What Marketers Can Learn from Obama’s Barnard Address

“This is about ME,” my girlfriend kept reminding me in the days leading up to her graduation from Barnard College this week, suspecting that I was more excited to see Obama deliver the commencement address than see her get her diploma.

But it was about Obama.

With only 174 days remaining until the election and just a slim margin separating the POTUS from Mitt Romney, every minute of Obama’s waking life has to be spent directly or indirectly marketing his 2012 campaign.

Commencement speeches are a mainstay of every President’s reelection bid, and with press from every major NYC media company in attendance, Obama’s performance on stage would be much more important than 600 elite Barnard graduates receiving their diplomas.

From a marketing perspective, Barnard College was the perfect choice for Obama to deliver a commencement speech.

Its location on Manhattan’s Upper West Side ensured maximum media exposure, its student body was sure to be enthusiastic and receptive, and the gender of its graduates — female — would strengthen Obama’s push to dominate amongst female voters amidst the GOP’s “War on Women.”

First came the 3,000-strong crowd, snaking through the security line down 114th Street and into the tents on the Columbia University lawn on Monday. Hours later, the graduates appeared, most frantically waving, some fist-pumping, all wondering when Obama would emerge.

Once he did, commencement transformed into a raucous explosion, blasting everyone back to 2008.

Addressing a group of 600 women likely to secure positions of power in society, Obama stressed the role powerful women have had in shaping his life and urged the graduates to “fight for your place at the head of the table.”

“It’s up to you to hold the system accountable and sometimes upend it entirely,” he told the crowd. “It’s up to you to stand up and be heard, to write, and to lobby, to march, to organize, to vote. Don’t be content just to sit back and watch.”

Inspiring women to do just that remains one of the keys to Obama’s reelection campaign.

That evening and the following day, Obama’s speech flashed on nightly newscasts and headlined on publications across the country, playing a soundtrack of the the nation’s top-tier female graduates cheering him on.

It wasn’t a groundbreaking speech, but it was the perfect example of positioning content in the ideal context to generate maximum positive media exposure.

We’ll discover if the speech truly was a win in 174 days. After all, in Presidential branding, there’s only one ROI metric that counts.

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