Something Hillary got right

It’s been a fun week to make fun of Hillary Clinton, but she knocked one aspect of her video announcement clean out of the park. As I discussed in my latest Communities Digital News post, Clinton only appears onscreen in her own video for fifteen seconds out of 2:15, and in that time she is either addressing the camera or talking with voters.

Except, she isn’t talking to the voters. In every shot, they are talking to her.

Many political ads and videos have a shot of the candidate meeting with supporters. Usually, in those shots the candidate is dispensing wisdom to a small group of supporters. Check out the very first shot from this ad from Terry McAuliffe’s successful 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign:

Candidates must do this to show that their leadership. (Though every time I see this type of shot, the audience looks like they are waiting for the candidate to pause so they can break out of the conversation.) But everything her week-old campaign has done so far has made it obvious Clinton is bending over backward to give the impression that she isn’t full of herself.  So in her video, she listens – sometimes with crazy eyes, but she listens.

Surely, Republican candidates expect to be vilified by Democratically aligned special interest groups in the upcoming cycle. For conservative candidates looking to prove their empathetic chops, subtle visual cues like this can go a long way.

Hillary Clinton will not be your next President

Way back in the day, then-candidate Barack Obama got a really flattering picture in the paper. Actually, it was the New York Times, and actually it looked like a leaked still from an Airwolf reboot.

When I first saw that picture, I believed that Barack Obama would be the next President of the United States. While that picture always stood out in my mind, just about everyone I knew who paid attention to the campaign that year had a similar moment of clarity where they believed Obama would beat John McCain.

It comes to mind now because, a couple weeks back, this horrible video started making the rounds on YouTube:

Someone thought this was a good idea. It’s not simple to put this together – someone wrote the song, hired a band, scripted the video, and apparently wanted to make something that promoted Hillary Clinton while looking like the result of a drunken one-night stand between crappy pop-country and a third quarter earnings presentation. (“Hi, Rascal Flats? It’s PowerPoint. …Yes, I had a fun night, too, but… Well, we need to talk. I’m pregnant.”) It took work and effort, which means someone actually thought about this a lot. And it still got made, incredibly.

The imagery, from the shattered glass ceiling to the man getting on a motorcycle behind a lady is heavy-handed and condescending. And it shamelessly panders to middle Americans, who may love country music but probably recognize when a former Senator from New York is trying too hard.

Oversimplified, poorly conceived messages delivered with insincerity are nothing new to Clinton’s public appearances this year, from the time she started promoting her book to now. This video subtly underscores every negative she currently has. Clinton’s country music video projects someone going through the motions of a campaign as a formality before a Presidency she feels she is owed.

Is it any wonder why the jibber-jabber around Elizabeth Warren as a potential primary challenger has warmed so significantly in the weeks since this video came out?

The political “digital divide” is closing – but not because of this

Politico pointed out that Republicans lead Democrats in viral videos this election cycle:

By generating hundreds of thousands of clicks, the Republicans’ digital success represents a remarkable tech turnaround compared with 2012, when President Barack Obama’s campaign easily outpaced Mitt Romney and the rest of the GOP field in the production of the most popular Web content.

That’s right and wrong at the same time, which is really tough to do.

A higher click total is not a sign of better use of technology, but a sign of better use of message. The article goes on to talk about why the Republican message has been so video-friendly, which underscores the point.

The technology to make an online video is pretty simple, any yahoo with a Mac can make something that looks pretty decent. Clicks come from content – what the video says is more important than Politico lets on.

If you want to know why Republicans have closed in on the Democrats’ tech advantage, look at the actual technology and how it’s being used. For example, i360, a data firm that caters to conservative movement organizations, and DataTrust, the data wing of the GOP, are sharing their voter data. If one of those companies found out that you’re an independent and the other one knows you’re left handed, campaigns would have access to both tags and could use both to shape how they talk to you. That’s a legit tech upgrade over the sloppy, fractured Republican data infrastructure of the past.

This video should scare Democrats, and not just in Kentucky

If you’re a Democrat Senate candidate, you should be very scared about the videos James O’Keefe is dribbling out this week, like this one:

And not just because his Project Veritas Action released a second video today. If you look at O’Keefe’s body of work/trail of tears, it becomes clear that not only does he understand how to use video to tell a story but how to use multiple videos to establish a narrative.

