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Why Gillard loves Obama

By Daniel Bradley - posted Friday, 18 November 2011

Julia Gillard loves Barrack Obama. And not in a lovestruck, doey-eyed teenager kind of way, but in a way only a politician under siege can love another politician. And it isn't because Obama is the greatest politician in the world: he may well be, however he will be judged on that in the fullness of time when his achievements can be considered from a distance. And nor is it because the policy outcomes announced on this trip are really that important in the scheme of things. A few more US soldiers in the Northern Territory won't change the lives of you and I.

No it's none of that. Julia Gillard loves Barrack Obama because 'Brand Gillard' is a mess, and 'Brand Obama' is a rock star brand.

Consider this.


Obama didn't walk off the presidential jet in Canberra, he swaggered off. Obama didn't just 'speak' at the press conference later on, he 'owned' the press conference: whilst Gillard sounded and looked nervous, Obama was self-assured, confident, comfortable, without a hint of jetlag. And later at the dinner, in his address, he made jokes, laughed, talked about Australian colloquial terms - in other words was the perfect guest. Obama is a fantastic and engaging orator.

Irrespective of his politics and policies, 'Brand Obama' is compelling, and is one that politicians of all persuasions would observe with some envy.

As people, we accumulate brands around us that represent and reflect how we wish to be seen, both by ourselves and others. Do 'Sass & Bide' really sell jeans for $600 because they are that much better than those you could buy at Target for 50 bucks? Of course not. Is a $150 bottle of wine that much different to a $20 bottle of wine? Perhaps, but not discernable to most of us, certainly not to me. Is a bottle of Evian water that much tastier than chilled tap water? Not according to the blind taste tests it's not. Is the same house in Toorak or Double Bay or Ascot really better than if it were in the neighbouring suburbs of Glen Iris or Darlinghurst or Clayfield? Of course not - you're paying not only for the house, but more importantly for the suburb name, the 'brand' of that suburb.

People will pay a premium for brands, and once we have a view on a brand it is almost impossible to change it. Which is why those blind taste tests on bottled water versus tap water are entirely pointless. Rationally, we might know the tap water tastes fine, but emotionally we buy into the brand. And people buy things emotionally. This is why we will pay a premium for powerful brands. They provide 'perceived value': in other words it is less about what the product actually does, than how it reflects the way we wish to be perceived.

But back to Gillard and Obama. There is no question that they appear to have a genuine fondness and mutual respect for each other. However, for Gillard, the visit by the President is so much more than that. It provides her with the opportunity to surround herself with 'Brand Obama', and bathe in the reflected glory that it provides. After a week or two of improving polls, the Obama visit could not have been better timed for Julia Gillard. She will be loving him being here, less for what outcomes the visit achieves, and more for being able to use 'brand Obama' to rebuild the damaged 'brand Gillard'.

Because people love rockstar brands, so Gillard will milk Obama's visit for all she can in the hope that a little bit of 'Brand Obama' rubs off on 'Brand Gillard'. After all, if a rockstar like Obama rates Gillard, then she can't be all that bad?


Can she?

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