I discovered the other day that I agree wholeheartedly with Barack Obama and his campaign staff on at least one point. And I think you might agree too. Before you swear, curse, snort coffee out your nose, or click away to another blog–allow me to explain. Please bear with me for a few brief paragraphs as I undergo a paradigm shift.
Imagine that Barack Obama is the CEO of a corporation. Let’s name it Bunkum & Oversold. The venerable B&O Corporation, a subsidiary of Prevarications Unlimited, headquartered in Washington, D.C., offers a line of products composed entirely of synthetic substances. In 2008, B&O Corp mastered new media, particularly social networking, and leveraged its expertise to corner the market on Hope and Change. Buoyed by the success of its IPO, B&O Corp believed it had cornered the market on intangibles.
With me so far?
Well as 2008 gave way to 2009 and then 2010, the downside of marketing intangibles became more and more clear. A campaign recently viewed as ingenious was increasingly seen as disingenuous. B&O Corp’s 2008 investors were demanding particulars such as a Public Option for health care reform; higher taxes on the rich and on corporations; a vigorous defense of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan, the appointment of Elizabeth Warren, and much more.
Leading economic indicators pointed to a steep decline in the market for B&O Corp among its target demographic. Even more troubling, attendance at the 2010 shareholders’ meeting was low.
As 2010 gave way to 2011, B&O Corp’s once-visionary marketing team was tasked with creating a new campaign. Of course, it could not re-do Hope and Change.
One of the most creatively challenging assignments for any copywriter is to come up with a slogan. It has to sum up the essence of what a business is, what it does, and what it offers its customers in just a few short phrases that roll smoothly off the tongue.
Now, when I first heard that Obama’s campaign slogan was Winning the Future, I underestimated the marketing savvy of his re-election team. My response was somewhere along the lines of Jon Stewart’s, something like, gee, that’s pretty dorky. To be more precise, my response was Winning the Future?! Losing the White House!
I immediately thought, this is what happens when you sell your soul. This is what happens when you start out as a community organizer, decide to turn yourself into a brand, and sell yourself piece by piece to corporations and those who lobby for them. Say what you will about Hope and Change being vague, it is also evocative. Winning the Future is vague. And as for evocative, what it evokes in my mind is a group of dispirited people sitting around a table demoralized and leaderless and forced to come up with something for an enterprise they no longer care about. While Hope and Change was admittedly vague, it conveyed a sense of energy. It had the feel of Nike’s Just do it!
Winning the Future conveys the energy of OMG, we’ve got a deadline to meet, and we’d better come up with something or we’ll lose our paychecks. These folks were mired so deeply in malaise they couldn’t even summon the energy to proclaim with confidence: Win the Future! Instead they chose Winning the Future, implying that they hoped someone would win the future, but they weren’t exactly sure who and it probably wouldn’t be anyone they were working for or with.
Now is the time to proceed with caution; we are approaching the paradigm shift. It took several minutes of thinking about Winning the Future. And then it hit me–B&O Corp’s visionary 2008 marketing team was right once again. The folks who mastered social media, with its inordinate fondness for acronyms, came up with Winning the Future, WTF. OMG, LOL, WTF wasn’t pinned on B&O by some disgruntled leftie. Obama’s own marketing team, assigned with writing a slogan (tasked, in short, with summing up the essence of his presidency) came up with WTF.
Think about it. How many times during the Obama presidency has WTF just rolled right off your tongue? Was it Libya, it’s not a war? Or, was it let’s tackle the deficit, that’s the number one problem, when unemployment is still stuck above 9 percent? Or was it let’s help homeowners, but only if the bankers really want to?
And there you have it, Obama’s own marketing team, applying every ounce of their copywriting muscle to sum up the essence of his presidency, came up with WTF. And I, for one, could not agree more.