Salena Zito

How does President Obama live up to the hype/hope that so embodied him as a candidate?

By keeping the promise of his image in line with the delivery of his actions – and never letting the two pull apart.

Obama is an effective brand built on the image of change. Implemented by a team of brilliant strategists, the brand has gone from the control of campaigning to the chaos of governing.

“The challenge for Barack Obama is that he won this remarkable campaign of being all things to all people,” said Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. "You can’t be that when you govern."

Unfortunately for Obama, a little brand-tampering has occurred in the past two weeks: the tax challenges of Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner; the domestic-help tax issue of first-ever “performance czar” Nancy Killefer; the pay-to-play legal issues of Commerce nominee Bill Richardson; and the car-and-driver tax issues of Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle. Three of those four did not survive.

And don’t forget the Obama White House’s all-lobbyists-are-bad-except-my-lobbyists exemptions.

None of this lives up to the whole “Change you can believe in” branding – but neither does it become a Tylenol-tampering moment, when outside influences tarnish the brand, or a “let's re-invent Coke with New Coke” internal-decision disaster.

Obama the Brand was elected on a great wave of hope, that things somehow could be different. What he needs to do is to demonstrate that somehow things will be different.

Every time a Geitner or Daschle moment occurs, it reminds people of the old Washington – not what they voted and hoped for.

The team that protects the brand is on constant guard to deflect outside damage and internal gimmicks that might erode it. That includes what any good marketing team outside of politics does to keep a brand name appealing: focus groups and market research – a tactic that Obama's chief political adviser, David Axelrod, freely admits using.

Axelrod employed focus-group research to poll public attitudes about the economy, Obama’s biggest challenge heading into the White House. Those results are being used for message-framing and language, as the president and Congress talk stimulus proposals.

When the Daschle disaster hit, Obama wisely engaged in a multi-network “I am sorry, I screwed up” tour. That reinforced his "things are different now in Washington" image.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.