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Senators Obama and McCain at a recent debate

Senators Obama and McCain at a recent debate

We’re almost there!  It’s almost over!  One week to go!  Phew!!!

In the context of what communications professionals consider, how have these two candidates delivered on the brands they have worked so hard, spent so much and taken so long to develop?  More specifically, how have they broken the promise of these carefully crafted brands?

Well, of course, books may be written on this single topic and this post shares simply one view.

A “brand” is really a promise.  It’s a promise that when you make that “purchase decision” you’ll be rewarded with things important to you. 

Of course, the nature of a promise implies the forming of a relationship, the making of an emotional commitment.  The worst thing that can happen to any relationship (to any promise), is that it is violated, broken, that someone did not live up to the promise made.

From my perspective, each presidential candidate has built their core brand equity around change.  Not surprising for an election with no incumbent, an unpopular two-term President, a Nation at war and, recently, historic and dramatic financial and economic turmoil.

Each candidate has added some context to their change promise.  For Senator Obama, it is change with better judgement, with a disdain for politics as usual and a promise of a new way of business in Washington.  For Senator McCain, it is change with the right experience, with the integrity and independence to take on Washington and his own party. 

Each has demonstrated discipline in reinforcing their change equities but, of course, each has also strayed away.  You may have your own list of broken brand promises for the Presidential candidates.  Here is mine:

For Senator Obama: His campaign’s promise to accept public financing after the primary and later refusal to do so.  It felt to me like a promise broken, a reversal, the same old, same old from a D.C. politician.  That said, it also feels like inside baseball and probably won’t have much of an impact on the ultimate “purchase decision” next week.

For Senator McCain: His campaign’s tireless efforts (from the stump, in paid advertising, campaign literature, robo-calls, etc.) to connect Senator Obama to William Ayers with references to Ayers’ association with the Weather Underground and their radicalism in the 60s.  To me this feels dirty or unseemly … un-McCain-like.  I think it challenges McCain’s claim, his promise, of integrity.  It just felt like the worst of the bare-knuckle politics that people seem to disdain but which, admittedly, may actually work. 

Each candidate’s V.P. running mates have also stretched the credibility of their own carefully crafted brand identities.  While Tina Fey may have helped reinforce Governor Palin’s “hockey Mom” appeal, a $150,000 shopping spree at Nieman Marcus and other high-end shops did anything but.  Senator Biden’s claim that FDR appealed to American on TV when the stock market crashed in 1929, despite the fact that FDR wasn’t President in 1929 and TV didn’t exist, did little to add to his credibility. 

Would love to hear other’s thoughts on broken brand promises in the 2008 Presidential Election.  At the same time, save us all any partisan rants and please approach this discussion as professional communicators.