The smart money is that there’s more video out there of more Democrat campaign supporters in more states saying more stupid stuff.

Project Veritas has seized on the idea that Alison Grimes isn’t quite as pro-Kentucky energy as she’s let on, and now she’s stuck between her extreme supporters and the mainstream voters she wants to court. And every Democrat in a targeted Senate race has some issue where they have a similar disconnect with their voters. (Heck, Mark Pryor got asked about Ebola and he couldn’t answer for fear of providing fodder for a round of negative ads.)

Right now, senior Democrat campaign operatives in Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina, Iowa, and Michigan should be wondering if one of O’Keefe’s crew has one of their people saying something stupid on candid camera.

CDN: Political Ads Face Brave New (On-Demand) World

Nobody likes commercials, so viewers are finding ways around them – through DVRs and subscription-based on-demand programming.  That will make things tough for political advertisers – but certainly not impossible.  My latest column at Communities Digital News explores how political video advertising will have to adjust.  And they will have to – because video remains the best way to tell a story.

Mitt, we hardly knew ye

Mitt Romney is letting his perfect hair down to promote the Netflix documentary chronicling his White House run.  Predictably, without the pressures and influence of a campaign, people are a bit more receptive to him.

(Bob Dole had a similar tour after losing in 1996, trading jokes with David Letterman and quipping that he didn’t “have anything else to do” but write jokes.)

More than one Republican has bemoaned the fact that, had voters seen such a touching look at the Romney family, the 2012 election may have ended differently.  “If only voters had seen THIS Mitt Romney, Obama would have lost!” they tend to exclaim.  Not always in exactly those words, but you get the picture.

And come to think of it, it’s a good point.  One wonders why the documentary had to come out over a year after all the votes were counted.  If the image of Romney presented in the documentary would have swayed the election, Team Romney have only themselves to blame.

A 2016 Presidential candidate could grant access to a friendly but independent documentary filmmaker and create a Netflix or YouTube miniseries.  The film would not be subject to any campaign approval, which would make the vetting process important.  But it would soften the candidate’s image, and possibly help voters relate to the candidate.  It would humanize a talking head voters see on TV.

Gov. Chris Christie could use such a medium to rebound from scandal.  Sen. Rand Paul could use it to articulate how his small-government ideas will help most Americans.  Sen. Ted Cruz could show that he isn’t as much of an ideologue as the media and Democrats suggest.  The one who needs it the most is Hillary Clinton, who is more a creature of Washington, D.C. than any other prospective candidate in the field.

There is a caveat: this strategy only works if the candidate is genuine.  If the public persona doesn’t match private conversations, then it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

For Romney, a running documentary series could have answered the image of the ruthless CEO with one of the consummate family man.  Even though it probably wouldn’t have pushed him over the hump, those who will chase the White House in 2016 should pay attention.

The Ruben Sierra of Viral Video

Making the rounds of sharing this week is the video of Marina Shifrin resigning her post at Next Media Animation.  Shifrin, who used to make news videos, dances through her resignation while the subtitles tick off her reasons for quitting – most notably, the fact that her “boss only cares about quantity and how many views each video gets.”  Her video, she contends, “focus[es] on the content”:

It would be easy for some curmudgeon to yell that Shifrin is looking for creativity in the wrong place – that work is about making money, rather than fun and games.  But that wouldn’t be entirely appropriate.  You’ve probably heard of her former company, Next Media Animation – or at least seen their work.  They make those funny, Taiwanese animated videos about the news.  In 2010, they made this one about the Thanksgiving-weekend revelation that Tiger Woods was playing a few rounds outside of his marriage:

Shifrin wasn’t working at a gulag making plastic widgets for export, she was making funny, creative news videos.  NMA’s website brags about their speed, and that’s pretty important when your company’s key product is so heavily dependent on news cycles.  Ditto for quantity – NMA has released two videos already this week, one for the government shutdown and one for Lane Kiffin being fired by USC.  The company is based on producing timely content that attracts viewers and stays ahead of the news.  It probably means working off-hours (since Taiwan and America are on opposite sides of the globe).

