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Obama’s brand-building lessons

I had breakfast this morning with an old friend, Scot Safon, a fellow Wahoo from UVa Class of ’82. He’s now chief marketing officer of CNN. We both work for Time Warner now (and we both think we have the best jobs in the world, even as our jobs get harder everyday).

Scot, who lives in Atlanta, was here in New York this week because he’s on the board of Promax, an association for marketing and promotion execs in the entertainment industry. And Promax had its annual confab at the New York Hilton.

Scot told me this morning about a talk by Jim Margolis, whom he introduced at the powwow on Wednesday. Margolis, a senior partner at a political advocacy and advertising firm called GMMB, was a top strategist on Obama’s Presidential campaign.

“I studied 18 different Presidential marketing campaigns in 2007 and 2008, and I found every one interesting,” Scot told me over breakfast. “But the Obama campaign rewrote the rule-book in so many ways.”

Margolis laid it all out–creating a movement around the brand, grassroots organizing, social networking–in a case-study presentation called “Obama for President: The Campaign that Changed Everything.”

What really struck this crowd of marketing pros, though, was Margolis’s main message, which he illustrated by showing a video of Barack Obama speaking. If Margolis hadn’t noted that the clip was from the 2004 Democratic National Convention, most people would likely have assumed it was President Obama speaking today. The point: Brand consistency is everything.

Why did Barack Obama become President against all odds, and why are his favorability ratings still high? His message and his values have stayed consistent for five years. Great marketing starts with the product and a consistent brand.

Good to think about as I head to the Cannes Lions International  Advertising Festival in the south of France. (Goodbye, soggy Manhattan!) I’m interviewing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — the Lions’ Media Man of the Year — on stage there next Wednesday. What should I ask him? Let me know!