Our favorite anonymous ad exec has come out of his cave with not one, but two emails.
It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written anything here. Like most ad agencies — most businesses, actually — we’re doing more with less these days, and that translates into longer hours, more weekends, and less time for stuff that isn’t directly related to clients. But just because I haven’t written doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention. I hardly need to point out that a lot is happening all at once on the political/marketing/communications front. But I do want to comment on an opportunity or two I see, that I hope the GOP will take advantage of. I’m still reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org
So, let’s talk user-generated content. That’s a fancy social media term that obviously refers to regular folks making their own stuff. In the political world it boils down to grassroots communicatons. We’ve seen a ton of it, in the form of Tea Party signs and slogans, townhall banners and speech, the online efforts to encourage folks to participate, and a number of videos documenting townhall activity that have found their audience on YouTube, and expanded that audience on air. To say the impact has been great is an understatement. Most of the momentum is fueled by the issues themselves — there are, simply put, an awful lot of people who are passionately opposed to big government, huge deficits, and a government-run healthcare/energy/auto-manufacturing system. They feel they have no one to speak for them, or that spokespeople (or organizations) are ineffective, so they have taken it upon themselves to make their own signs and videos and get them up for the world to see.
I’ve heard many on the Right point out the failure to the Left’s big-budget efforts to support Obamacare, compared to the grassroots communications of conservatives and libertarians, and come to the conclusion that high level marketing is ultimately a waste. This is a dangerous position.
The Left’s executions are failing not because they’re slick and well-produced. They’re failing because the messages they’re delivering are hollow at best, and at worse, outright falsehoods. The creators of the messages are committing one of the cardinal sins of advertising — they’re underestimating the intelligence of their audience. In short, they’re trying to sell something people don’t want. No amount of media, and not even the best creative on the planet, can do that. What we’re seeing is a rejection of the message.
But we’re also seeing an opportunity to galvanize the conservative side. And the right creative strategy can help.
This is a strong grassroots movement. But all movements — like all messaging campaigns –need both leadership and focus to weather setbacks, and have greater impact. Focused messages are stronger messages. And people of like mind tend to rally, sometimes for different reasons, around broad common themes.
Don’t believe me? Quick — besides the US Flag, what’s the most common banner seen at the Tea Parties? If you answered “Don’t Tread On Me” (the yellow Gadsden Flag, or, for the nonconformists, the white Culpepper Flag) you’d be correct. Symbolically, the rattlesnake image, and the “Don’t Tread on Me” message resonate with a broad swath of the people who believe in limited government, and who now believe our current government has far overstepped its bounds. The flags represent a broad umbrella theme that can accommodate specific issues, whether it’s healthcare, cap and trade, the bailout, gun control, or school indoctrination, and oppose it under a unifying banner that simply speaks to a desire for liberty. People in the grassroots movement carry the banner because it speaks to so many of them on so many levels. I’m not suggesting that the GOP adopt the Culpepper flag. But I am suggesting they take a lesson from it.
I’ve been following the story of the infamous NEA conference call, over at Big Hollywood and Big Government.
In short, it seems the White House, via the NEA, sought to recruit influential artists and creators to produce art that promotes White House policies. At issue, of course, is the use of a government entity for political purposes — which, of course, is illegal. But also at issue is the very thought of government-sponsored art promoting, well, the government. Which is something we’re accustomed to seeing in countries that are more socialist than one would think even the current administration would have us be. Then again, maybe not. I, like most conservatives who have followed the story, am appalled by this administration’s apparent misuse of government-funded organizations for political purposes.
But I’m not surprised. Nor do I think anyone should be. This White House is very good at campaigning. Which is why it has attempted to stay in continuous campaign mode throughout its brief history. Apparently, governing doesn’t come naturally to them, but campaigning is a natural state of being for this administration, and it’s only natural that they should seek the help of those who helped them so much in their pre-election campaign.
What’s interesting to me, though, is that the reaction I’m reading from a lot of conservative circles can be paraphrased along the lines of, “this is a misuse of art.” Hogwash. Political purposes are not only a fantastic use of art, they are quite possibly the most common use of art. Instead, this is a misuse of a government-funded entity — art has nothing whatsoever to do with it.
What art does have to do with, though, is emotion. And persuasion. And communication. These are points that the Democrats have recognized for more than two generations, and have employed to their advantage to create profound shifts in our society. Mostly negative shifts, in my personal opinion, but very real shifts, nonetheless. While conservative arguments ring logical and true, they too often are presented with nothing but logic. And while logic may engage the intellect, it’s emotion that spurs action. Art — visual, performance, verbal, cinematic — creates emotion. Art is important to a message. Art helps win minds. Art is powerful. The Democrats understand this. They understand it so well that they, apparently, will risk breaking federal law to engage the power of art for their side.
Fighting them in the courts will only address the legal issues of use of government funds, and ultimately will only get us so far. Fighting fire with fire means we must understand the importance of fighting art — with art.