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Upgrade my Nation

One year ago I said Barack Obama would be the next President. It wasn’t just a wish. I knew it. If I were the gambling kind, I would have gone to Vegas with it. I remember my prediction being met with shaking heads. Hillary, they said, had it all locked up.

I knew they were wrong. Not because I am a political wonk, but because I work in advertising. And because I work in advertising, I understand the power of CHANGE.

When it comes to what Americans want, change always wins. Companies know this and shower us with messages of change: 40% more; free upgrade; Bigger erections; new and improved; Come to Jamaica; change, change, change.

We are a nation of change. We are a nation of leaving England, of pushing westward and off into space. Experience is old. Experience is King George III and the British Empire. Change is the founding fathers and the American Revolution. Experience is the steady, iron hand of communism. Change was rock n’ roll and cars with fins. There is no hope in experience, nothing new. No dreams to look forward to. Who wants to live in a story like that?

This past Saturday night, at the New Hampshire debates, Hillary tipped her hand. She knows change trumps experience. After seeing where her “experience” message got her in Iowa, she sang a different tune. Last night there was a grand grab for the title of Mr. or Mrs. Change. So she went on the offensive, forcefully telling us about how she is the true candidate of change,

“I want to make change, but I’ve already made change. I’m not just running on the promise of change, I’m running on 35 years of change.”

35 years of change? That sounds neither likely nor desireable. Change is so intoxicating to us because it is fleeting; it breaks up the usual experience of your life. By its nature it is rare, and thus, exciting. How can you have 35 years of change? It didn’t matter. Change was the ticket they needed.

It got so transparent that nice old Bill Richardson said, “Whatever happened to experience?” he asked. “Is experience a leper?”

It’s not a leper, but it won’t get your face on the covers of every magazine from GQ to Time. It won’t wake young voters from their three decade doldrums. Obama can step onto a stage and he doesn’t even have to say one word about change; he is change.

He is young, he is of a mixed racial background, he has not been bogged down in Washington his entire life. He’s different from the start. He’s exciting. Obama can then talk to you, not at you. You already know what he represents. His brand is clear from the start. He doesn’t have to look desperate building up his credentials. We walks it. He doesn’t have to talk it. So it comes across as more real.

By contrast, Hillary has to go hat in hand, and talk at you. Tell you what she is. Experience. Change. Whatever. It doesn’t ring as true.

Think of Apple’s advertising. They don’t spend anytime blabbing about themselves. About prices. About hard drive capacity. No. The products speak for them. They know who they are. You do too. It’s natural. It’s effortless.

Hillary isn’t finished. She may still right the ship and get the nomination. But thanks to George Bush, change is a brand message hard to beat.

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ARCHIVE ID 4284 FILED UNDER Discussion
PUBLISHED ON Jan.08.2008 BY Jimm Lasser
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
nv’s comment is:

Also, fantastic essay.

On Jan.08.2008 at 09:23 AM
Jon Dascola’s comment is:

I would totally vote for Obama if his name just didn't sound too much like Osama.

(that was a joke)

He is the first politician I've noticed in a long time that actually inspires when he speaks. Thats enough for me.

On Jan.08.2008 at 10:29 AM
Michael’s comment is:

I don't think 'Brand Hillary' is the most attractive to sell. She's got way too much baggage and doesn't encompass change, because her 35 years of change have not amounted to much. I personally can not buy into her or the type of person/candidate she is. I can't establish any trust in her.

The only issue I have is the whole 'youth vote' thing. I want young people to speak out and vote, but I wanted the same thing in '04 when Kerry ran... and we know how that turned out. He may not have represented change, but considering how hated GWB supposedly was, it didn't do anything to change the election.

On Jan.08.2008 at 10:34 AM
Michael’s comment is:

"I would totally vote for Obama if his name just didn't sound too much like Osama."

Sadly enough, you know they are not only going to push hard on this, his middle name, and all the other things than make him sound like a terrorist. I wouldn't be surprised if someone said he was some sort of Manchurian Candidate or something insane.

On Jan.08.2008 at 10:38 AM
Dennis’s comment is:

Didn't you find his speech to be a wee bit generic at points though. I was just as impressed as the next guy until I started asking around to all my friends and co-workers about his policies and almost 95% of them didn't know one thing about his platform.

"What's his economic policies? What's his stance on abortion? Civil Rights?" I eventually went to his website and sifted through the slick copyrighting to figure out for myself but still, I wish he could actually discuss his platform a little more.

