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From “Bear In The Woods”

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The latest from my anonymous ad exec. He can be reached via

I want to apologize for not writing for a couple of weeks. The economy has most businesses scrambling, and their advertising agencies scrambling even faster — so my “day job” has been demanding a lot of me lately. I received some excellent comments and encouragement via email after the last post, and it’s heartening to hear other conservative voices who do, in fact, have a clue about social and new media and how it affects the perception of the Republican brand.
A couple of things that caught my eye recently made me want to write something to you about some key fundamentals. It’s easy to get tied up in the intricacies of social media — because there are lots and lots of little nooks and crannies from which you can start conversations, build relationships, listen, and, to a certain extent, push messaging. But as you can tell from my previous notes, I’m positive that none of the nooks and crannies are effective until one holds a firm grasp on the fundamentals of marketing and pop culture communications. And historically, I don’t think the GOP and other Conservative organizations have done a very good job of grasping. In traditional media, it’s a problem. On the web, though, with the accelerated pace and shorter timelines, it’s a much bigger problem.[# More #]
The two key fundamentals I want to underscore here are: Reaction, and Anticipation. In the world of emerging media, which now translates to, simply, the World, understanding the nature of both has become even more critical for success.
First: Reaction. All politicians know something about reaction. The other guy says something, and you have to say something to counter it. If only it were that simple. In marketing, reaction takes on a broader definition. Because there are more things to react to than simply your opponent’s position on an issue. And reactions are not, by definition, opposition. There are, of course, the marketing efforts of your competitors — but there are also shifts in the marketplace brought on by any number of things beyond your control or even influence — a hit movie, a fad, or frequently in today’s market, the introduction of some new piece of technology that changes the way people connect, communicate, and seek entertainment. Your reaction to those things (or your inaction in the face of those things) can brand you a winner or a loser very quickly, and can mean the difference between an opportunity found and capitalized, or an opportunity lost. Note here that inaction is, in fact a reaction. Risk-averse advertising clients (which, in the industry, are usually called “conservative” clients, the “conservative” part having nothing to do with political views) are very careful and methodical about their reactions. Whether it’s a competitive claim or a shift in the marketplace, risk-averse clients hold fast to the tried and true while carefully and thoughtfully exploring every possible avenue for reaction. Because this process takes a very long time, many, many opportunities are lost. That was an acceptable outcome before the advent of lightning-fast new media. Now, it’s less so. Opportunities come and go quickly. Slow reaction times not only hinder your chances of capitalization, they can actually hurt you later by branding you out of touch, should you decide at some point in the future to respond to something that has become old hat. The short story: Reaction to shifts in the marketplace must now be swift — counted in minutes and hours, rather than days, weeks or months. If you want to win the race, go faster.
What brought Reaction Time to my attention relative to the GOP? Tea Parties. This is a grassroots movement in its infancy. It started via traditional media, has grown through social media, and like all infant grassroots movements, has a tiny chance of growth and survival coupled with an enormous potential for success and impact, should it, in fact, survive and grow. In order for any movement to grow, though, it needs fuel. An opportunity has been placed in the lap of the GOP. A big opportunity, in my view, especially in light of the abysmal history the party has with grassroots movements of any kind. What’s the reaction to this potentially fortuitous shift in the market? I haven’t really seen one yet. And as I said, inaction is, in fact, reaction.
The second fundamental to understand in today’s communication landscape is: Anticipation. Because Reaction must now be so swift, a marketer cannot wait for times to change to begin learning all about just how, exactly, they’ve changed. Think about professional football. A top receiver doesn’t leave the line knowing for sure the ball will come to him. That’s just one of several options. Nor does he have to wait and watch the trajectory of the ball from the moment of its release. The offensive coordinator has anticipated the defense. The quarterback reacts to unforeseen developments. If the planets align to create a predicted opportunity, and the receiver uses his skill and knowledge to run the route correctly, the ball will be there. That’s anticipation. In a marketing sense, anticipation requires a sensitive finger on the pulse of the market, an eye on developing trends, a thorough knowledge of what has come before, and a willingness to plan contingencies for scenarios A through Z. It really boils down to an ability, not only to predict things you’ll have to react to, but to predict how the market will react to what you do. Getting ahead in this environment requires extreme anticipation. Which is why it’s hard to watch when we Conservatives miss even the easy ones.
I’m referring specifically to the recent stimulus spot aired by the American Issues Project. It is seriously lacking production value, and has other creative shortcomings — but that’s not the real problem. It’s a hard-hitting message, and, actually, uses a nice tactic to illustrate the size of the stimulus bill: (Suppose you spend $1M a day, every day, for 2000 years?) So what’s the problem? Here’s the Politico headline: VIDEO: Group counters stimulus with Jesus in TV ad.
Now, if you’re doing a good job anticipating, then you’re anticipating how the competition will react to what you do. And in the case of conservative political messaging, I think we can agree that the media could justifiably be considered the competition. The ad makes a great point. But it specifically uses, in both voice-over and image on screen, the date of the birth of Christ to illustrate its point . But the birth of Christ has nothing whatsoever to do with the point, save its proximity in history to the beginning of a timeline calculated by the creators of the spot to make math work. By bringing Christ into the creative, even, no — especially — in an ancillary way, as this spot does, only gives the competition a reason to discount the point the ad is trying to make. “There go those Bible-banging conservatives, bringing God into an economic discussion — no reason to even listen.” Point shifted, and discounted. The spot makes its way around conservative circles, but never breaks out. Preaching to the choir. And there was no reason for it to happen.
In addition to being a conservative, I am a Christian. I fervently believe Christian values have a place in government, community, and public discourse. I believe Christian values have a place in political discourse, too, when that discourse is about subject matter on which Christian values have a relevant point to make. That happens frequently. Just, not this time — at least, not the way it was used. As a good communicator, I see the folly in this particular spot’s use of Jesus in its timeline, because it gives the opposition a way to shift the attention away from the issue at hand. The date of Jesus’ birth is not relevant, in any way, to the mess that is the stimulus package, although I believe the Lord does have an opinion on some of the bill’s contents. Creatively speaking, the metaphor could have been constructed differently, with equally impressive effects. Make it $2M per day, and a thousand years. Make it a stack of $1M bills from here to the moon. There was no need to give the other side the ammo to switch the subject of the conversation. But the Issues Project did, because they failed to anticipate. That was slow-pitch. We swung and missed.



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