Archive | October, 2012

“Your First Time.” Dissecting Lena Dunham’s Controversial and Strategically Targeted Obama Ad

27 Oct


     In a presidential campaign season cluttered with the white noise of attack ads and misinformation, along comes a simple and yet metaphorically powerful appeal.

     It comes by way of twenty-something writer, actor, director Lena Dunham.  The star of the HBO series “Girls” has made a name and brand for herself by revealing many of her own coming of age moments.   

     Dunham’s latest self-effacing reveal is her about her “first time.”  No, not that first time.  

     It’s the first time she voted for a president—Barack Obama.

     The sexually tinged metaphor is powerful, if not controversial.   But from a pure communications point of view, it also one of the more strategically targeted and crafted messages of the fall election.

    Let’s break it down.

            Strategy:  Attract Young Women Voters    

    • Competitive Frame:  Apathy
    • Message Argument:  Make your first vote count
    • Target Market:  Young college-aged women “achievers” who’ve never voted
    • Desired Response:  Vote for Barack Obama

     Idea:  Sexual Innuendo

            Execution:  Woman-to-woman couch conversation

     Part of what makes this appeal noteworthy is its simplicity.  There’s no flashing graphics, no dramatic voice-over, no gotcha video clips, no scary music.  To her peer group, Dunham’s girlfriend-to-girlfriend manner commands attention—let’s talk.  Her exposed millennial sleeve tattoo commands credibility—I’m one of you.   

     Together, they give her standing to talk about why they need to “do it” with the right guy: “A guy who cares whether you get health insurance, and specifically whether you get birth control.”

     The metaphors are powerful, the message consequential.  Which is why it has gathered so much criticism.  The independent women’s forum has called it sexist, and writer Ben Shapiro calls it tasteless.  

      Whatever you call it, it’s also very strategic.  

How Social Media is Driving Political Engagement — What TV News Can Learn

22 Oct


Illustration courtesy of Social Media Daily

           The social media forces that have changed and influenced television viewing habits, are now changing political engagement too.  Political communication that was once dominated by television commercials and yard signs has gone digital—and personal. 

            New research from Pew Internet reveals a significant number of Americans using social media—66%–are using social networking sites (SNS) to both follow politics and candidates and share their own political views.  

            Here are some of the top lines:

  • 38% of those who use SNS & Twitter use social media to “Like” or promote material related to politics or social issues.
  • 34% of social media users have used tools to post their own thoughts or comments on political or social issues.
  • 33% have reposted political or social issues content that originally posted by someone else.
  • 31% have encouraged others to take action on a political or social issue.

             The Pew research also indicates that the power users skew heavily young and somewhat liberal. (Figure 1)  That finding would support the explosive social media usage among viewers of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. 

Figure 1 – Pew Internet

             For television programmers, especially TV newsrooms, this latest set of data points is a gift for building strategies to engage younger viewers in way that is native and natural to them.  As television entertainment producers have built social media engagement into live viewing of comedies, drama, and reality episodes, TV news operations have the same opportunity especially when it comes to live political events such as debates, forums, and rallies.

             Some of the tactical engagement methods should include:

  • Create branded discussion forums by hashtagging events for people to follow.  Example: #Fox9debates.
  • Use the hashtagged comments to drive on-air discussion and talk back with guests and experts.
  • Establish website chat rooms during major events that are moderated by newsroom talent. 
  • On-air talent should direct viewers to specific content on the web or Facebook and encourage them to share it.

             The reality of today’s connected world is that viewers are constantly screen-splitting, meaning they’re watching TV and interacting with a mobile device at the same time.  By encouraging viewers to engage with your brand on another channel only builds the brand and helps them achieve the information and entertainment gratifications that they are seeking.  Television programmers who don’t do this risk losing their viewers to someone else who will.

             Here’s a few more important facts on the Pew Internet study. (Figure 2)  The Pew research team lead by Lee Raine interviewed 2253 adults between July 16 and August 2, 2012.   They found that 60% of American adults use either SNS or Twitter.  Of the American adults who are online, 69% use SNS such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, and 16% use Twitter. 

