It seems that politicians have mastered the art of social media to drive campaigns at a grassroots level — well, it’s clear the Democrats have. But neither party seems to have cracked the code in online video. In fact, it is just the contrary. It is the online video that can be their undoing. Remember the Howard Dean remixes? Well, we can now add the 47% video to the mix.
Now that all of the ballots have been cast and we start to dig into post-election details, it is clear that demographics were the driver in this Presidential race — especially the Hispanic, African American and youth votes. One cannot help but wonder if the now infamous 47% video was not a driver behind the increased turnout of these key demographics.
47% will undoubtedly become—like the 99%—both a much-discussed topic in poli-sci circles and a Jeopardy/Trivial Pursuit question. But it also begs a couple of questions, the first of which is obvious: why in this day and age of digital media would anyone make the kind of off-the-cuff remarks that Governor Romney did in that fundraising ballroom? Second, and perhaps equally obvious: why are the campaigns making so little use of online video?
There is a great documentary film that’s recently made it onto Netflix titled War Room. Directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, it is a cinéma vérité romp through President Clinton’s first election, complete with a much younger James Carville and boyish George Stephanopoulos, who end up being the real stars of the film. In it, we get an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into the heart and soul of a campaign in a way that is gripping and telling. It’s worth a watch.
And while it would not be advisable to turn an election campaign into a political version of The Real World, there are ways that a candidate can engage with the electorate online that simply cannot be done during the bus tours of swing states. And there are some lessons to be learned from the 47% video that brands would do well to heed.
Lesson #1: It is a digital world. Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. Think before you speak anywhere. Smartphones turn everyone into CNN. You are never, ever offline — unless you want to give everyone a pat down.
Lesson #2: Fight pixels with pixels. You cannot fight an online video with press releases or TV interviews. You fight online with online. Governor Romney argued that he misspoke. Immediately releasing a video saying this would have been a great way for his supporters to combat the viral nature of the 47% video. Voters would have been interested in hearing what he had to say for himself, but we never really got the chance. Hindsight is 20-20, but if I were a Romney staffer, I’d be wondering about this for a while.
Lesson #3: Passion is viral. People love to share what they are passionate about, and it’s clear they are passionate about politics: the people who lead them and the ideas and policies with which they govern. Because of this, they will share what they read and watch. What are people passionate about in your category or industry? What are they talking about and sharing with one another? There is no more engaging, emotional and motivating medium than film — video — online video, whatever you call it. Those moving pictures with sound grab us and won’t let go.