Samsung, selfies and the branding of Barack Obama

Barack Obama is a president of many brands -- sometimes on purpose, sometimes not.


U.S. President Barack Obama poses with player David Ortiz for a "selfie" as he welcomes the 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox to the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, April 1. (REUTERS/Larry Downing)

One of the more extreme examples happened yesterday, when President Obama took a selfie with Red Sox power hitter David Ortiz during a visit by the 2013 World Series winners to the White House.

It was an undeniably cute moment -- until it was revealed the whole thing was a commercial for Samsung's Galaxy Note 3. (NOTE: Spontaneity truly is dead.) White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed the president was unaware that Ortiz -- who signed a new deal with the cellphone company on Monday -- was being paid for his photography skills.

The thing that likely bothered Obama the most, however, was that he fell victim to the same selfie corruption that he condemned talk show host Ellen DeGeneres for mere weeks ago. When he went on her show to promote Obamacare on March 20, they also discussed the Oscar Twitter photo (since we have reached the cap on using the word that describes photos taken by cellphone photographers of themselves in this post, we will resort to using well-worn newspaper techniques for avoiding curse words for the duration of this story) that finally broke the retweet record that Obama set on election night in 2012.

“I heard about that," he said. "I thought it was a pretty cheap stunt myself." Alas! His innocence could not last! He probably shouldn't have expected it to, either, given his family's history of sending people off to stores in droves after products have been linked with the Obama brand.

Blackberry

No product is more associated with Obama than his trusty Blackberry. When he won the 2008 presidential election, he fought hard to become the first president with a smartphone. And now, even though the company is in steep decline as everyone flees to Team iPhone or Team Android, Obama is stuck with his old phone, which has the best security the Secret Service can provide. If he wants to get an iPhone next, he'll have to do some training. Obama was testing a few Android phones earlier in the year for a potential upgrade, models from Samsung and LG ... although after yesterday who knows if the White House wants to continue giving Samsung press. Samsung and Obama have never gotten along too well anyway -- in August 2013, the Obama administration reversed an import ban Samsung won against Apple.

J.Crew

At Obama's first inauguration in January 2009, Michelle Obama and her daughters sported much J.Crew, designed just for them.


First lady Michelle Obama, with her daughters Sasha and Malia, and her mother Marian Robinson, stand in the presidential viewing booth during the inaugural parade.

Michelle Obama had previously worn J.Crew on Jay Leno, and sales spiked. After the inauguration, J.Crew's Web page on women's gloves crashed. A retail analyst interviewed by Time Magazine after the inauguration said: "It's a huge deal. This is something you get once in a lifetime. J. Crew will take this and run with it."

But it wasn't!


Beyonce sings the National Anthem during the Inaugural Ceremony of President Barack Obama after he is sworn in for a second term on the West Front of the United States Capitol on January 21, 2013. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

In January 2013, the Obamas again wore a bunch of J.Crew. The company decided to retire the items rather than inspire a country of winter wear clones. Jenna Lyons, J.Crew's creative director, told CNN that the Obama factor is "difficult to equate it into dollars. Oftentimes we don’t know if she’s going to wear [J.Crew] so the item may not be available or might be on sale.... We do see increased awareness.” At this point, fashion blogs even try to predict what J.Crew item Michelle will buy next.

When a brand-identity firm asked voters in 2012 what brand they most associated with Michelle Obama, they said, of course, J.Crew.

Other fashion brands that have benefited from the Obama bump include Jason Wu, Anthropologie and ASOS. During a concession speech in April 2008, Obama spoke in front of a crowd that included someone in an Abercrombie & Fitch shirt. The FITCH part of the shirt was very visible. The company's spokesperson told the New York Post, “Thanks to the Obama campaign for the great product placement. We wish we had thought of it.”

Oscar de la Renta, not so much.

As for President Obama, he is a fan of Brooks Brothers at inaugurations -- as are all presidents, according to the official Brooks Brothers historian. As for presidential inauguration shoes, Allen Edmonds provided footwear for all presidents since Reagan -- until 2009. The company's CEO was very sad.

Google and YouTube

Obama has tried to rekindle some fireside chat magic in his own administration by hosting a series of Google Hangouts and YouTube interviews. His weekly addresses to the country are delivered via YouTube. YouTube has even conducted interviews with the president. During his administration's big Obamacare push, he met with big YouTube stars in an effort to woo young invincibles.

Google has been helpful to Obama in other ways. In 2012, the company's employees were the third biggest contributor to the Obama campaign, giving more than $800,000. Andrew McLaughlin, who was Obama's deputy chief technology officer from 2009 to 2011, previously worked as a global public policy director for Google.

Costco

As previously stated on the Fix, President Obama has long liked the grocery warehouse chain for its wages and employer benefits, even giving a speech on the minimum wage at one in Maryland.


President Obama greets a Costco bakery employee as he tours the store prior to delivering remarks at a rally in Lanham, Md. EPA/MIKE THEILER / POOL

The night that Osama bin Laden was killed, the people in the Situation Room ate turkey pita wraps from Costco.

Taylor Gourmet

This one might not make much sense if you don't live in D.C., but President Obama and Vice President Biden seem to be big fans of this local sandwich chain (Although Biden's heart has already been stolen by Capriotti's, and now that there is one in Washington he will probably never go to Taylor again). In May 2012, Obama visited a Taylor Gourmet on 14th Street, where he bought a hoagie for himself and seven for congressional members he met with during a roundtable on small businesses.

After the visit, sandwich sales jumped by 250 percent. The co-owner said at the time, “People come in all the time and ask for the ‘president’s sandwich’ or the ‘Obama hoagie.'" Obama visited the Taylor Gourmet that opened up near the White House with Biden during the government shutdown last October.  They got hoagies and cookies.

President Obama

In October 2008, Advertising Age named Sen. Barack Obama the Marketer of the Year, beating runner-ups Apple and Zappos.com. At the event where the award was announced, many marketing executives had glowing things to say about their colleague:

"I think he did a great job of going from a relative unknown to a household name to being a candidate for president," said Linda Clarizio, president of AOL's Platform A, the sponsor of the opening-night dinner attended by 750 where the votes were cast.

"I honestly look at [Obama's] campaign and I look at it as something that we can all learn from as marketers," said Angus Macaulay, VP-Rodale marketing solutions. "To see what he's done, to be able to create a social network and do it in a way where it's created the tools to let people get engaged very easily. It's very easy for people to participate."

Obama has even marketed himself using product placement. In both of his presidential campaigns, Obama had advertising placed inside Electronic Arts video games.

Merchandise with President Obama's face or name on it has also always proved a successful business venture (although Obama's never been a fan of it). Who knows how long it will be before T-shirts with yesterday's marketing stunt photo, the inception of presidential product placement, will hit shelves?

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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