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La Tribune, France

Obama Won,
but the Victory Is America’s

By Jean-Christophe Gallien

Translated By Tara Ferguson

10 November 2012

Edited by Lau­ren Gerken

France - La Tribune - Original Article (French)

With Barack Obama recently re-elected for a second term, Jean-Christophe Gallien, an associate professor at the University of Paris 1 Sorbonne and a consulting and public diplomacy member of the SEAP (Society of European Affairs Professionals), takes another look at the United States’ place and image in the world today.

Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential election. The U.S. won the battle for a global audience. As if we were the 51st state of the U.S., we [France] all participated in this long marathon, the same year as our own presidential election. To a slightly lesser extent than during Obama’s first victory in 2008, the U.S. exported news far beyond their geographic and media borders. Every four years, this electoral moment sets the rhythm for the multipolar world’s news — a world where the competition between regions for the global audience is fierce. We almost seem more excited about this ballot than about our own. We don’t always understand the U.S.’ complex constitutional and electoral system, but we do know the issues, fault lines and even the vocabulary specific to this election. We relate to candidates’ proposals. We are familiar with their personal stories.

Our media are zealous allies of this phenomenon. They thrive on content featuring angles scripted by the candidates and their teams, meant to place the candidates on every screen, radio channel, newspaper and other published work. They rely on efficiency in terms of capturing audiences and cheaply and continuously advertising content.

A Kind of Permanent Super Bowl

A kind of permanent Super Bowl, broadcast here every day, for weeks, on every medium. Live news shows. Weeks of watching the cohorts of special envoys. It’s a real global media plan that is not talked about. Each candidate’s media charter was broadcast to a unique global audience, during prime time all over the world. Its narrative was fed to TV networks and radio stations, and let’s not forget the press and of course the web and social networking.

America presented itself live and unvarnished. Strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures of the U.S. experience were amplified as if on permanent screens. The presidential election itself was a great opportunity to display Brand America in the political arena. Brand America is carried by the two candidates. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney did just as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton had done before. Whether you love them or hate them, they make us their campaign stakeholders. We are almost like American citizens. This multi-billion dollar show can afford to be ambitious. The show becomes ours.

A majority watched, observed, more or less attentively, and gradually became caught up in this high stakes game. A significant minority participated and committed themselves to the campaign. We know better what’s happening in Iowa or Ohio than in Ardennes or Lozère, without draping ourselves in the Stars and Stripes. It’s a learning process that is bringing us closer to a country that we love or hate, but is nevertheless being imposed on us. Obviously, Barack Obama is a product of politics and media, which unparalleled in the world. The phenomenon is global and local at the same time. It resonates with many people. But do not be fooled.

A Real Public Diplomacy Strategy

If the main players are so obviously a major asset to Brand America, this is a real public diplomacy strategy that only the U.S. is liable to carry out. Wherever possible and useful, it will be broadcast live to people, far beyond traditional diplomacy. Just as in Hollywood and the rest of the cultural and entertainment industry, the myth of America ceaselessly recycles other people’s stories — just as their literature is spread limitlessly, and their universities continue to attract students from all over the world and to produce innovations that fuel Uncle Sam’s brands. Just as Made in USA sports teams obtain global success supported by icons and powerful brands, just as their language has become a global Esperanto… and what can be said about the Internet and 2.0! Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, just to mention the most well-known, are instruments for the spread of different aspects of Brand USA and for powerful actors who are interested in strategically imposing themselves on the vast digital world and beyond with. What about Apple, Coke and other brands that govern tribes of loyal people all over the world and gorge them on their products and concepts designed in the U.S. even though they are very often made in China?

Not as Sweet and Innocent as It Seems

Some would call it soft diplomacy. We choose to call it new public diplomacy. The strategy integrates culture, media, industry, sport, education, language, public and private politics, classic diplomacy and the traditional branding of the country. At the center of this concept, as is the tendency in diplomacy, are public citizens who are becoming more and more informed and who now form a digitalized global opinion in a very dynamic and available framework and a giant market. During this election, as every four years, the U.S. took over the world’s narrative.



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