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MittTV And GOP Failure To Think Outside The Box

In a comment on my post about Mitt’s site, David All posed a question about the site.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on MittTV and the site Рin general.

I started to reply about MittTV in the comments, but it became long enough to make a post… so here it is…


The one issue I have with MittTV is the fact that it looks like a PBS documentary. Republicans put together stuff like this, expect it to go viral, and act surprised when it doesn’t (unless you count 10k forwards as viral, which I don’t).

People don’t watch video online to look at stuff that looks like smaller versions of the same stuff they watch on TV. How much of the stuff you see on YouTube looks like TV? Almost none of it. The selling point to YouTube is the fact that these are real people doing real things. Mostly…

LonelyGirl15 didn’t reach her degree of notoriety because she put together some mock PBS documentary with cut shots of her friends offering testimonials. Even the fact that there is nothing at all real about her videos, doesn’t change the appeal it had. The production value wasn’t bad. The lighting was decent, the set was sparsely decorated. Most importantly though, it felt real.

Most of the stuff Republicans do online has none of that. It may have a flashy set, and an anchor straight out of Central Casting, and be professionally edited and polished, but it comes across like a used car salesman. I will say the only videos I have seen in GOP politics that I felt differently about were the stuff Justin did for the Bush campaign and the RNC’s Off the Record series with Mindy and Katie (before it was pulled).

Justin’s videos were great because they didn’t focus on selling the President. They focused on his interaction with real people. They focused on the President’s tours and the things he did on the road and the crowd enthusiasm. They captured the near total lack of reality about Presidential campaigns by demonstrating these ridiculous amounts of staging he has to endure to be a candidate, but the fact that the people still warmed to him.

Justin was given creative freedom to express what he saw and experienced on those trips. He wasn’t told to stay on message and make sure everything presented the President in the best light. He was given the freedom to experiment. Occasionally he produced something that looked like Andy Warhol’s nightmares, but they almost always were very, very good.

Mindy and Katie did a phenomenal job given the set we had. They demonstrated the power of video. They made the media take notice of the fact that the RNC was doing something new, different, bold, and yes, a little odd. They proved a video series featuring two unknown staffers interviewing elected officials could get attention and get people chattering.

Unfortunately, the studio was dilapidated (it was left over from the days of GOPTV back in the mid 90s), the lighting was poor and the equipment was old. Oddly, when viewed on RNC PCs, or tape, the videos looked fine. When viewed online, however, they were dark and dingy. But they still got attention in a way that nothing else the RNC did in the last two years was really able to do. Mindy and Katie were recognized in airports and the open rates on those e-mails were as high as the open rates on notes from the President.

Of course, the plug was pulled because the series wasn’t “Presidential”. The professional communicators felt the media attention it received reflected negatively on them. They said it needed to be more sophisticated, look less like Wayne’s World and more like Meet The Press. The RNC invested a bunch of money to upgrade the studio, hired a former news anchor and professionally created an almost completely unwatchable propaganda series.

The other thing the GOP likes to do is the webmercial. They create what would be a sketchy spot if it ran on TV, and promote it online. It’s like a cross between an ad and a press release. They’re done to generate media, not to attract viewers. It’s really sort of a cynical tactic because it assumes people can be spoken to only in sound bites and will regurgitate on cue.

That’s the one thing the Democrats are doing better online. They are embracing technology and trying different things. They’re willing to take a chance at doing something goofy. Would any GOP Congressman ever consent to giving a press conference in Second Life? Absolutely not!

The GOP tends to look at online trends like vlogging or Second Life and make comments that, “I’ll look cartoonish. I won’t be taken seriously.”

Well a lot of people said the same thing about Presidential candidates going on late night TV until Clinton played the sax on Arsenio. People were watching late night TV. The Clinton team tapped into a world that people related to and connected in a real way. What was “Presidential” didn’t factor into the equation.

Did it matter that Arsenio was cancelled? No. Should it matter if Second Life is a fad? Probably not. The fact is people are responding to it. Suddenly the concept of what may or may not be “Presidential” is shifting. Should Mitt Romney or John McCain do a press conference in Second Life. Hell no! But they should be willing to have fun with online media.

One thing I wanted to do on the Bush campaign, that was rejected every time I brought it up, was to do a series about life in the campaign. How does a major event like a rally for 100,000 people come together? How does a TV ad go from concept to buy? We had a videographer in house to do the shooting, we would do all the editing in house, so our exposure was nil. We could make sure that nothing sensitive was released (unlike inviting the media to follow us around all day).

The upside is you create something people respond to because they see how hard the staff is working, how creative they are, how much fun they are having while working 20 hour days. The downside is nobody has done it before.

How great would it be to see life inside a major Presidential campaign as it unfolds? To see the process for creating a new ad at the same time the ad is released? To see the work that goes into creating a rally and playing the video that shows that as the teaser for a live webcast of that same rally? To ride on the bus with the candidate as they role through middle America.

We need to adjust our concept of “Presidential” behavior because the public, while respecting the office, responds well to people that appear to be “one of the guys.” That’s why Bush always won in polls of “which candidate would you like to have a beer with?”

As long as we hold the President to a fundamentally different standard than the general public, and let that standard dissuade us from being innovative and force us to produce uninteresting uninspiring pabulum, we’ll continue to be behind.

In answer to David’s question, MittTV is only as good as the idea behind it. If the idea is to use video to put up otherwise stale issue material, I say they’re right on track. If the idea is to get people to connect with the candidate and the campaign, they need to rethink their approach.

One example would have been a video featuring their big call-a-thon the other day. Show what it took to make that happen, the excitement of the people there, the tireless hours the candidate, his campaign, and his friends worked to make it happen. That will resonate with more people and get passed around more than a video telling my why Mitt’s health care program is a great thing.

Written by Michael Turk