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Obama and the Lincoln Bible: Inspired Choice or Marketing Mistake?

Like many other marketers, I think candidate Obama’s marketing was exemplary. Which is why I was surprised at President-Elect Obama’s choice of bible for his swearing in.

I get the significance of Obama using the Lincoln Bible. I see the connection between the man who freed the slaves and the first black president. I understand that President Obama is inspired by Lincoln, that he’s a big fan, that he’s been reading up on Lincoln and even that his cabinet and administration is, like Lincoln’s, a team of rivals.

I just think there were better choices out there.

Sure, he got plenty of press coverage about his choice. But wouldn’t he have gotten just as much press if he’d used a bible owned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Wouldn’t it also have been significant and symbolic?

But more importantly, now there will be no Obama Bible.

The Lincoln bible will always be the Lincoln Bible, no matter who uses it.  But if Obama had used a bible of Dr. King’s, there would forever be an Obama Bible.

Doesn’t the first black president of the United States deserve a bible of his own?

For the record, most presidents do not use other president’s bibles. Eisenhower used Washington’s, as did the first Bush. The second Bush wanted to, but inclement weather (or the hand of God?) intervened. Here’s an interesting list of presidential bibles compiled by the Architect of the Capital, who is “responsible to the Congress for preserving, maintaining and enhancing our national treasures.”

In marketing and advertising, we call what President Obama did “borrowed interest.” Instead of capitalizing on his own unique brand attributes, Obama cashed in on Lincoln’s.

Wouldn’t using Dr. King’s bible also be borrowed interest? Sure, for today.

But for tomorrow, for all the tomorrows to come, that bible would be the Obama Bible. When some future president-elect wanted to use that bible, they would refer to it as the Obama bible, used to swear in the first black president, which was originally owned by Dr. Martin Luther King, the greatest civil rights leader in American history.

That’s good branding…and good marketing.

Which is why I’m so perplexed. Everything about this campaign’s marketing has been so intentional, so purposeful, so savvy, that there must be a reason I’m missing.

So can someone (preferably named Barak) please explain to me why President Obama chose to borrow interest from someone else’s brand as opposed to firmly establishing his own?

By jlsimons

I’m a storyteller who has spent my life focused on the things people do for fun, from games and hobbies to comic books and podcasts. I love building and managing teams of incredible people and empowering them to do the best, most fun and fulfilling work of their careers. I am also a senior level marketing executive with a unique blend of over 34 years of podcast marketing, social media community building, promotional partnerships, advertising, interactive, branding, marketing, paid and organic search, direct response, analytics, and game design. Along the way, I've built a leading podcast brand and a million-plus-subscriber YouTube channel, created multinational promotions for global brands, and co-desiged critically acclaimed collectible card and role-playing games.
Oh yeah, and I write science fiction.

Specialties: Podcast marketing, social media community building, promotional partnerships, integrated marketing, social media, strategic marketing, alternate channels, direct response, corporate marketing, copywriting, advergaming, game design and development, financial advertising

6 replies on “Obama and the Lincoln Bible: Inspired Choice or Marketing Mistake?”

interesting post. i think barack consciously moved from marketing himself as a candidate brand to a president brand. and as such he has a clear strategy, a marketing strategy if you will, to position himself as not the black president but rather the color-blind president. he deliberately avoided referencing dr. king or the historical fact of being the first black president because one of his key messages is inclusiveness. In fact, in that regard he has done a good job of keeping on strategy throughout the entire campaign and through to the inauguration and his speech. His communication platform is something like- we are all in this together and as the constitution said, all men are created equal-something lincoln certainly ascribed to. thus, the lincoln bible, an apt symbol.

Great insights as always, David. Thanks. I think you satisfied my curiosity, too. I can accept that he was pursuing a color-blind presidential brand image — it makes sense. Sort of like moving from a local product to one with national distribution…the drivers are different when you’ve got a broader customer base. I still wish the future would have recourse to an Obama bible, but hey, there’s always the one he chooses for the next term.

Thanks for the comment, Jack. I followed your intriguing link and read your post. Scary at first, and I wasn’t sure what you were up to, but by the end I was very glad I’d read it. You raise many good points. My favorite: his election doesn’t mean anyone can be president. It means anyone can be great. And that the jury is out, and that we need to be realistic. In a similar context, I love the fact that Jon Stewart is already attacking targets of opportunity with Obama, saying, “hey, it’s what I do” or something to that effect.

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