I love charismatic leaders like the next guy, but people need to research more and figure out if you actually believe in the things Obama will be pushing. I actually do think he will be the next president and support his platform more than any other candidate, but I hope people vote on real information instead of speeches and generic buzzwords like "change".

Its like saying i'm for "progress". Who the hell isn't?

On Jan.08.2008 at 10:46 AM
agrayspace’s comment is:

Actually Obama's Iowa speech did indeed touch on several platform issues. It may not have touched every one of them and they may have been extremely high level but it was enough for me to see the glaring difference between Obama and someone like Huckabee and even Clinton. Huckabee's speech was boring, completely saturated with cliched non sequiters and not one actual issue was mentioned.

On Jan.08.2008 at 11:22 AM
Jon Dascola’s comment is:


I be hard pressed to find any candidate out there clearly expressing their viewpoints.

Maybe Ron Paul, but thats because he doesn't live on the same plant as us.

On Jan.08.2008 at 11:34 AM
Josh’s comment is:

I think what you have to remember is that these are run ups to the National Convention and the eventual nomination. This is already like a giant popularity contest.

I mean Huckabee winning Iowa? I'll give it to him, he is sure a likable guy running around shaking hands and has agreeable points, but his Faith.Family.Freedom message should be the other way round.

Faith will not solve economic, political or societal problems and with it's current state in politics will only exacerbate the issues within th others.

Faith has not take Afghanistan, Pakistan nor Iraq and furthered them to prosperity. They fight each other despite the commonality of their religion. So do we.

Obama's possible lack of specific goals or stances on issues doesn't particularly bother me. Bush was gonna be the best thing since sliced bread and became our worst nightmare...twice.

I think the politicians of today have learned to back off of specific promises as the common good is skirted for the benefit of the well connected. If Obama was elected he'd still face the Reds and Blues of Congress, lobbyists and lastly public opinion in any effort to create change. Besides Obama's record of introducing or co-sponsoring bills to Congress are of the change ilk.

In comparison to his challengers on both sides of the isle, at least his Change message has not strayed from its roots and at this point we need someone who can possibly enact change vs. someone who is just going to carry the torch which slowly fades that represents our current state.

On Jan.08.2008 at 11:38 AM
Doug Bartow’s comment is:

He is the first politician I've noticed in a long time that actually inspires when he speaks. Thats enough for me.

That shouldn't be enough for anyone. Inspirational rhetoric makes a good public speaker, not an effective national leader.

I'm deferring my choice until I hear the candidates actually debate the issues, and not just give lip service to the press moderators about who really represents 'change'.

On Jan.08.2008 at 11:56 AM
Peter Whitley’s comment is:

What exactly does the president do again?

It's very interesting to see people...people I know and like...run locally for City or County Council. They start off with their neighborhood councils to determine where to put planters and how to fund Christmas decorations. This is where they're most effective, it seems...making real decisions (albeit somewhat trivial) that impact directly. I helped pay for that banner featuring an elf working on a wooden train! How merry!

Some of these people see this progression as a natural flow of career events. That's cool, (I guess). As a visual specialist I've never aspired to any particular appointment or position...just give me enough money to pay my mortgage and give me a minute to think...that's the sum of my career goals. Politics is a strange beast in that the more "powerful" you are, the more you are removed from your constituents. People who run for president are simply not like me and I can accept that. I just wish they could.

On Jan.08.2008 at 12:19 PM
Young Mr. Arvizu’s comment is:

The "change always wins" argument doesn't seem to agree with reality. What I've noticed is that change, although often spoken of as a desirable thing, is rarely initiated as such. It's almost always violent and met with a resistance of chaos. Elections don't seem to be the exception. Why do people go to the polls and vote for their candidate? I don't think crediting a national appetite for change is accurate—especially in a nation where the people are notoriously (not necessarily fairly) characterized as being apathetic, politically lethargic and largely unaware. Obviously present company excluded.
In our line of work, resistance to change is an everyday event. We see clients who cling to the norm like a security blanket. Change isn't safe, it's risky. While I personally do not subscribe to that fear, I'm just trying to be honest about the general climate of things. If Obama wins, that's great, I'm a fan of the guy. But even so, how much change can we really expect to see in a system that no single person or entity seems to have any real control over? And I honestly don't expect any revolutions soon, we're too busy watching reality tv. Perhaps it's a perception of change that the nation is looking for—rather than real change itself.
One more point, innovations in services, products and consumer goods are never for the sake of change alone—even apple is looking to make a buck. It's a desire for consumption (whole other topic) that drives our client's innovations and their next, nicely designed box coming out with "NEW!" stamped on the side. Why do consumers want "NEW!"? That's a complicated cocktail of answers. I guess my whole point is—it's too simplistic to say it's all in the name of change. I wonder if Hillary would agree...

