Category Archives: Politics

Politics and Marketing

Watching the tail lights of the campaign buses finally pulling out of New Hampshire following today’s sort-of-first-in-the-nation primary got me thinking about the candidates’ marketing machines. Politics and marketing have been joined at the hip ever since the first pre-Geico caveman lobbied to become head of the tribe, no doubt promising something he had no plans to deliver.

As a New Hampshire resident and registered independent, I’ve been receiving a months-long stream of propaganda from the candidates on both sides of the divide. Talk about multichannel marketing: The local citizenry has been overrun with TV ads, outdoor signs, telemarketing, direct mail, email, live events, and even door-to-door campaigners. Much of it was poorly executed, especially the prerecorded voice mails, the overproduced brochures, and the Christmas card from the Clintons. None of it, with the exception of a truly passionate Obama supporter who rang my doorbell on Saturday and actually asked if I had any questions, contained a whiff of authenticity or made any attempt to understand my concerns, as a parent, as a small business owner, as someone with a $10,000 medical deductible and a knee that needs surgery (they assume they know, but rarely ask).  Though I will say that the candidates’ websites have come a long way in engaging supporters (beyond just asking for money) through various Web 2.0 tools.

Despite the new channels, the PR machine hasn’t really changed much over the past 150 years or so. There’s a great if little-known show on HBO called “Assume the Position 201” in which Robert Wuhl puts a comedic spin on American history in a classroom setting. The latest episode includes a riff on all the bad presidents this country has endured, perhaps none worse than Franklin Pierce (from New Hampshire, ironically). Wuhl contends that the main reason Pierce was elected in 1852 was the biography that he convinced his buddy, Nathanial Hawthorne, to pen for him. The lift Pierce received from his association with the noted writer carried him to victory. Unfortunately for Pierce (and the rest of the country), his divisive policies and poor decision-making laid the groundwork for the Civil War and made him the only sitting president (before or since) to not be nominated for re-election by his own party.

Edward Bernays, dubbed the “father of public relations,” also played a role in presidential politics. In what is considered the first presidential photo op, Bernays organized a White House breakfast in 1929 for Calvin Coolidge with a group of vaudeville actors in an effort to improve the taciturn president’s image. One headline the next day read, “President Nearly Laughs.”

On to Michigan!

Telemarketing at Its Finest

Just got off the phone with a volunteer from the Clinton campaign. The conversation went something like this:

“Hello, is this Robert?”

“Yes.”

“My name is Wanda, I am a volunteer for the Hillary Clinton campaign, and I was wondering if you have made up your mind on who you will vote for in the primary.”

“I have not.”

Pause. “You have not?”

“No.”

“Well, then, I hope you will … I hope you will … keep an open mind about Hillary. You might hear something you like.”

“I will do that.”

“OK, thank you. You have a nice day.”

“Goodbye.”

The CNN-YouTube Gimmick, er Debates

I did not watch the CNN-YouTube debates last night, so I must rely on others to tell me how this experimental mash-up of traditional and new media layered on top of a presidential debate went. As with any political event, the reaction varies greatly depending on whom you ask.

CNN.com told me that “Questions, Not Answers, Highlight YouTube Debate” and that “YouTube questions were sometimes personal, heartfelt and comical.” Also:

One of the highlights came when a YouTuber asked the candidates to look to their left and say one thing about that person they liked and one thing they disliked.

I had to watch the candidates answer such a riveting question, so I clicked on the “See telling quotes from each candidate” link, sat through a 15-second preroll E-trade ad, and quickly dozed off as each candidate launched into the usual drivel. This was a highlight?

Anyway, here’s how others reacted:

  • The Guardian Unlimited in the U.K. proclaimed that YouTube is prompting a “revolution in televised debates,” though it didn’t provide much in the article to back up that headline.
  • TelevisionWeek blogger Daisy Whitney called the debates “unbelievably cool and completely emblematic of the times.” Like, you know, very tubular.  
  • A blogger for the Seattle Post Intelligencer hit the nail on the head, commenting that presidential debates are pretty lame regardless of the format.
  • The LA Times said the presidential hopefuls “embraced the Internet in all its brashness and irreverence,” while cross-town rival LA Weekly News had a different viewpoint, accurately calling the debates “a perversion of Web technology” and adding:

The Net really does provide a potentially formidable challenge to both establishment politics and mainstream media — but not when cheaply manipulated the way CNN engineered this farce. Authentic Web-driven power surfaces most dramatically when online communities exercise collective accountability over institutions and individuals that were once invulnerable to instantaneous public reaction and feedback. 

Uh-oh, not good. I’m sure the Republican version in September will be even more raucous!

Hey, here’s a progressive idea for the pols and those covering them: If you want real citizen-candidate interaction, why don’t you ask voters to submit questions, pick two dozen that represent a good cross-section of the country, and put them in a room with the candidates, so they can have a real conversation and voters can ask follow-ups to the non-answers they get to their initial questions. No time limit. Let them all bring their camcorders to record the event and post their individual perspectives on YouTube. Now that’s citizen journalism.

Presidential Candidates Embrace Social Media, Sort Of

An informal analysis of the presidential candidates’ websites shows some promising developments for participatory media. John Edwards launched his presidential campaign in Second Life. Barack Obama’s campaign has created my.barackobama.com, a community for supporters who are encouraged to build profiles, network, organize events, even create their own blogs, all under the tagline “This Campaign Is About You.” Mitt Romney’s team has a page linking to (friendly) blog posts. Hillary Clinton’s site has a blog placeholder, but her campaign team clearly misses the point regarding user-generated content. From her blog page:

Soon we’ll launch the official blog of HillaryClinton.com, a crucial part of our exciting national conversation about the direction of our country and the place to go to learn more about Hillary. We know our readers are going to have a lot to say, so we want to give you the first word. We’re looking for your ideas on how we can work together for change. If you’d like to write the very first guest post on the HillaryClinton.com blog, submit your entry in the form below. And if you already have your own blog or other website, please post your entry there and let us know about it. We’ll select one entry as the first guest post on our blog.

They were doing fine until that last sentence – “we will select one entry as the first guest post on our blog.”  The Clinton and Romney sites raise a key point about the campaigns’ embrace of social media – will they allow both sides of a debate to be heard? My guess is they won’t; politicos are the ultimate spin masters, and I can’t imagine their handlers will let unfettered commentary flow through the blogs and other online forums they are hosting. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of plaudits for each candidate’s qualifications, but not much debate. Which, of course, defeats the purpose.