Branding Heads of States – Some Key Stages


We know you can brand people the same way you brand products. Here are some simple steps.

1. Brand Name

You begin with a brand name – either it is their given name – Barack Obama for instance or a stage name. A lot of entertainers have stage names like Lady Gaga (and no – not hinting politicians are entertainers).

In politics, stage names symbolise a positioning platform. Some of these names are desired positioning platforms. Others are acquired. For example Margaret Thatcher was known as the “Iron Lady“. William J. Clinton seemed more approachable as “Bill”. His two consecutive terms are remarkable, not just because he survived an impeachment but because the USA enjoyed the most peace during his tenure and great economic prosperity. So choosing a brand name is critical for political leaders. “Teddy” Roosevelt still has one cuddly legacy.

2. Brand Values

All brands represent core values or beliefs. In some cases, for political figures, these values are combined with the political party values they represent but this alone is not enough. A great example of what projected brand values can do is seen in Obama’s 2008 campaign  (Change We can Believe In & Yes We Can) and 2012 campaign (Forwards).  An interesting track of Obama’s promises kept show that he has fulfilled 45% of the promises he made in his Presidential tenure. Brand values need to be differentiated from other brands competing in the same arena. Too often political figures focus on the same issues but add no “personal” aura. The French are particularly an interesting market of study. While most of Asia sways on tides of emotions and current moral dilemma often form a centrepiece for campaigning strategy, they are unable to separate public and private life like the French.

3. Brand Representation

The brand needs to be represented. We find the brain is always looking for shortcuts in decision making. These shortcuts are for (1) recognition in clutter (2) to represent values (3) to provide comfort (4) to provide identification to and get social acceptance  of others of like minded interest and (5) reduce processing time for decision making. the logic goes like this –  I’ll vote for them if I like them. I like them because I heard of them etc etc..

Yasir Arafat used the black and white keffiyeh (head scarf) as a symbol of Palestine and the liberation movement. The scarf soon was  associated with him and the  PLO.  Hamas, when competing with the PLO had to overcome the black & white colours with the green and white representation they use.

Angela Merkel has her trademarked red suit, Narendra Modi his saffron robes and Mahatma Gandhi his khadhi cotton dothi. But they don’t have to be clothes – Nehru wore a red rose for example.

4. Brand History

Even new brands need a story. Political Figures are unfortunately under media scrutiny so brand histories need to be embraced and developed to become larger than life. Narendra Modi released a 45 page comic book to tell his story as a committed politician who worked for the welfare of his people (not sure if it was well received but perhaps to some sectors of the Indian population – it propagated the myth of Modi). Obama had a customised campaign that empowered his supporters  to promote what they thought was relevant to their market according to  Teddy Goff, Obama’s Digital Director!

5. Halo Branding

Do not underestimate the effect of halo brands – it can save you vital resources. A key proponent of Obama was Oprah Winfrey – which was such an interesting case for me in 2007-08. She was a vocal campaigner of women’s rights and when the choice came to – First American Women President (USA is a bit backward in this area with emerging economies) or the First Black American President – she selected the later. A University of Maryland study said that this translated into one million votes at the minimum! We are also familiar with the dynasty effect in politics.

5. Brand Communication

Angela Merkel launched an augmented reality app which allowed her to talk to her constituents directly.  Of course the Obama campaigns are a precedent in using social media for campaigning.

Augmented Reality App

Recently in India, the way the new Modi government managed PR and social media to win elections is a case study in its own right. You can get a glimpse of what was done in this excellent article by Pande and Washington Post. This is no easy feat in the world’s largest democracy! it helped that the incumbent underestimated their competition.

Some of the most popular Heads of State on 28 August 2014 using social media are : President Obama (USA) – 45.7 Mn followers on twitter but 8551 Likes on Facebook; PM Narendra Modi (India) 5.98 Mn followers on twitter and with 20.7 Mn likes on Facebook; President Yudhoyono (Indonesia) – 5.33 Mn followers on Twitter; Pope Francis (Vatican) – 4.41 Mn followers on Twitter; Queen Rania (Jordan) – 3.29 Mn followers on Twitter and 3.18Mn likes on Facebook; and PM Sheikh Mohammad (UAE) has 3.05 Mn followers on Twitter and 2.08 Mn likes on Facebook. Not everyone uses Facebook. Incidentally, in 2013, Sheikh Mohammed invited his twitter followers for a brainstorming session to give suggestions to improve education and health in the UAE. So there are many positive benefits to being engaged with social media in a world of open sourcing! Another point to be remembered is that social media was responsible for fuelling the Arab Spring Revolutions so it is surprising many political leaders are reluctant to embrace this tool.

6. Brand Extension

If a political brand is powerful enough – it can come to represent an ideology – Thatcherism for example, or a dynasty – Kennedy (USA), Gandhi (India). This is always a difficult question – what is the legacy of your brand and what values can be extended to other products without damaging your core brand.  You really need to have a strategy for brand architecture but that will be another post.

7. Brand Strategy

We get back to basics of marketing – who is your target audience? What message do you communicate? How do you reinforce this message? Is it easy to remember and catchy? How do you create ripples of word of mouth?

I feel that branding politicians is a topic that needs more discussion and while it is hidden in the shadows – it is a fact of life and the political rainmakers need to step into the light!





About Melodena

Professor Marketing Strategy & Branding Passionate about Branding, Entrepreneurship (especially social entrepreneurship), Place Marketing, and Crisis Management. Working to educate the world about MENA regional opportunities!
This entry was posted in Branding, Diplomacy, Strategy and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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