That monster event was televised on massive screens set up along the mall on the Capitol side of the Washington Monument. As we walked up and down the mall, looking for in-laws, we passed screen after screen around which crowds of a few hundred watched Usher, or Beyonce or Bono, or--inexplicably--Jack Black, lecture, sing, prance and pontificate about how we are all one. The joke was: "We are all one ... but all one what, exactly?" I confess that at first, I thought I was watching a football halftime show, until I realized that it was the Lincoln Memorial behind Beyonce's back.
The Obama half-time show, which I watched intermittently while walking about mindlessly on the mall looking for relatives, was profoundly entertaining. Bono was great singing "In the Name of Love." There was remarkably little branding. I was surprised that there was as little brand CPG brand activity: no candy bars, no PowerAde, no blizzard of coupons.
I had the good fortune to see Obama speak in Baltimore on Saturday. About 30,000 people showed up, maybe a few more. But we got lucky. We got in. People waited some four hours in the freezing weather. That event was pretty straightforward--lots of Baltimore dignitaries and a feeling of political currency, with people booing the governor (who used to be Baltimore's mayor), and the conspicuous absence of the current and embattled mayor. A gospel orchestra sang. It was local. The "One America We Are One" was made-for-TV national feel-good jingoism designed, like good marketing, as a branding exercise to--paraphrasing Beyonce--"We Are One"ify us.
The Presidential rock concert is kind of new, isn't it? I remember Clinton had something like that, with Barbra Streisand and folks performing prior to his taking the oath of office. But is this new? I don't have Internet here on the bus home; otherwise I'd use Google to tell me what I don't know. But it does worry me a little that there has to be a pre-show "American Idolatry" event before the work starts.
I wonder if Americans are "One" only if we are glued to some form of entertaining brand performance. I wonder, and I suppose I'm repeating myself for rhetorical effect, if we are "One" only when we are consumers of branding delivered by entertainers. How many would have shown up for a day celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday and Barack Obama's apotheosis if it had featured concerts by city ballets, operas, choirs or jazz bands? No stars, just Americans. Who, besides PBS, would have carried that? Many far more intelligent observers than I have commented on America (and maybe every other place whose inhabitants haven't taste-tested a Whopper) as populated by beings who are slowly getting entertained to death.
The planners surely patterned MLK's B'Day Bash for Barack after a football halftime show. The crowd of several hundred thousand cheered appropriately, holding up iPhones playing images of cigarette lighter flames (presumably) when Bruce, Bono, Beyonce and a fashionably unshaven Black took the stage to sing, pontificate, and invoke and evoke gods and tag lines for Barack. How cool is that? Democracy rocks and whatnot. But just tune me out when the policy sessions start. I just wish they'd keep the screens up on the mall for the Super Bowl. Or at least for the Super Bowl commercials.
But I am remiss because I promised my editor I'd make this a piece about branding. That gives me at least three choices: Pepsi, Ikea or Obama. Pepsi had street teams handing out lapel pins up and down the Mall. The little pins were in bright pastels with sayings that played on the Obama logo, with the Pepsi circle forming the "O" in "Joy", "Yes, You Can," "Wow," and whatnot. Ikea's ads were all over the Metro stations with banners and posters that tied furniture to health education and welfare, with a change theme.
I did Obama, the brand.