The CMO of the Obama Campaign

PlouffeThe “Chief Marketing Officer” of the Obama campaign must be David Plouffe.  He’s the candidate’s campiagn manager (working alongside chief strategist David Axelrod), and while I know he has a ton of supporting players – including the invaluable Joe Rospars of Blue State Digital – I presume that Plouffe’s the mastermind of the communications and “packaging” approaches.  While Obama won “Marketer of the Year” plaudits from AdAge earlier this week, let’s give some credit where it’s due.  Obama is a brilliant politician but likely not a bonafide marcomm expert.

If Plouffe can be considered the CMO, then whether his candidate wins or loses tomorrow, I nominate Plouffe as “CMO of the Freakin’ Decade.”

Think about what’s been accomplished in 2 years.  Think about the candidate as a product.  Every detail has been meticulously planned in the Obama roll-out. 

Obama-logosI am not just talking about the speeches. 

I am talking about the logo and its many permutations (pictured). 

The font on all campaign materials. 

The advertising production values, creativity, tone and placement.

The absolutely brilliant use of text messaging.

The embrace of voters’ clever use of pumpkinsPumpkins!

The unprecedented Get Out The Vote movement.

The active and intelligent use of Social Networking.

The overall message consistency has been solid as a rock.  It’s a classic case of “Tell the people what you want them to hear.  Tell them again.  Tell them that you’ve told them, and then remind them again about what they’ve been told.” (Then, repeat!)  Compare that message discipline to the truly erratic, mudcake-du-jour McCain campaign.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been mis-steps.  The Clinton drama lasted too long; the flag pin b.s. was an unnecessary distraction; the Jeremiah Wright videos (‘nuff said); the “cling to guns and religion” line, which was allowed to be taken out of context and blown out of proportion (but showed uncharacteristic ignorance of the ubiquity of basic audio/visual capturing technology that’s in every consumer’s pocket). 

But in each case, as noted with simple brilliance by NYTimes columnist Gail Collins, the Obama campaign proved that at its core it is truly “anti-dumb.”  It’s been willing to tack left/right/center to ameliorate the impact of distractions. So you can add “crisis communications” to the list of solid PR attributes of this campaign.

Vote (!!!!!) for the candidate of your choice tomorrow.  But if you are a regular reader of this blog, I know you’ll join me in tipping your hat to what has been a remarkably successful marketing strategy.  Kudos, Mr. Plouffe (and good luck tomorrow)!

For additional campaign marketing posts, check out Ed Moed and WaggEd’s Frank X. Shaw.

Disclosure: I am voting for Obama. But for what it’s worth, I registered as a Republican in 2000 just to vote for McCain (vs. Bush) in those long-ago primaries.


Posted on: November 3, 2008 at 11:33 am By Todd Defren
13 Responses to “The CMO of the Obama Campaign”


  • kevin from minneapolis says:

    I totally agree. But it’s sad that we elect our president based on the same principles we use to sell sugar water.

  • Sam Ford says:

    Great analogy, in looking at Plouffe as the “CMO” of Obama’s campaign, Todd. I think the key question we’re going to be asking after this election is how the Web 2.0-savvy Obama campaign is going to translate into an administration. Will the same savvy with digital tools be incorporated into the communication strategy of an Obama White House? If so, it could fundamentally transform presidential communication, much as FDR did with the Fireside Chats when radio was a new technology. Maybe that could in some way help address the American divide I’ve been concerned with in this real America/fake America rhetorical divide…

  • Mike Buckley says:

    By missing my point you’ve proved your own. Obama’s campaign has done a masterful job of selling a defective product. No candidate in recent memory has been caught in more lies than Obama yet he stands a chance of being elected President. Most amazing of all is that his loyalists actually believe he’s run an ethical campaign.

    There are no legal requirements for a political campaign to tell the truth and Obama has used that fact to his advantage, but it’s not marketing in the traditional sense. I can’t run an ad saying my toothpaste will reduce cavities when in fact it will increase them. I can’t say my car gets 35 mpg when it only gets 12.

    Sleezy politics–yes. Ethical marketing–hardly.

  • Todd Defren says:

    @MikeBuckley I could not disagree more with your assertion. I think the Obama campaign has not only been a prime model for marketers, but raised the ethics bar, as well. But then, I’ve admitted to being biased and don’t expect to convince you. Thanks for stopping by, though.

    p.s. If you think all regular ol’ marketers are truthful, I’ve got an old hanging chad ballot to sell you in Florida.

  • Mike Buckley says:

    You make some good points, but there is one glaring difference between a normal marketing/PR campaign and a presidential campaign. It’s a small detail called “truth in advertising”. Obama’s campaign (and all others) aren’t bound by a silly restraint called the truth.

    If a campaign for a new toothpaste played fast and loose with the truth the way Obama’s campaign has, someone would go to jail.

  • Great post, Todd. It’s refreshing to see a campaign that’s not only up-to-date with marketing/communications trends but one that’s able to skillfully and effectively venture into these fields to really reach voters.

    GenYs are ripe for this approach. It’s my prediction that this active involvement in social media will be the major factor driving the youth vote. The candidates’ involvement (or lack thereof) shows an understanding of technologies that are beyond important to young voters and even more importantly proves their intent to actually communicate with these voters.

    That, if nothing else, should motivate a few more people to get to the polls.

  • Alicia Stafford says:

    I am a McCain supporter but hands down am in total agreement with this post. This is by far the most brilliant, genius campaign in American/World history. David Plouffe deserves all the recognition he can get!

  • Dick Grove says:

    An excellent analysis of the marketing behind the scenes of this remarkable campaign. The voters and the media by and large never consider the creative effort and tactical execution that goes into a project of this magnitude.

  • Sherry Heyl says:

    I am personally impressed with the Facebook app recently release where a person can “donate” their status to the campaign. Every hour my status is reminding my network to vote for Obama. That is genius!

  • Justin Levy says:

    Great post Todd! I have been fascinated with the marketing strategy behind the Obama campaign. This has definitely been a historical race in many ways including the use of social media and marketing to get out Obama’s message and reach out to the communities.

    I had seen a stat towards the end of the campaign that said Obama was spending $4.5m per day in advertising while McCain was barely keeping up at $1.2m.

    I’m voting for Obama too! :)

  • Shel Holtz says:

    One more thing we have in common, Todd. In 2000, I, too, registered Republican so I could vote for McCain against Bush. Gore was a lock-in in California, so I opted to do what I could — in vain, of course — to keep Bush out of the White House. I re-registered Democrat right after the election, though.

    On a similar note, I’m thinking of posting an item about a comment I saw to the Obama blog post about the passing of his grandmother — a McCain supporter dropping by to express his sympathies and Obama supporters thanking him for his consideration. Sometimes social media brings out the best in people.

  • Jim Kukral says:

    Yeah, truly what they’ve done over there will be studied for a long time as a success story, win or lose tomorrow.

  • Rob Leavitt says:

    Great post, and it has been a remarkable campaign from a marketing perspective (among other things). Perhaps the biggest lesson to me, as a marketer, is the discipline to stick with the same basic message and focus throughout the two years of the campaign — in direct contrast to McCain’s frequent zigging and zagging. It’s a rare company that has the fortitude to focus for that long.

Show some social media love would ya?

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