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On The GOP’s Communication Chasm

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There aren’t many senior and successful ad types who are also conservatives. One of the rare ones wrote me Friday, a correspondent whom I will call “Bear in the Woods,” for reasons made obvious below. (Hint: You don’t really want to be known as a conservative among Madison Avenue types.) Here’s what BoW wrote me after my recent columns and show segments on Twitter etc:


Your perspective on new media is on the mark, from the standpoint of emerging social platforms — as is your call for the modernization of the communication tactics used by conservatives. This is the kind of thinking that absolutely must lead conservative communication strategy. I know, because I work with this stuff every day.[# More #]

I’m an advertising creative — not in politics, but in the general
market — who works in every medium, including a lot in interactive. I’m no rock star, but I think my peers would call me accomplished, on a national level. What’s odd, and not all that well-known, is the fact that I’m a conservative Republican. While the business side of advertising leans toward fiscal conservatism, finding a conservative creative is rare. At least an accomplished creative, in the general market, who is conservative. Because there are few. And most of us don’t talk much about it, because it can affect our business. Seriously. Like Hollywood.

I joke with my friends that the Republicans have produced only one legitimately creative TV commercial in my lifetime — the “Bear in the Woods” spot done for President Reagan — because all the good creatives are Democrats. I joke, but I believe it.

So the GOP just got beat. And people are grasping in every direction to figure out exactly why. Social media played a big role, but we didn’t lose because of social media alone. Never mind the crash, either. We would have lost in a stable economy. What beat us was a terrific integrated campaign, across all media — with top shelf work, done by some of the best in the world. A simple, resonating tag line that was broad enough to mean anything to anyone, Shepard Farey icons, all the right emotional triggers — it was there, across the board. In old media and new. A consistent, emotional message, executed perfectly. You don’t have to watch the upcoming documentary to know Obama voters didn’t study the candidate’s positions. They didn’t have to. They were too busy reacting to creative product.

And that leads to my point about all these new ways to reach people. They don’t matter a bit, if you’re reaching them with a message that doesn’t resonate emotionally. One of the big mistakes many advertisers make, especially when entering new media, is to embrace the mode of delivery, but fail to understand that the content is what makes it work. It’s easy to do. Because new media tends to get lumped into a single category, and shuffled to anyone who remotely understands it. And there are more people who understand the mechanics than there are
people who understand how to wrap those mechanics with good content. Simply put, there’s no point tweeting unless you’re tweeting something someone wants to read. A blog is just words until those words connect with the reader. Connection is an emotional process — not a mechanical one. The mechanics just help us deliver that emotion, and respond to the response.

Traditionally, the Left has been superb at rallying-cry style
communication. They know how to make a metaphorical banner — wave it, and get people to follow. The Right, in turn, almost always responds with the communications equivalent of a white paper. It might be intellectually sound, but it doesn’t inspire passion. And passion, in advertising, is what you’re after, because it turns into sales. On the political front, replace “sales” with “votes.”

Admittedly, I’m just an observer when it comes to political
advertising. My time is mostly spent selling everyday products to
people on behalf of my clients. But as an interested, and I think
informed, observer, I also think you’re right about the nature of the
GOP and conservatives when it comes to adopting these new forms of communication. They’re, well…conservative. Which means, while the Left is adopting innovation from the bottom up, the Right is dotting every i and crossing every t from the top down. It happens in business with “conservative” marketers, and clearly, it happens in politics.

From where I sit, there is a wealth of “wired” young conservatives,
if you know where to look. They should be able to deliver all the new media mechanical innovation the Right could ever hope for, assuming the hierarchy listens, and lets them. The mechanics are there for the asking. But there’s still a drought of conservative creatives, who can fill that new-media delivery system with messaging that resonates emotionally. Unfortunately, I don’t see that changing much — not because of the Right’s hierarchy, but because there just aren’t, comparatively speaking, many good, wired, creatives on our side.

I am of the “more of both” school, and find it easier right now to focus on the infrastructure buildout, which can be launched without much help from the news environment which will, quite rightly, be focused on the new president and his first 100 days and then first six months. While the GOP should not be silent during this period, it must chose its battles wisely, and use the time to retool quickly so that when the honeymoon passes, however soon or late that comes, they will be better positioned to contrast and persuade.

Still, as folks like Leahy and Neppell, All and Ruffini buildout the technical side, who are the “creatives” in the conservative movement under 40?


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