Candidates are moving beyond party to a new more personal and informal style.
Campaign video has changed a great deal from just a few years ago. Campaign television advertising has always used deep sonorous voices of newscaster types to give the ads a voice of authority as they deliver messages for or against a candidate in the third person.
Some Examples From Last Year
As Internet distribution becomes more common, people expect a message that seems directed just at them. Ad video has become more informal – transitioning to an interview format where the candidate addresses the viewer directly and the sets have become more informal, now often happening in sets dressed to look like the candidate’s living room. Like in this Martha Coakley’s ad.
Up until recently these ads had the look of professional lighting and editing. Now candidates are making ads that look intentionally like amateur video. This gives the message a more personal effect, like they just picked up a camera and are sending the viewer a message directly, without image consultants or videographers in the middle.
In Massachusetts this really started last year with Scott Brown. Republicans candidates here need to break out of strict party boundaries and get people to look at the candidate himself, as a person. Scott Brown was able to do this successfully with his ‘truck’ ads. They were derided at the time, but are being embraced by candidates today. This style seems to have been developed by Brown’s campaign consultants Swift Current Strategies.
This Year’s New Republican Ad Strategy
This year, Swift’s clients are taking it further, with ads that look even less produced than Brown’s. The increasing importance of the Internet in politics is making the relationship between candidates and voters more personal. Candidates now want voters to ‘friend’ them on Facebook, and voters expect to be ‘tweeted to’ in person. Candidates are blogging, and allowing voters to comment.
At the same time, with so many new mediums of communication, people are overwhelmed with calls for their attention. They are tuning out highly produced generic messages – but are woken up by direct appeals.
Here we have one fad rom Sean Bielat, a Republican running against Barney Frank, and a Swift Current client. He actually knocks on the screen to get the viewer’s attention. And most of what he’s asking you to do is friend him on Facebook. Swift Current’s other clients have similarly informal video, like Tom Wesley, who has a series where it looks like he has a webcam in his car. Jeff Perry, another client, is also doing something similar with informal interviews talking about developments in his campaign.
This type of video portrays the candidate as the underdog, who needs to come from behind to defeat an established power. But he’s asking for your help to do it – you personally.
Swift Current’s clients are not the only Republicans working in this style. Dan Winslow, who is running for state Representative in Wrentham,Â has released a video which is a riff right off of the Scott Brown truck ads. In them he makes a little self deprecating fun of himself by riding a bicycle instead of driving a truck. But while Winslow’s message is decidedly folksy and self-deprecating, Winslow is actually a pretty high end candidate, having once been a Presiding Justice in Wrentham District Court and Governor Romney’s Â chief legal counsel.
Charlie Baker is doing a series of videos called ‘Conversations with Charlie‘. These videos are a hybrid of the ‘livingroom interview’ and this newer more personal style. They have professional looking videography and Baker is talking to an interviewer, but the frame is really close up, the background slightly skewed, and the set less dressed. Polls show Baker is in a strong position, so he has more to lose and probably this is why the video takes slightly fewer risks.
Candidates are not the only ones doing informal homemade looking campaign ads. Jack Gately, Republican activist and pollster has been making his own campaign ads, one attacking Cahill, which is no longer available, and a recent one, which is a spoof on a series of E-Trade ads with talking babies ( 1, 2 ).
The references in the E-Trade ad, and Gately’s spoof are all Internet generation tropes and speak directly in the idioms of a new generation of voters – webcam, IM, and online campaign contributions. Plus, of course, the Gately ad is one of many spoofs of the E-Trade ad which itself has become an internet meme.
This new ad style so far seems to be a particularly Republican phenomenon. I don’t see Democrats taking it up yet. Maybe it’s because so many of them are establishment candidates with more to lose.
During his last gubernatorial run, Deval Patrick had a smart Internet strategy where he put up an issues page where people could post their own issues and vote for them. It was a good way to reach out to voters and give them a sense that he would listen. Once elected, he really forgot about the page, and never addressed the concerns raised by voters on that page. It’s still up and gets some traffic, but you can’t really get to it any more from the governor’s campaign web site. I suppose it’s a political risk to let voters address you directly on a site which may long outlast its purpose and then come back as a sort of indictment.
It’s still an open question whether this new type of ad will work for candidates other than Brown. It could be that it was just a gimmick that worked one time, and people will get tired of it. To make it work, candidates can’t just look like they are listening and addressing us directly. They have to follow through on it.
Candidates: Â Are there any Democratic candidates doing campaign video in this style?