Mar 19, 2009

Obama series 1/3: Stories

In the first of a three part series of blog posts analyzing the Obama campaign in more depth we're looking at how Obama used stories to bring Generation Y closer to his cause. 

As a leader of today you are unlikely to have missed the election of America’s 44th President in one form or another.  In fact, you’re probably wondering, how did he do that? Or, how could we do some of that? We know the Director of Internal Communications at Virgin is already asking this question on her blog: Can we replicate that in Virgin Media? 

In this series we will unpack these two core questions – what was so appealing about Barack Hussein Obama that ensured he won the highest ever Generation Y vote for the presidency?  And, then, what can we learn as we seek to engage the next generation of leaders, consumers and collaborators? 

Digest these statistics:  the BBC reported that Obama won the votes of those under 30 by 68% to 31 %!  From the US-based CNBC news channel we can further add that this was the highest ever score of the youth vote achieved by any presidential candidate ever (since exit polls began in 1976).  Here’s the crunch... out of the total number of voters 10% were voting for the first time, and in this group 72% voted for Obama, and in the sub-30 (largely Generation Y) category 69% voted for Obama (compared to just 28% in favour of McCain).  So, Why?

First up, stories: 

‘Behind every statistic there is a story’ said the newly elected President in his weekly video log (‘vlog’) from the White House, addressing the nation.  Indeed he’s quite good at telling stories:  with everyone from YouTube and to the tabloid newspapers telling his story across the world.  I stand here knowing that my story, is part of a larger American story... and that in no other country on earth is my story even possible’ (Obama).  He only met his father once for a month when he was 10; his grandparents grew up in Kansas; they were brought up during the great depression; his grandfather fought in the army; his grandmother worked on an assembly line; we know the young Barack would be woken at 04:30 in the morning to do his lessons; that he would grumble at having to wake up so early and his mother would respond saying “well this is no picnic for me either Buster”.  From this perspective he’s kind of normal.  Loveable, almost. 

We know his list of values: from ‘treating everyone equal’, ‘hard work’, ‘honesty’, ‘self-reliance’, ‘empathy’, ‘kindness’, ‘faithfulness’ and ‘Christianity’.  We know he is able to connect with the ordinary voter in the middle class (almost half of his $670 million raised came from small donors giving $300 or less); with white collar workers (in fact the top two states by ‘donation count’ were California and New York – together donating close to $150 million – two of the most influential cities in the United States, business-wise); and business executives (for example SONY BMG Chairman Andrew Lack, who gave just over $30k).

We know Barack Obama!  And that’s half the point.  We know so much about Obama that it almost feels as if we know him personally.  The ‘Stories’ insured he was first, amiable (the little boy called ‘buster’); second, admired (surviving against the odds and winning over the system); and third, ‘normal’ (his parents raised him on school and honest values).  Oh... and he was extremely talented at telling his story.  Generation Y lapped this up.  They love stories, they love people that are inspirational that paint big visions and they have a tendency to side with the underdog – to make them believe that maybe, one day, that will be them.

Boomers aren’t generally that great at sharing personal stuff at work, they feel ‘Work’ and ‘Play’ are separate spaces, not so for Generation Y for whom there is significant cross-over and blurring.

Next stop: Vision and Ownership.


  1. Interesting blog and series debut...gotta like anything titled "Naked Generations". Given that title and the thrust of this series, I assume you'll be including some discussion about Obama's own generation. As many influential voices have repeatedly noted, Obama--born 1961--is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X. Google Generation Jones, and you'll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) specifically use this term to describe Obama.

    Here is a recent op-ed about Obama as the first GenJones President in USA TODAY:

  2. Hi politico08, thanks for your comment! Really appreciate the link to, it will be great for others to click through to and read up on. thanks. Re the commentary on other generations, absolutely. we make sure we keep our eyes on that too. Take a look at: and for some past blogs - right in the beginning of setting up.