Figure 2 – Pew Internet Survey Democraphics



Presidential Debate Lesson — It’s the Metaphors, Stupid!

6 Oct


Sesame Street’s Big Bird

           Two men approached the presidential stage in Denver, but only one commanded it and walked off with a memorable message for the American voter to consider.  

             One of these men had a focused, clear message with passion and purpose.  The other appeared rhetorically disheveled.  If Aristotle were measuring the persuasive outcomes based upon authority, emotion and logic (ethos, pathos, logos) then Mitt Romney would have gone to the head of the class.

             One of the key takeaways from the first presidential debate is not necessarily how poorly President Obama may have performed, but why Mitt Romney was more effective and memorable in framing one of his key messages: government is too big. 

Presient Barack Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney at the presidential debates, October 3, 2012.

             He did it with two metaphors.  The most powerful stands seven feet fall and eats bird seed.  The second, recast Washington as voodoo government.             When moderator Jim Lehrer tried to elicit a response from Romney on the size of government, here was his response:

 “I’m sorry Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS.  I love Big Bird.  I actually like you, too.  But I’m not gonna keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”

             His second most powerful message took a long-time democratic boogeyman—trickle-down economics—and turned in on its head.

 And what we’re seeing right now is, in my view is a trickle-down government approach which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working.”

        Psychological researchers have long established that people process and remember what they already know.   Ralph E. Reynolds of Iowa State University writing in the Journal of Educational Psychology strongly established how metaphorical writing vastly improved recall and understanding.  Likewise, Thomas J. Reynolds has published extensive works in the Journal of Advertising Research on how metaphorical references build stronger advertising messages.  The theory extends to political communication as well.  Eugene Miller of the University of Georgia notes that political rhetoric has always relied heavily on metaphors whether it’s assigning players to the president’s “team,” to creating programs such as the “New Deal,” “New Frontier,” or “War on Poverty.”  One of the most effective uses in a campaign came from Walter Mondale in 1984 when he blatantly stole a line from a Wendy’s hamburger commercial to describe rival Gary Hart’s domestic policies: “Where’s the beef?”  The metaphor was devastatingly effective.  Within weeks Hart’s campaign ended and Mondale won the democratic nomination. 

         In this new era of explosive mediated social dialog, the Big Bird metaphor has become an instant internet meme.  Within minutes of Romney’s reference, satirical Big Bird pages surfaced on Twitter and t-shirt designers went to their screen printers.  Internet searches for both Romney and Big Bird skyrocketed. (Figure 1)  By week’s end, the Big Bird reference even became material for Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.  

Figure 1: Google Trends web search volumes. RED-Mitt Romney, BLUE-Big Bird

           Mitt Romney’s chief goal in the coming weeks is to change the attitudes of the extremely narrow percentage of voters who have yet to make up their minds.  In the first debate, he’s given them two symbolic images to consider.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if come election day the chief lesson of the fall campaign didn’t come from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, but instead from an address on Sesame Street.

An Emmy Award Salute to a Vietnam Veteran’s Legacy

3 Oct

             On a windswept Minnesota prairie where the trees whisper the memories of Vietnam, the quiet chorus is now joined by golden girl with a ringing voice.

            The trees that stand tall and grow on forty acres of rolling hills were all planted by Vietnam veteran Geoff Steiner.  Each one has a name, each has a memory.  Nearly every tree is planted in honor of a soldier who never came home.  Steiner did.  But he still lives with the horrors of a war that both took lives and changed lives—forever.

            Last Veterans Day, I traveled to Steiner’s tree memorial with fellow producers Mark Anderson and Rod Rassman.  Together with editor Sam Scaman we produced a segment on Steiner for a documentary film called Veterans Day 11-11-11

           Our profile of Steiner has just won the Emmy Award for best single military story.  We humbly accept the award in honor of Geoff Steiner and all of the Vietnam veterans who now live in eternal peace.   May God’s blessings be with them.     

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