On Jan.08.2008 at 12:31 PM
Steve Hsu’s comment is:

Nothing endures but change. —Heraclitus

Obama's "Stand for Change" schtick and branding efforts are impressive and effective but ultimately not about important things like what he will do in office and how his perspective and actions will differ from his opponents. Every candidate in every election is, to some degree, an agent of change, it's, like, the point of having elections. Fewer platitudes, less rhetoric and more actual debate for America's sake.

On Jan.08.2008 at 12:34 PM
Jimm Lasser’s comment is:

A great quote from a political science professor today in the NY Times on Obama:

“It’s not something he’s doing...It’s something he’s being.”

On Jan.08.2008 at 12:41 PM
Ambert’s comment is:

I don't buy his "change" message. It's just a buzz word. Sorry people, but he just says the same thing every other candidate on the left says. I just dont see it.

Don't hate me, but I think right now Fred Thompson is interesting.

On Jan.08.2008 at 12:42 PM
Steve Hsu’s comment is:

Got a link on that Jimm?

On Jan.08.2008 at 01:05 PM
Yorkali’s comment is:

Excellent! Excellent! Excellent!

On Jan.08.2008 at 01:42 PM
Niki’s comment is:

I'm voting for whoever has the best logo.

On Jan.08.2008 at 01:52 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

"I mean Huckabee winning Iowa? I'll give it to him, he is sure a likable guy"

And that there sums it up well. Hilary didn't put enough 'likability' into her brand.

I think she'd make a great president, but now completely understand where people come from that say 'I don't know, I just don't LIKE her'.

As much as one might hate Bush, he's still a 'likable' guy. I could want to punch him in the face, and then meet him at an event, and walk up to him, and he'd start talking about some inane subject, and I'd probably end up sitting at the bar having a beer talking about brush on a ranch somewhere. And that's all that seems to matter, unfortunately.

I think Hilary's 'brand managers' might have misread the target demographic thinking that there were actually voters who cared deeply about the intricacies of multiple issues. ;o)

I'm all for Obama, too, though I'm betting that he'll win the primaries, then shout in glee, which will then be picked up by CNN, repeated endlessly on YouTube, and ultimately end his political career.

At least there's still Edwards.

And hell, there's always Huckabee. He might be the antichrist, but damn, he's LIKABLE!


On Jan.08.2008 at 03:07 PM
Nicholas Skyles’s comment is:

Steve,

go Obama.

nice essay as well.

On Jan.08.2008 at 04:14 PM
Nicholas Skyles’s comment is:

oops, forgot the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/08/us/politics/08youth.html?hp

On Jan.08.2008 at 04:26 PM
Andrea’s comment is:

But will he make an great president? Being a great president is not all about changing things. The 'change always wins' agrument doesn't not work for me, I don't believe that to be true. And because I am at work... I don't have time to argue about it with you! :)

On Jan.08.2008 at 04:34 PM
DrG’s comment is:

I enjoyed your article and it rings true. But - there's always a but - as oldschool as it sounds, do you really think the good ol' boys in the country will want change to a woman or a black man as President? I don't say that in any way to sound like a bigoted racist. I'm just asking.

I personally can't stand to look at or listen to Hillary. I don't believe a word her or her husband ever say. I like Obama. He seems like a "better brand" than the "Hillary brand".

There's much talk about Huckabee this past week as well... it's like Christian vs. Mormon for the Republicans and Hillaryism vs. Christian/Muslim for the Dems. I didn't think the Republicans had a better candidate, but if it's anyone against Hillary "anyone" will win with me... and if I was a betting man? hmmm ;-]

On Jan.08.2008 at 06:01 PM
Josh’s comment is:

The Change argument maybe cliche, but what is it that we need then?

It obvious that politicians never seem to have definitive answers, but as some people said above the president doesn't propose all laws.

This may sound odd or childish, but Obama is the only one that i think is honestly interested in resolving our perception issue abroad.

