When it doesn’t pay to advertise

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With Republicans accusing Obama of buying the vote and the uproar over $150,000 wardrobes just subsiding, it’s a dangerous time for an expensive half-hour infomercial.

While the Obama campaign has largely been a model of branding perfection, its occasional outsized confidence (Berlin? Greek Columns? Thoughts of delaying the Phillies’ victory when Pennsylvania is a game-changer?) may have limited its success in closing the deal with the moderate middle.

  • Can Obama’s message connect without seeming overly self-serving?
  • Can it stand out amid the sea of celebrities and slick production values to which prime time viewers are accustomed?
  • And if it does, will the cost raise eyebrows in the middle of what Obama himself calls “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression?”

It’s not just about politicians either. Given the current economic climate, all marketers need to consider their outbound marketing spend not just in terms of the bottom line, but in terms of the impression it creates among customers and partners. When times are tough, no one wants to see money being spent frivolously. Sometimes it’s better not to talk, but to listen, focus on a core promise of substance, and work even harder to deliver on that promise for your customers.

The lesson: sometimes less is more, and some things are better unsaid.

And lest we forget, the grandiose staging of Obama’s Democratic Convention speech was followed by McCain’s announcement of Sarah Palin as a running mate, a resurgence of the Republican base, and a temporary leadership position in the polls for McCain.

We’ll be watching to see what Barack Obama can say in a half-hour prime time infomercial that couldn’t be communicated better in some other way, and whether the Obama campaign hasn’t overlooked – particularly with this prime time spot – that the medium is an inescapable part of the message.

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