Tag Archives: Barack Obama

Cross-Channel Integration – How The White House Made D-Day More Than a Speech

13 Jun

Obama D-Day Collage

       It’s a case of old school vs. new school communication.  Plato vs. Zuckerberg.  That is, speech vs. social media.  But in reality the two can and should complement each other and the White House communications team has just given another example of how to use and integrate these new channels to amplify an important message.  In this case D-Day.

      In many respects, President Barack Obama’s speech in Normandy was itself a teaching machine.  Filled with powerful rhetorical imagery and metaphoric values, he used the world’s oldest form of communication to commemorate and honor the past and reassure the future.

      The president’s opening line was itself masterful in its metaphoric power:

                   If prayer were made of sound, the skies over England that night would have deafened the world.”

 His second sentence was equally illustrative in its imagery:

“Captains paced their decks. Pilots tapped their gauges. Commanders poured over maps, fully aware that for all the months of meticulous planning, everything could go wrong: the winds, the tides, the element of surprise — and above all, the audacious bet that what waited on the other side of the Channel would compel men not to shrink away, but to charge ahead.”

      Gathered among an audience of D-Day veterans and foreign leaders the president had three clear goals in this address.  First, to remember and acknowledge sacrifices paid on the beaches of Normandy and to keep the story alive.  He did it in the form of a rhetorical challenge:

                   Whenever the world makes you cynical — stop and think of these men.”

     Second, the president needed to reassure America’s European allies that it’s un-waivered in its commitment to a free continent.  Finally, he had to acknowledge the continuing sacrifice U.S. service members are still giving in a post 9-11 world:

“And as today’s wars come to an end, this generation of servicemen and women will step out of uniform. They, too, will build families and lives of their own. They, too, will become leaders in their communities, in politics, in commerce and industry — the leaders we need for the beachheads of our time. God willing, they, too, will grow old in the land they helped keep free. And someday, future generations, whether seventy or seven hundred years hence, will gather at places like this to honor them — and to say that these were generations of men and women who proved once again that the United States of America is and will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known.”


D-Day Blog WH Facebook

Figure 1 – White House Facebook post of the D-Day event linking to a YouTube video.

        For a president severely struggling at home and in congress, it may have been one of his better moments.  But the challenge for the White House was not letting the message disappear into the sands of Normandy.  Major media coverage significantly helped.   But as an established brand, the White House also controls its own messaging, and in this case it tactically coordinated and integrated the D-Day message across multiple media channels to ensure it was targeted to a series of narrow audiences for the widest possibly reach. (Figure 1)

         First and foremost, was the YouTube video of the speech.  But the White House communications team also targeted separate messages, pictures, and excerpts of the speech to individual social media channels. (Figure 2)  The multi-channel integration creates a hub and spoke network to target individual audiences where they live in social media.  

Figure 2 - The White House cross-channel integration profile.

Figure 2 – The White House cross-channel integration profile.

    In an age of modern communication it’s a smart strategic use of social media to amplify a message and engage participation.  If there was any fault in this particular strategy, it’s in the fact that the communications team should have tactically posted more images and messages throughout the day with a more coordinated effort in each post to link and drive audiences to the blog and the YouTube speech.   In that respect, it’s one miscue an otherwise disciplined communications team.

      It doesn’t have to be a presidential speech.  The lessons for brands, corporate communication teams and non-profits alike are profound.  Compelling content doesn’t have to live and die in a single space.   Integration across multiple channels is key—and often free.  The White House team gives a useful strategic road map for communicators to follow.

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.

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