Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Hillary Clinton's going to be in southern Iowa this weekend. John Edwards will be shaking hands all over the great state of New Hampshire. Barack Obama is headed for Des Moines and parts of South Carolina. Obama's wife Michelle will probably be at his side, as will Oprah Winfrey.

Of course, celebrity endorsements of political candidates are nothing new, but we all know that Oprah is more than just another celebrity, right? So we asked Stacey Vanek-Smith to take a look at what happens when brand Oprah chooses sides.


Oprah Winfrey: America, you are wearing the wrong bra...

Stacey Vanek Smith: It's the call to action that sold a million Le Mystere brassieres, turned Josh Groben's Christmas CD platinum and landed Anna Karenina on The New York Times best-seller list. But can Oprah do for Obama what she did for Tolstoy?

Steven Ross: If I were running for president and I could pick one celebrity in America to endorse me, it would be Oprah Winfrey.

USC history professor Steven Ross says Oprah is a master at getting people to act. He says her real power in this situation may not be getting people to vote for Obama so much as getting people to vote.

Ross: She has the potential of reaching out into a group of voters who never vote. We know from both the last two presidential elections that 1 to 2 percent of the vote in key states could potentially turn an election.

More than 8.5 million people watch Oprah and she has a well-documented sway over their psyches and their pocketbooks. Marketing CEO Mary Lou Quinlan says Oprah is pure political gold.

Mary Lou Quinlan: People love Oprah. They don't just like her, they don't just follow her, they love her. And they believe she wouldn't lie to them. And, if you can put truth into politics, well that's one heck of a branding job.

A branding job that will be enormously helpful, says Columbia University political historian Evan Cornog. He says politics is all about honing a good image.

Evan Cornog: Issues, after all, are incredibly complicated. What you try to do if you're a candidate is simplify them -- come up with a nice story that sums up who you are, come up with a set of stories that express what the issues are.

And Oprah's story is all about integrity and compassion says marketing CEO Quinlan. She says those qualities will be a lot more effective at winning over voters than things like tax policy and health-care reform. She says that's because most of us pick politicians the same way we pick any other product.

Quinlan: As consumers, we don't like to admit that we make an emotional purchase. We like to say, "Oh, I chose that shampoo because it's got extra vitamins and makes my hair shiny." The truth is, we chose that shampoo because we saw this fabulous swinging hair and this happy woman and we thought, "Hey, that should be me."

Quinlan says Obama will become part of Oprah's inspirational, self-improvement message and people do seem to be inspired. A CBS poll found nearly a third of people said they would be more likely to vote for Obama because Oprah endorsed him.

[Crowd:] We want Oprah, we want Oprah...

I'm Stacey Vanek-Smith for Marketplace

About the author

Stacey Vanek Smith is a senior reporter for Marketplace, where she covers banking, consumer finance, housing and advertising.

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