Marketing lessons from presidential candidacy videos.

Barring a political catastrophe, President Obama will likely be re-elected in 2012. So while discussions around the outcome of these videos are probably moot, it’s still instructive to see how the committed (or nearly committed) presidential candidates are using video (not just news interviews or TV spots) to position themselves. Companies large and small would benefit from both lessons learned and mistakes made in these videos.

Newt Gingrich {Grade: F}

As John Stewart pointed out last week – it looks like Newt’s video was shot in a Sears portrait studio. This video is all Newt. Nothing to see but Newt’s ample cranium for over two minutes. Talking heads are one the most common and least valuable uses of video.  Most are dull and forgettable – like this one. The message, if you listened to it, is pretty much a litany of cliches and generic promises. Video is a visual medium. Show people what you are talking about. Better yet, get other people to talk about what is important to them. No one wants to hear your company president blather on for two minutes about your product or service either. Show people the benefits of the product. Appeal to the buyers emotions. Get satisfied customers to gush about how your product changed their lives. Sure, if your candidate (or CEO) looks like JFK or Ronald Reagan then a bit of camera time is probably a good thing. This video is old school, it’s dull and there is absolutely no reason to share it with anyone.

Mitt Romney {Grade: D+}

This video has a number of things going for it that Newt’s doesn’t: 1. Mitt took the time to shoot the video somewhere (no doubt this video will solidify the New Hampshire High School football vote), 2. Let’s face it – Mitt looks like he was pulled out of central casting (“hey, we need a presidential looking guy… and not Martin Sheen”), 3. Mitt makes reference to conversations with people and speaks about their concerns. 4. It didn’t looked too staged. (Of course it’s staged – all of these things are staged. There is no ‘real’ in reality TV) but at least he made the effort to be seen in a fairly natural setting. The video felt comfortable – that’s a good thing. But in the end it is was still dull and there were very few messages or ideas that really stick with you in this video. People understand and remember if you tell them and show them what you are talking about. If you sell fertilizer (a purely coincidental choice of analogy…) it would make some sense to get your spokesperson out on a farm delivering your message – so kudos to team Mitt for that. But wouldn’t it be better hearing a farmer describe how and why your fertilizer is the best stuff around.

Tim Pawlenty  {Grade B}

I give this video a lot of credit, it has it all: Epic soundtrack – check. Lots of special effects (especially ‘lens flare’) – check. Lot’s of quick cuts and shaky camera – check. This would have made a good movie trailer or John Mellancamp video. No question it’s slick, maybe too slick, but there is no denying it gets and keeps your attention, it delivers well on a few key messages and it is something you would share, or at least want to watch all the way through. Problem is Tim is going to find it difficult to live up to the hype of this video. I’m not sure he’s really that cool in real life.

President Obama {Grade B}

I really like this video because it focuses on real people saying real things (sure it’s staged… this is marketing we’re talking about) but it does what the Obama campaign team do so well and what few republican teams seem to grasp – it seems to relate to people on a human level. It makes a real connection. (Those connections drive involvement which wins elections.) Obama isn’t even in this video (he’s got a day job that precludes him from appearing too ‘campaigny’) but that doesn’t really matter. People talking about Obama on a personal level resonates with many people – it’ll stick and it’ll get people thinking. Most of the other videos don’t make you think – they don’t try very hard to engage you – they just talk about what they think you want to hear.  Whether you are promoting a new cleaning solvent or your presidential candidacy the message has to resonate – it has to appeal emotionally or you’re wasting your time.


Bonus Video:

Congressman Paul Ryan’s Pathway to Prosperity {Grade A-}

Ryan won’t be running in 2012 but this is still a great video that shows how to effectively promote an idea. (Isn’t that what the elections should be about…) I’m not going to comment on the oversimplification of some very complicated issues being shown in this video but I do believe the style and approach are very effective. Probably the best of the lot. It’s well produced, interesting to watch and more importantly, it communicates something of lasting value. It gives you a clear (at least in Ryan’s mind) view of where he sees the specific problems and discusses how these problems should be addresses. The biggest issue with most political videos is that they are usually forgettable, have little lasting value and most importantly, they never make a convincing point. Ryan has taken a stand and also taken the time to clearly and effectively communicate his position on a very specific issue.  Any company would benefit from taking this type of approach: Clearly identifying a specific pain, addressing the specific solution(s) to stop that pain, and most important – clearly demonstrating the benefits of fixing that pain. Marketing 101. Kudos to Ryan for this. See you in 2016.

{Follow-up note: Time magazine just named Ryan as a runner-up for their ‘Time, Man of the Year“.  And while Ryan claims in this article he doesn’t have the fire in his belly to be President, I’d be willing to bet that  will change in the near future.}

Even more bonus videos

Go to Ron Paul’s site and watch some of his older videos – they’re the most fun to watch.  He’s the only guy who you believe isn’t just saying whatever is needed to get elected. You actually feel that he believes what he says and probably won’t change his mind once elected. (He doesn’t stand a chance.)


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