by Tony the Misfit

USA Today has a piece today about Team Obama’s imminent 2012 rebrand. This passage sums up the article well — it completely misses the point.

“Brand Obama in 2008 was brilliant,” says consultant Jonathan Salem Baskin, author of Branding Only Works on Cattle. His approach was fashioned to appeal to an electorate disenchanted with Bush’s tenure. [...]

Baskin says Obama lost control of his brand once he took office.

As a marketer, it blows me away how poorly he has defined and marketed his brand over the last two years. He didn’t tell people what he stood for and what he was going to do,” he says, adding that the president didn’t respond effectively to Republican efforts to fill in those blanks, including their attacks on the health care law as a threat to American liberty and the well-being of seniors.

“You can’t argue ‘death panel’ with a 20-minute explanation of the merits of elder care,” Baskin says, referring to accusations about provisions affecting Medicare.

Well, the reason “death panel” worked was because it filled a void — most voters didn’t understand what the health insurance reform bill would do for them and there was no big idea that unified it. Sure, there’s a miscellaneous collection of some decent reforms — eliminating preexisting conditions, for instance.

But “Medicare for everyone over 55″ or even better, “Medicare for all” would’ve been the easy answer to “death panels.” Of course, that would’ve required a vastly different, much more ambitious bill than the one Obama signed. Even more problematic from a branding standpoint, when people see that their insurance premiums aren’t going down in 2-3 years, the “Affordable Care Act” will be seen as a failure.

The stimulus, too, lacked a coherent narrative. Had the government undertaken a massive infrastructure project — not only fixing what we’ve got, but building high-speed rail, tunnels and new bridges — Team Obama could’ve called it the “Rebuild America Act” or something. Who could be against that?

But nearly 40% of the stimulus was tax cuts, and the rest of it got spread around to lots of different places. Not a total failure, to be sure, but again, arguably not a well-designed policy.

And of course, a lot of the people who wanted “change” in 2008 wanted us to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. No one knows why we’re still there, and no one knows why we’re in Libya.

What makes this all worse is Obama’s failure to articulate a grand vision for the country, an affirmative argument for government — a rebuke of Reaganism. That’s the change people wanted.

In 2008, Jens Andersen, 43, a systems administrator for a defense contractor in Scottsdale, Ariz., says he saw “a real change in the face of history” that reflected “a neat, page-turning moment, possibly,” for the nation.

But Andersen, who calls himself a liberal, has been distressed by Obama’s decision to expand the U.S. troop deployment in Afghanistan.

“I actually think in some ways he’s not what I would call a liberal,” he says.

Branding only gets you so far. When the product is messy, the messaging will be messy.