I can’t begin to tell you how good it makes me feel to see a black man become President and what some would call the leader of the free world. Simeon Duckworth, futures director at MindShare, believes brands have a lot to learn from Obama, below is his take on just how brands might be motivated to act by Obama to face the challenges of the recent ‘credit crunch’……


As the new President takes office, can we glean anything from his example to help us prosper during a recession? Indeed we can. There are clear parallels between marketing in a recession and fighting an election. It’s highly competitive and contested; fought both on a national stage and among key groups of undecideds or switchers; aggressive and reactive; won through hearts as well as hard policy; frequently dominated by external events; and highly unpredictable.

There are three broad strategies to carry a brand successfully through a recession – you can play the long game, you can change the game, or you can stay in the game. Across a portfolio of brands, or even within a brand’s geographical and consumer landscape, some mix-and-match is possible.

Play the long game: WalMart

‘I was asked about the recession. I thought about it and decided not to participate.’
Sam Walton, founder WalMart

View: recessions are temporary
Aim: stick to long-term strategy
Success factors: robust strategy; strong brand; maintain advertising investment


This strategy is for brands with sufficiently strong identity – and deep pockets – to weather the storm. Brands are valuable, and over the long-term there is a strong relationship between share of voice and brand momentum. What’s more, recessions can be a cheap time to buy media share of voice and get value from media spend. Therefore brands that have the power to maintain consistent product and brand values and advertising spend through a recession are set to come out well-placed in their market.

Change the game: Kellogg

‘We have weathered several periods when times weren’t so good, and so I don’t think we’ll cancel our advertising now. In fact, we might even increase it.’
WK Kellogg 1929

View: recessions are an opportunity
Aim: permanently change the market
Success factors: exploitable advantage; strong brand; good competitor understanding

This strategy is for those brands that have an exploitable advantage and are prepared to ‘think murderous’ to make the most of it. Whether it’s waging a price war to permanently change market structure (such as Philip Morris did on ‘Marlboro Friday’ in 1993 or Barclaycard’s reframing of the value equation in the UK credit card market in the early 1990s), brands can employ this strategy to permanently change the value chain within a category.

Stay in the game: Southwest Airlines

‘I have predicted 11 out of the last 3 recessions.’
Herb Kelleher, CEO Southwest Airlines

View: survive
Aim: look for opportunities
Success factors: ability to take small risks; ability to break with the past

This strategy is not simply about retrenchment, but rests on realising that if budgets are cut, or the market is sluggish, it’s important to optimise opportunities open to you. This might involve flexing brand positioning, forming alliances, changing communications and media strategies or tactical acquisition. It’s about active investment and the need to reshape and re-evaluate knowledge to make the most of opportunities.

The coming months and years will be challenging for most brands and  organisations. As a media company you might expect us to stick to the old mantra that ‘you should spend more in a recession’. We realise it’s more complicated than that. We counsel that, in order to make the most of the opportunities that are open to you, you should stick to the core marketing principles, value knowledge, have a plan and, most of all, be flexible, informed and ready and willing to act.

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