You’re a fine DJ, Mr. President

I’ve often said that brands are the new DJs because of the exposure they can give to musicians through the commercial use of their songs. And it turns out that the president of the United States can be one, too. Sales of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” have increased 490 percent since Barack Obama slipped a few verses of the classic 1972 love song in a fundraiser speech last week.According to Billboard, “Let’s Stay Together” has enjoyed the best sales week for a song since SoundScan began tracking downloads in 2003. On the other hand, Billboard reports that singer Kelly Clarkson has seen a 40-percent drop in sales for her album Stronger since she unofficially endorsed presidential candidate Ron Paul. Here’s why Al Green saw a sales bump:

  • Obama endorsed “Let’s Stay Together” onstage in a public venue (whereas Ron Paul did not endorse Stronger).
  • Obama actually did a passable job as a crooner, due to his charisma and a voice that did the song credit. A lame rendition could have had the opposite effect. Bill Clinton might have pulled it off in his day, too; George Bush, definitely not (although Bush might have been an intriguing choice for George Jones material).
  • The song was captured on YouTube. Multiple uploads of the video footage have been viewed millions of times, and it’s only a matter of time before more DIY remixes circulate, like this one:

Without YouTube’s influence, the impromptu Obama concert would have been, at best, a one-day phenomenon reported on the nightly news. It also helps that we now live in an always-on world, where conceivably consumers have been viewing the footage 24/7 since last week. (I’m writing this post at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday as a toggle between YouTube and sites like Global 14.)

The story brings to mind other instances of public figures acting as pitchmen, sometimes by their own natural habits, and other times in a more formal way. For instance, one-time legislator and presidential candidate Bob Dole became a pitchman for Viagra and even appeared in a Pepsi commercial with Britney Spears:

A few years ago, Obama himself famously voiced his support for his BlackBerry device, which prompted The New York Times to speculate that if Obama were to charge for his endorsements, he could probably earn $25 million. (Certainly BlackBerry’s manufacturer Research in Motion sorely needs his support now.) It is commonly believed that John F. Kennedy hurt the sale of men’s  hats by his own personal preference for going hatless — an assumption that has challenged, by the way.

For more insight into public figures and product endorsements, check out this Cracked article that covers some decidedly offbeat moments in the history of famous public figures endorsing products. And hum along with President Obama while you read it.