Brand: Hillary Clinton
Execution: Viral Video
Target: Democratic Primary Voters
Reviewer: David Vinjamuri
In a sendup of the series finale for the HBO hit ‘The Sopranos’, Hillary Clinton walks into a diner in New Jersey as the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing” plays in the background. She sits down in a booth and browses a menu. She flips through the songs on a jukebox at the booth, which include Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Smashmouth. Bill Clinton walks in, in a casual shortsleeve shirt and sits down across from her. “Anything look good?” he asks. “We have some great choices,” she says. A waiter arrives and puts down a basket of carrot sticks. “I ordered for the table,” Hillary says and Bill looks despondent. “No onion rings?” he asks and Hillary responds, “I’m lookin’ out for you.” A menacing-looking guy at the counter looks at the pair. “Where’s Chelsea?” Hillary asks and we see a car inexpertly pulling into a parking space as Bill responds, “parallel parking.” The guy at the counter gets up as Bill asks, “How’s the campaign going?” Hillary responds, “Well, like you always say – focus on the good times.” Then the guy from the counter walks by the couple, stopping for a moment to coldly eye Hillary. The couple looks at each other and Bill shrugs. “So what’s the winning song?” Bill asks. “You’ll see,” Hillary answers. “My money’s on Smashmouth,” he says, “everybody in America wants to know how it’s going to end.” “Ready?” Hillary asks as she puts a coin in the jukebox and the screen goes black. The spot ends with the words “Find out the winning song at www.hillaryclinton.com/song“
Every four years, professional brand marketers get a fascinating opportunity to peek inside an alternate universe as national political campaigns build brands out of candidates. These campaigns are run by specialists who consistently flout every guideline for ad spend and media concentration that brand marketers have developed and tested for the past sixty years. For example, brand marketers know that a TV spot begins to wear out after 6 or 7 viewings and past that point it may start to have the opposite effect the marketer intends. Political campaign specialists don’t believe this – in fact they seem to think that seeing a spot 20 or 30 times might be optimal. Of course, we professional marketers think that these folks are just trying to chase the media tale – that elusive last 10% of TV viewers that watch so infrequently that they are nearly impossible to capture on network television. To reach these people at 3X frequency you have to oversaturate virtually everyone else. As marketers we also wonder why these campaign specialists don’t use viral media more effectively. After all, they’re operating in one of the highest-interest, highest-attention categories in the world during their ‘buying season.’Â And we know these same people who watch little television spend a huge amount of time on the Internet.
All of which makes this tiny viral video from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign worth considering carefully. As wobbly as it looks from an executional standpoint, it has been extremely effective at garnering attention and moving the campaign conversation back to Senator Clinton. While political advertising on network television often looks like amateur hour, this unpolished viral video has all of the hallmarks of solid, professional brand marketing.
Why does this viral video work? By the numbers:
- Courts Controversy: As Hillary Clinton’s campaign seems to understand, loud voices transmit most effectively on the Internet. There are a number of designed elements of this video which beg for supporters or opponents to speak up passionately. First is the choice of casting Hillary Clinton as Tony Soprano – a mobster. This plays into the pre-existing views of the Republican opposition who could be expected to speak loudly about this fact – thus spreading the video and gaining the attention of the mainstream press. It is not lost on the campaign that these folks will not vote in the Democratic Primaries. A number of other small choices give fertile ground for conspiracy theorists to create conversations about the video – who is the goon looking harshly at Hillary? Is he part of some vast, right-wing conspiracy? Why would the campaign draw attention to Bill and Hillary’s relationship?
- Changes the Media Conversation: Lost in the debate over this video is the fact that the media could easily have spent last week with a different story on Hillary Clinton – how her song contest ended up picking a Canadian theme song for her campaign (by Celine Dion). This video is ostensibly luring voters to the campaign web site to view the video, but the real purpose is to bury that story under the weight of a new controversy.
- Reframes the Candidate: Solid brand marketing does not argue with consumer’s pre-existing beliefs about a brand. Instead, it embraces these views and then subtly subverts them by showing the positive side of seemingly negative qualities. Listerine is painful to use and tastes bad. When the brand tried to run away from this in the seventies and eighties, it failed. Only when it embraced the experience – as evidence that Listerine was ‘killing bad bacteria’ – did the brand succeed. Similarly, Hillary Clinton is embracing the stereotype of herself as a power-hungry candidate, but subtly recasting the issue. She is shown here as a patriarch, someone who is exceedingly competent and will take care of the family. It is a good bet that competence will be one of the primary voting issue for Democrats this campaign season.
- Addresses a Brand Issue: This spot also cleverly redefines the relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton as she looks forward to a general election. The problem here is that Hillary Clinton needs ex-President Bill Clinton to win the race, but she cannot risk being seen as his pawn or part of a dynasty. If Al Gore made a mistake by running away from President Clinton after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Senator Clinton cannot make the same mistake. In this spot, when Bill Clinton asks the question, “How’s the campaign going?” we are given a recast version of the Bill/Hillary relationship. He is supportive, available and engaging, but not in control – not involved on a daily basis.
It’s safe to say that Senator Clinton won’t be able to pay the bills as an actor should her Presidential bid fail. Bill Clinton, on the other hand shows some promise. It is also a risky proposition for the campaign to raise the issue of the relationship between Bill and Hillary Clinton, as the trickiest question for the general election would be the vision in voters minds of a White House inhabited by two occupants, one called “Madam President,” and the other by right and tradition, “Mr. President.”
Branding Bottom Line:
Love them or hate them the Clintons have stolen four days of the national debate from their political rivals.