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Oprah's brand -- will it make a difference for Obama?

The Washington Post reports (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/04/AR2007090402188.html) that Oprah Winfrey, who has endorsed Barack Obama for president, "is in discussions with his advisers about playing a broader role in the campaign -- possibly as a surrogate on the stump or an outspoken advocate -- or simply bringing her branding magic to benefit his White House bid." Oprah this weekend will host a presidential fundraiser for Obama.

The question is, will Oprah's brand create a halo effect for Obama? As the Post notes, she has a huge constituency: 8.4 million viewers daily of her TV show, 2.3 million unique viewers of her Web site each month, 2 million magazine readers each month, etc.

Initially the Post is skeptical, noting that "historically, there's little evidence that celebrity endorsements have done much to draw voters to political candidates." However, the political analysts interviewed for the article felt that Oprah's magic might be different. Then, the paper notes, there is the case of the 2000 George Bush interview, in which the candidate moved up twelve percentage points to tie with Al Gore after talking to Oprah.

The Post goes on to state that a professor of African-American studies at Duke University, Mark Anthony Neal, says the prospects for the partnership are "immense but uncertain."

I tend to disagree. I don't think Oprah's support will make much difference for Obama at all. Oprah's brand essence is apolitical. She is about self insight, growth, and finding opportunities to make one's life better. While it's true that she was masterful at getting America to read books, her brand just doesn't translate into the political realm. The "Oprah bounce" that George Bush received after her interview does not equate to long-term ratings changes for a candidate.

On the other hand, I am a huge Oprah fan and always wanted her to run for president herself. So, it's an odd situation: on the one hand she has political capital with me, but on the other hand her brand doesn't necessarily extend to other candidates.

Time will tell, I suppose.


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