I don't want to go it alone. Our isolationism parallels kids that unfortunately lash out in really destructive manners and i fear for the worst with our country in respects to that analogy.

Maybe I've drank the Kool-Aid and have not done my share of healthy research, yet who is better.

Sadly people say Obama is being setup to fail because our bigotry will rise up and defeat him , but hey Jesse and Arnold got elected to higher office.

If you don't think these kids have power, I'd just say wait and see.

On Jan.08.2008 at 08:01 PM
Hollis’s comment is:

If I hear one more politician or tv news dildo utter the phrase "the American people" ... why can't they just say "Americans?"

P.S. Saw a dude in NYC today wearing what looked like a homemade Obama shirt it has this big bright smiley Obama head with the "America's Most Wanted" logo or some fabrication thereof. Pretty sweet shirt.

On Jan.08.2008 at 09:26 PM
rickyaustin’s comment is:

When it comes to what Americans want, change always wins. Companies know this and shower us with messages of change: 40% more; free upgrade; Bigger erections; new and improved; Come to Jamaica; change, change, change


I'm not sure if that is an example of change - as much as an example of more.

Americans do respond to "more." I don't think they always respond to 'change' though. We could have chosen change in 2004 during those elections, but we did not, albeit a close decision.

Some people hate change, just for the heck of it. Others want change, just for the heck of it. Both are dangerous roads to walk down.

If you change - it has to be a positive change. Putting in someone worse than George W Bush (yes, it's actually possible) isn't going to help. Right now, the country is primed to look for, and accept positive change. This is what Obama wants to appear as.

His speaking is inspiring. Some say that doesn't matter, but it does. His message will come thru if people want to listen. Noone wants to hear Bush speak, so even if he said something good, we wouldn't listen.

I have no idea who I'm voting for - but I was inspired when he spoke after Iowa. That's all he needs now. Inspire people. Get them to wonder about him, investigate him, hear him. That will do so much more for himself than the hate-ads they all put out. He's going to be popular with the younger audience like myself, he's inspiring.

Inspirational talk about change isn't enough to get a vote... but I think it is all he needs right now to get people to listen.

On Jan.08.2008 at 09:49 PM
Greg Scraper’s comment is:

It never ceases to amaze me just how susceptible designers are when it comes to politics. I mean, we help craft messages every day that paint the best possible light on any subject. But in the political spectrum, we put on our blinders and play just like everyone else, as though we don't know that the building's just a façade. Behind it is the same pattern of bullshit that's behind every candidate for any public office higher than that of the state legislature (and most people running for that have their sights set higher, so they play it safe waiting for their chance). Candidates cry "change," before the election, but after they're elected, it's the same excuses, blame the opponent, blame the media, blame big business, blame the establishment, and nothing's really changed. God, I want to believe, but the patterns are set. No one's left the rut, not for anything substantial, in seventy years or more, because you can't get elected if you've ticked off too many people.

Don't get me wrong, I like Obama. I want to believe him. But the change can't come just with pretty words, it has to come with decisive action, and one of the things my father taught me as a school superintendent for twenty years is that you can't lead well and be liked by everyone at the same time. Unfortunately, anyone elected President has to do the latter before they can do the former.

On Jan.09.2008 at 11:19 AM
Brad Wofford’s comment is:

Is it ok for a designer to have conservative views? Sometimes I feel like I need to come out of the Conservative "closet"...to all my designer friends.

On Jan.09.2008 at 03:40 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

All this talk about these candidates as brands makes me a tad ill. They're not laundry detergent or disposable razors.

Obama may be charismatic and intelligent. If elected, he may indeed be a catalyst for change. But he can't BE change. That's nothing but rhetoric. And basing your vote on that is naive at best.

And Clinton... It's shocking to me that so many people cast their votes for or against her based solely on whether or not they "like" her. Huh? Could they at least say WHY they like her, or don't.

Frankly, I don't see why we can't have our cake and eat it too. No one can argue that experience isn't valuable. Clinton's got it. But change is good too. Obama's got that. They should be running mates. That's my prediction at any rate: Clinton for P, Obama as VP.

On Jan.09.2008 at 06:35 PM
Sheepstealer’s comment is:

“All this talk about these candidates as brands makes me a tad ill. They're not laundry detergent or disposable razors.”