That’s a tough job, so you couldn’t blame anyone for saying it isn’t for them.  But Shifrin’s self-indulgent resignation video says a little bit more. Specifically, it says “Be careful about hiring me, because if we have a difference of opinion, I’ll try to embarrass you.”  Working at an online video company while complaining about needing to come up with content frequently that attracts views is like former New York Yankee Ruben Sierra, after being traded in 1996, complaining that the Yankees only cared about winning.

The team at NMA seem to be taking it in stride, though:

Crossroads GPS vs. Bankrupting America: Which Video is Better?

Let’s get it out of the way up front: Bankrupting America wins.

Crossroads GPS released this video this week:

It’s pretty funny – the sarcastic tone and the point of view – as a mock government promotion – make for a great political video.  It probably won’t change many minds on Obamacare, but it will take people who are leaning against it and help illustrate why the program is so flawed.  For people who instinctively dislike Obamacare, but aren’t quite sure why, this illustrates it in a funny way.  If this aired during the local news, you’d stop and take notice.

It calls to mind this video from last month from Public Notice’s Bankrupting America.  The Office parody (which I’ve already gushed about) pokes fun at government’s excessive spending.  Bankrupting America’s effort enjoys good acting and writing, but doesn’t have quite the same production value as Crossroads GPS’s commercial.  What it does have is the potential to illustrate all that’s wrong with a big government mentality.  It plays on people’s notions of inefficient government, but doesn’t ask the viewer to make the mental heavy lift of deciding on a policy position.  The single episode that has been released has the potential to blossom into something more that entertains first, and leaves impressions about bureaucracy as a by-product.  As satire, it’s more effective than the Obamacare video, as a political messaging device it is less efficient.

You might take notice of Crossroads GPS’s video if you saw it in the background.  But you’re interested in seeing more about the characters in the Bankrupting America video.  You want to see more of the protagonist deranged boss and the Carter Administration holdover who just doesn’t care.

Walt Disney once said, “I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained.”  Both of these videos are funny, but Bankrupting America has the potential for a broader appeal because it does a better job of staying true to that mindset.



Why Bankrupting America’s New Web Series Actually Works

This week, Bankrupting America launched “The Government,” a new web series this week parodying both government spending and The Office.  Unlike many attempts at politically themed humor, it actually works.

There are some over-the-top spots – the introduction of the (probably?) fictional Department of Every Bureaucratic Transaction comes to mind – but nothing that detracts from the main joke.  What makes the video click is its natural dialogue, solid acting, identifiable characters, and subtle jokes (such as the employees walking around in the background holding golden coffee mugs with oven mitts).

In other words, structurally, it entertains for the same reasons The Office did, which means it’s a great approach to this type of communication.  If future episodes hit these same beats (and patch up some of the rough spots), Bankrupting America will have a pretty powerful messaging device on its hands.

Why do I hate Michelle Malkin’s dancing so much?

After Michelle Obama’s homage to suburban Mom dances on Jimmy Fallon on Friday night, Michelle Malkin responded with this on Sunday.  You don’t have to watch it, because for the most part it’s painful:

Malkin’s response time is great perfect – her video was up before the original had a chance at Monday morning virality (which was a lock because it was actually kind of funny).  That’s good, but it’s where the good stops; Malkin’s video is kind of lame.

[Note: It’s still better than my video, which is linked here.  Oh, that’s right, I didn’t make a video.  Duly noted.  Back to the cheap shots…]

The problem largely stems from the word “liberal” in Malkin’s title.  While factually accurate, it raises the immediate flag that this is speaking only to a political audience, the kind that will descend on the National Harbor for CPAC in just a few weeks.  There’s nothing wrong with rallying the troops, but Malkin can probably do better.

“Better” might be a mock video response that substitutes the First Lady for the President himself, bringing Michelle Obama’s decidedly non-political and self-deprecating bit into contrast with her hyper-political, self-aggrandizing husband.  It would definitely drop the political labels, focusing more on DC versus regular voters, rather than conservatives versus liberals.  And it would have to emphasize humor more than scoring week debate points, because in videos like this funny is most important.

Malkin tallied over 65,000 views at press time.  That’s impressive, but if her audience wasn’t so narrow, she might have tripled that.  There’s nothing wrong with rallying the troops, but real advancement of center-right ideas isn’t going to come from overtly political videos that preach to the choir.

[Still better than my video.]