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Muhammad Ali and Jane Goodall
Muhammad Ali and Jane Goodall
In 2003, Muhammad Ali and Jane Goodall sat side by side to answer questions at the United Nations Peace Day celebration. Both were named Messengers of Peace, and both continue to inspire others to make the world a better place. It is a great honor that VCU Brandcenter students are working with the Jane Goodall Institute and the Muhammad Ali Center this semester.

My Advanced Brand Management students are preparing strategies for expanding the reach of the Jane Goodall Institute Brand, while my Cultural Exploration students are developing creative campaigns that connect people with the message of the Muhammad Ali Center. Executives from both organizations will be traveling to Richmond in the coming weeks to participate in the final presentations of the work.

Years ago, Jelly Helm positioned the VCU Brandcenter (formerly the Adcenter) with the phrase, “We’re not out to save the world. Just Advertising.” But in these turbulent times, teaching advertising students to use their gifts to help save the world may not be such a bad idea.

Different Thinkers Ali and Goodall

Different Thinkers Ali and Goodall


Painting by the River

After all the heightened emotions experienced in the final days of the presidential election, it was wonderful to slow down and enjoy the great outdoors with an art exhibition along the river. Five artists were featured in the show hosted by Lazare Gallery. A handful of students and chatted with the artists as they worked, then ducked inside for wine and cheese and more art. It was an enriching way to spend the afternoon.


Inside Lazare Gallery


Aaron Pavelis Completes A Portrait


Ronald Renmark Captures A Landscape


According to published reports, Barack Obama’s victory in the Presidential election was celebrated around the world. Here in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the confederacy, election night took on powerful symbolism as supporters encircled the statue of Robert E. Lee with Obama signs.

But what led to this historic outcome? The sharp contrast between the campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama provide a lesson in the fundamental nature of brands.

Brands are not the product of logos, slogans or jingles. They are built through consistent, predictable behavior. This predictability provides consumers with a reference point for the brand. They come to expect a consistent experience that gives them confidence that future experiences will be equally positive. When companies behave unpredictably, they imperil their brand. 

So which campaign was more consistent and predictable? Barack Obama’s team never wavered from the calm, pragmatic optimism that characterized its communications. Contrast this with McCain’s campaign, which seemed to leap from one opportunistic message to another. His team abruptly halted the campaign, and then hastily restarted it. They drifted from Bill Ayers, to Joe the Plumber, to celebrities to socialism. It felt like we were all sitting in a focus group as their campaign staff asked us “how about this one? No? How about that one?”

Another major failing of the McCain campaign was their focus on the competition. Look at the TV ad section of their website (below) and you’ll notice the face on most of McCain’s ads is Obama’s. It’s hard to build a brand while constantly invoking other brands. Consumers want to know your story, not the other guy’s. What were his campaign managers thinking when the chose to bypass McCain’s own accomplishments to latch onto the dubious saga of a tax-delinquent plumber?

Great brands become great, not by skipping from place to place in an attempt to pander to consumer whims. They act with conviction and they communicate with clarity and consistency. Ask yourself which candidate best fits that description and I don’t think you’ll have any trouble picking the winner.


McCain ads from his campaign website