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Banking On Faux-Bama In Istanbul

Turkey was in the middle of an election campaign when I vacationed there three weeks ago, and two days into my stay, a new candidate seemed to have become an instant front-runner: Everywhere you looked, gazing back at you from a pop-art poster was President Obama.

Only instead of being pictured in shades of red and blue — as in Shepard Fairey's iconic "HOPE" poster — he's in shades of green. And the word "hope" has been replaced by numbers: 1.19 percent.

It's a bank ad — for Turkey's Garanti Bank. It's a weird ad, too, since in the U.S., the president's been sounding sort of cranky about the banking industry.

Turns out it's not really President Obama. It's a lookalike, a Faux-bama if you will, given Fairey-like treatment.

Still, he sure looks like Obama at first glance, and even at second and third glance. In fact, even when you put Fairey's poster right next to the ad.

The bank's claim: We're stronger than all those failing American banks that have been making headlines lately.

That's a bit of a tricky message. U.S. banking institutions may look weak from afar, but with the Turkish lira fluctuating in value, the American dollar still represents stability. So putting Obama's face next to the Garanti Bank logo — in shades of green taken from the dollar — suggests lots of things without actually saying them.

Of course on TV, they actually say them. There's that lookalike again, giving a press conference, announcing that he only wishes he had as good an economic program as Garanti Bank does.

Actor Michael Lamar — a San Francisco native — stands at a podium flanked by American flags, with a White House-style logo behind him, extolling a product called "interest-supported credit."

Details are sketchy, perhaps in keeping with the tradition of economic press conferences. And on the pop-art bank poster, the notion of "interest-supported credit" isn't much clearer.

There's an attempt to explain it in what is apparently a characteristically complicated Turkish sentence. Roughly translated: "Turkey's most comprehensive unemployment insurance, from Garanti's economic development plan that is the envy of the world, now offers triple bonus."

Clear? Whatever. Putting Obama's face on it, or even Faux-bama's face on it — just before the president comes to visit Turkey — appears to have attracted plenty of attention.

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