Is Obama’s Blackberry endorsement worth $50 million?


Now that we have world peace and the economy is under control, we can turn our attention to the important stuff, like President Obama’s Blackberry. Over the weekend, we learned he’s getting to keep his Blackberry, except, maybe it won’t be a Blackberry, but a super-secure Sectéra Edge from General Dynamics. Of course, Microsoft was quick to say, hey wait, he should use a U.S. product (i.e., one running Windows CE) rather than a Blackberry, a product from Canada, a country where lots of people speak French. No word yet from Apple, despite the iPhone playing a supporting role in his campaign communications success.

Unfortunately, the White House email server crashed this afternoon and no one there is getting email anyway. And you thought that just happened where you work.

President Obama’s love of his Blackberry is the type of unsolicited endorsement that comes along once in a marketer’s dream life. I’m sure there is some group crunching away at the equivalency value of the millions of mentions of the Blackberry brand in the media’s obsessed coverage of this puffery. The New York Times ran a story a couple of weeks ago suggesting Obama’s “endorsement” is worth $50 million to the brand.

And even with the device reportedly being the Sectéra Edge, every article is still using the word “Blackberry” to define the category of wireless device it is.

But is the Obamadorsement really helping Blackberry? According to the Wall Street Journal this morning, the company that markets Blackberry, Research in Motion, has sold only 500,000 unites of its new model, the Storm, about 20% of the units of the Apple iPhone that sold during the the same period after its introduction.

Even Obama can’t revive some things.

The notion that a President would actually “endorse” a product may seem far-fetched, but you could argue that Presidents spend a big chunk of their time doing ceremonial activities that are, in effect, a way in which they can lend their stature and media-big-stick to raise the attention of industries and causes. And it’s extremely well documented that if a President mentions he likes a book, the sales sky-rocket in a way that rivals only an Oprah nod. A recent example is the Obama-touted Team of Rivals and perhaps the best known example is Ronald Reagan turning Tom Clancy into a rock-star author by calling his Hunt For Red Octoberunputdownable.”


President Kennedy tried to pump up sales of a Navy buddy’s
hat company, but hat sales still sunk.

My favorite — and perhaps most obscure — story about an overt attempt by a President to help boost the sales of a product is one I read about years ago in the magazine American Heritage. Thanks to Google, I found the remembered article — actually an editor’s letter — on the American Heritage website* and the photo it describes (but is not on the American Heritage site) on the website of the JFK Library.

It has long been an urban legend that President Kennedy is the reason men stopped wearing hats in the early 1960s. ( has a great de-bunking of the myth with photos of Kennedy wearing a top-hat at inaugural-day functions.) But the fact remains that Kennedy, who rarely wore a hat, was perceived even at the time as exacerbating the already-established trend away from hat-wearing by men.

However, President Kennedy one time purposefully had himself photographed with a hat as an active form of product endorsement — what today we’d call a “product placement.” He did it as a favor for a Navy buddy who had served with him on the famous PT 109.

Here’s how the story goes in American Heritage:

“After his PT service, (Al Webb) became vice president of sales for Cavanagh Hats. With his fellow skipper’s famous bareheadedness ravaging his enterprise, Webb had Cavanagh run up two fine custom hats and hurried to the White House to give one to the President and one to Kennedy’s long-time friend, a businessman named Red Fay.

“Al removed the hats from their boxes as though they were fragile Stradivarii,” recalled the writer William Manchester, who was on hand for the presentation. “Jack and the Redhead tried them on. . . . Al stood back to observe the effect. He said unconvincingly, ‘You both look great.’ Jack and Red looked at each other and burst out laughing. ‘Al,’ said the President, ‘are you willing to destroy the beloved image of our country’s leader just to save the hat industry?'” Manchester thought the hats made the two men “look like a couple of house detectives.” Webb retreated, “crestfallen.”

…”Kennedy met the challenge in his own way. The next day he greeted former President Eisenhower at Camp David and thereafter sent Al a picture of the great occasion: It showed Kennedy leaning forward, his right hand extended; in his left hand he held a hat, the lining facing out toward the camera. The Cavanagh Hats label was plainly visible!”

As stylish as Kennedy was, however, the hat never made a comeback in men’s business fashion.

And despite the well-publicized ‘addiction’ of President Obama to his Blackberry, it will be interesting to monitor what sort of sales bump his endorsement will have.

[Photo via: JFK Library.]

*While the website still has some prominent links to, the magazine in now owned independently.

How to bring a higher profile to the moribund office of Surgeon General

I’m a fan of author Christopher Buckley, whose novels are not only biting political satire, but often prove to be amazingly prescient. For example, the novel (not the movie) Thank You For Smoking, pre-dated the federal and state cigarette settlements with the tobacco companies, but predicted some of the more cynical aspects of what has played out: i.e., anti-smoking campaigns aimed at teenagers can “unintentionally” make smoking seem rebellious — and thus, cool.

Early this year, Buckley’s most recent novel, Supreme Courtship was similarly soothsaying in having as its central character, a Sarah Palenesque woman-of-the-people who is nominated to the Supreme Court after the novel’s President has a series of nominees fail the confirmation process (for rather unique and hilarious reasons).

What does the President hope will be the key to the confirmation of Judge Pepper Cartwright? She’s America’s most popular TV judge. And like Palen, Pepper Cartwright’s personality and down-home wit is central to her appeal.

Buckley’s target for ridicule in the book is a TV-culture that spawns a citizenry that has trouble distinguishing reality from reality-TV. Cartwright is a competent local judge, but her real talent is being good on TV — thus, she’s got what it takes to encourage the American people to rise up in support of her confirmation.


