Is Obama the first gay president?


Not to be outdone by TIME magazine’s May 21 cover on “attachment parenting”—which features a young mother breastfeeding her 3-year-old son—Newsweek today issued an equally provocative cover story. It shows President Obama, with a rainbow-colored halo and a caption that reads, ‘The First Gay President.”

In his decision to openly support gay marriage, has Barack Obama serviced (or undermined) his brand?

Before his days in the White House had begun (and perhaps because he was in the midst of an election), it became clear that our soon-to-be 44th president had a nuanced appreciation for brand.

In February 2008, when Obama was on the verge of clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, Newsweek correspondent Andrew Romano wrote a piece on the Obama branding effort—and why it was working. “Reinforced with a coherent, comprehensive program of fonts, logos, slogans and web design,” Romano wrote, “Obama is the first presidential candidate to be marketed like a high-end consumer brand.”

Four years later—as election season heats up—Obama is faced with the challenge of refining his political positioning and clarifying his brand voice.

So, what does he promise?

A quick scan of his website reveals:

  • Active, straightforward language—such as “Stand Up With the President” or “Help Build the Campaign”—that engages and empower constituents
  • A sense of accessibility and humanity (by using first names)
  • Close-up, almost intimate imagery that conveys a sense of confidence and strength
  • The traditional red, white and blue color scheme focuses on shades of blue, giving the site a more contemporary feel
  • A simple, straightforward look and feel

Given his website and other communications materials, I believe one could argue that the following principles define help define him:

With this in mind, let’s re-examine Obama’s historic statement made to ABC News last week:

“I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

It is human:

  • Within one sentence, he says “I” twice, “me” twice and “personally” once

It is accessible:

  • His sentence construction is casual (even reminiscent of popular culture), “it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that…

It is honest:

  • He states a personal opinion in a public forum without mincing words

It is strong:

  • He uses the word “affirm” and does not try to qualify the statement

Some political pundits claim that Obama simply needed the fundraising boost that this announcement ensured. While this may be true in part, the results—regarding whether his open support of gay marriage will help him win (or lose) votes in the fall—are still out.

Given everything that the Obama brand stands for, I believe that his recent assertion was inevitable. Everything from the nature of the message down to its language and tone reinforces Obama’s brand promise of change you can believe in.

Moreover, given the qualities on which Obama has built his reputation, I bet that his position as “the first gay president” will serve him well—by both strengthening and updating his brand voice.


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