In the design industry we hear the word “Brand” (with a big B) so often that we’re skeptical. But everyone and everything has a brand (little b). Everyone and everything has an existing perception in the minds of others. I see Hillary standing on the “experience“ brand and then switching to the “35 years of change” brand. I completely agree with the NYTimes quote above from this perspective—a brand isn’t something you say, it’s something you BE. In other words, integrity. A person or product can’t just change brands to suit the audience—brand goes too deep for that.

Secondly, be careful of the brand misdirect.

There's much talk about Huckabee this past week as well... it's like Christian vs. Mormon for the Republicans and Hillaryism vs. Christian/Muslim for the Dems.

I think using three religions and Hillary as the generalization of the candidates is using a non issue — maybe even a smokescreen. I would hope that voters will decide on their candidates by considering who will do the best job of improving the world's war situation and strengthening our local economic circumstances without leaving a big fat bill for our children and grandchildren. The religion brand is not an accurate identifier. To be specific in this case, every Christian I know is very much a Christian. And every Mormon* I know is also very much a Christian.

(*Mormon is a public-attached nickname for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

On Jan.10.2008 at 10:57 AM
Sheepstealer’s comment is:

“All this talk about these candidates as brands makes me a tad ill. They're not laundry detergent or disposable razors.”

In the design industry we hear the word “Brand” (with a big B) so often that we’re skeptical. But everyone and everything has a brand (little b). Everyone and everything has an existing perception in the minds of others. I see Hillary standing on the “experience“ brand and then switching to the “35 years of change” brand. I completely agree with the NYTimes quote above from this perspective—a brand isn’t something you say, it’s something you BE. In other words, integrity. A person or product can’t just change brands to suit the audience—brand goes too deep for that.

Secondly, be careful of the brand misdirect.

There's much talk about Huckabee this past week as well... it's like Christian vs. Mormon for the Republicans and Hillaryism vs. Christian/Muslim for the Dems.

I think using three religions and Hillary as the generalization of the candidates is using a non issue — maybe even a smokescreen. I would hope that voters will decide on their candidates by considering who will do the best job of improving the world's war situation and strengthening our local economic circumstances without leaving a big fat bill for our children and grandchildren. The religion brand is not an accurate identifier. To be specific in this case, every Christian I know is very much a Christian. And every Mormon* I know is also very much a Christian.

(*Mormon is a public-attached nickname for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

On Jan.10.2008 at 10:59 AM
Sheepstealer’s comment is:

oops. double post. I got a server error.

On Jan.10.2008 at 11:02 AM
JasonP ’s comment is:

Here is the good news. According to a bevy of news sources John Kerry has endorsed Barack Obama. First Oprah, then Kerry. Obama has some heavyweights of the highest order backing him. Maybe all this change business is for real.

On Jan.10.2008 at 02:03 PM
Jw’s comment is:

"Change" wasn't a buzz word until everyone else jumped on the Change Wagon™. I'm so glad that A Daily Show with John Stewart and The Colbert Report are back to make fun of all of this nonsense.

Bottom line, I hate the way Hillary talks down to every single person- her audience, reporters... everyone. This is how our robot overlords will talk to us after the coming Cyborg Wars.- with an air of disdain for having to share a planet with humans who don't seem to understand them.

On Jan.11.2008 at 03:11 PM
Samuel’s comment is:

Very well said,
true indeed, change is the key, and Obama do it well from the start.

On Jan.11.2008 at 03:45 PM
Josh B’s comment is:

Here's a little news piece about all this "change" the candidates keep mentioning:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080111/ap_po/here_s_your_change

On Jan.11.2008 at 05:26 PM
md’s comment is:

And every Mormon* I know is also very much a Christian.

Mormonism is not a Christian religion.

As for Obama vs. Hillary, I would much rather see Hillary as president and Obama as VP. And any of the top dems are a better option than the republicans (Fred Thompson, really Ambert?) even Ron Paul.

Though, much like the support of Al Gore earlier this year here at Speakup, I think this is article is a bit ahead of itself...

On Jan.11.2008 at 10:50 PM
Ben Weeks’s comment is:

Remember the movie "Three Kings" with George Clooney and Ice Cube? During a scene where a US soldier was being tortured, the iraqi torturer was lecturing him on the evils of America, "It makes the black man hate himself...look at Michael Jackson hating his own skin." Aside from the puzzling logic-being white myself I always wondered if he had a point. An Obama victory would suggest otherwise. More than change or experience America needs reconciliation.

On Jan.17.2008 at 01:33 AM