Earlier tonight, I couldn’t help but think of Pepper Cartwright when I read that CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been approached to be Surgeon General. According to the New York Times, he is “a pick that will give the moribund office a higher profile.” Was Chris Buckley writing that, I wondered.

At least Dr. Gupta is an actual doctor, and doesn’t just play one on TV. And, no doubt, like Judge Pepper Cartwright, people who know him from TV will believe whatever he tells them.

However, if Dr. Gupta doesn’t accept the job, I recommend Dr. Derek Shepherd or Dr. Gregory House, either of whom will bring an even greater profile to the office.

And if they won’t take it, I recommend nominating someone who slept last night at a Holiday Inn Express.

Update: Upon further reflection, I’ve decided that Doc Searls would also bring a higher profile to the moribund office. “Good health is conversation,” would be his slogan.

The weekend the Internet died

Thanks to those who e-mailed me on Sunday to let me know this blog was off line. It happened as one of those unintended glitches that occur when you de-glitch something else. Fortunately, the glitch only affected my blog and some other items sitting on a server that hosts nothing commercial or business-related.

Typically, I would have noticed the site being down, but I was busy all weekend actively enjoying the glorious weather here in Nashville. Checking in with Twitter last night, I discovered there must have been some problems there also this weekend, as some of my friends who are heavy-duty users of the service noticed some (and came up with a fix for) performance issues.

And then, this morning, the voice-over-IP phone system in our office is having some issues (as in, no one can call us, but we can call out).

The parade of glitches reminds me a bit of last week’s episode of Southpark called “Over Logging.” It is a spot-on satirical commentary on the creeping cultural dependence on the Internet that has developed over the past decade. (Warning: There is some very intense — and gross — adult-related content in this episode — as there is in every episode of South Park.) There is much in the show that holds up a mirror to those of us who have forgotten what it was like in the old-days before, say, 1996.

Spoiler alert: The way in which the Internet is fixed is a classic geek-humor moment. And the plea at the end to not “over-log” the Internet is a clever jab at the faddish way in which some people treat “being green.”

It’s Monday. I’m back online. The Internet is working again.

The best advertising you’ll see this Super Bowl day is this one for Barack Obama

[Note: This post is an observation and opinion piece about political advertising and is not any sort of endorsement. Disclosure: I have not stated anywhere publicly who I will vote (actually, “voted” as I did so early) for in the Tuesday presidential primary in Tennessee. And while I voted for a candidate, I have not made any contributions to any campaign and will remain undecided about November until the parties have selected their candidates. Note: See update at the end of this post.]

When I was a kid in the 1960s, every candidate for office had a campaign jingle. JFK’s campaign had one and, well, while it was a little before my time, perhaps the most famous early TV political campaign jingle was the one called, I Like Ike. Like commercial jingles for consumer products, the campaign jingle has been replaced with theme songs borrowed from pop or country repertoires of “classic hits.” But every campaign still has a song. And music is a part of every campaign stop of every candidate.

It’s rare, however, to witness the birth of a new genre of presidential political campaign advertising music. (And by “advertising,” I’m not referring to the narrow interpretation of advertising that would limit it to :30 or :60 second spots.) But that’s what we’re getting this weekend. With this video below, I think we’re witnessing a new genre of campaign song: One that blends the passion and striped down message and cadance of sixties protest-movement grassroots folk songs with “cause-jingles” of the 70’s (“Look for the Union Label”) and the slickly-produced commercial anthems that accompanied such 1980s events as “Live-aid.”

The result is this anthem which is perhaps some of the most brilliant use of music in a presidential campaign I’ve ever heard or seen (see embedded video.)

I can understand why a Clinton-supporter like my friend, Jeff Jarvis would want to dismiss this video as “only (underscoring) the notion that Obama’s campaign is the most rhetorical of the bunch: speeches and slogans so neat they can fit in 4/4 time.” That’s the equivalent of when your parents told you that rock music would turn your brain into mush. To me, it only underscores how remarkably rare it is to witness a break-through idea in the use of new media in politics. This is not “user-generated” or “amateur” media — the people who conceived, created, produced and appear on it are all pros at the top of their game. However, I predict that within the next 24 hours, you’ll see the beginnings of a flood of mashup versions in which college students and singer-songwriters and others will produce their own versions. And that’s when we’ll start to understand what this music is really about.

Another “break-through” aspect of this music video must also be its financing. While the producers claim not to know whether or not the Obama campaign even knows about it, the value it brings to the campaign will sky-rocket. It’s a little like the off-books value of “an endorsement,” except in this case, the endorsement is in the form of something that has the value of those Mastercard ads: Priceless.

More about the video: ABC News: Stars Come Out for Obama Music Video.

Update: I have seen some blog posts saying the ad is from The video does not have any information on it regarding that organization as a source — which it must disclose. Obviously, the financing of the production — if by — would be covered under the laws pertaining to 527 Groups. I’ve looked on the site and they, indeed, have endorsed Obama and are promoting the video — but there’s nothing there about them creating the video. While I’m no fan of, I still think this ad is amazing — sorta like when I enjoy an Oliver Stone movie.

Update II: S-town Mike (thanks) provided in a comment below, an e-mail from that promotes the video, but indicates it was neither funded or produced by the organization. Rather it echos what the ABC News piece above reports: it was conceived and produced of the Black Eyed Peas and film director Jesse Dylan, son of Bob Dylan.

Update III: When I said, “within the next 24 hours, you’ll see the beginnings of a flood of mashup versions in which college students and singer-songwriters and others will produce their own versions. And that’s when we’ll start to understand what this music is really about,” this is what I meant. I’m sure we’ll see it done a lot better — and a lot worse. And after seeing this, I can also predict it will be subject to some really hilarious parodies, as well.

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