RNC ads confirm GOP disconnect

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Design & Marketing / Political Commentary

The GOP has a brand problem.

Recent years have highlighted a widening gap between the Republican Party and several key demographics. If you’re a young, black woman in a relatively low-paying job, there probably isn’t a GOP convention in your future. A conservative fitting that description would be sought out and flown in, all-expenses-paid, just to have them in the seats when the camera pans over the crowd.

Most analysts argue that the party’s position on many issues just doesn’t jive with young people, women or minorities. That isn’t true. Most Americans still have center-right values, and believe in the basic ideas on which the nation was founded. The problem is how those ideas are communicated, illustrated and applied to addressing the problems of the average person in today’s world.

This isn’t 1776. “Give me liberty or give me death” just doesn’t have the same ring to it outside of the Tea Party set.

Unfortunately, the Republican National Committee’s new ad campaign—clearly meant to resonate with key strategic demographics—doesn’t get much closer to the mark.

On the upside, the website is trendy, and the central idea is right: Get a diverse group of average looking folks to whom people can relate, place them in their own environment and have them offer their own perspective. The hope is that the viewer sympathizes and the message resonates.

An advertising campaign launched by Houston Baptist University, where I serve on the marketing staff, used the exact same strategy, even down to the “I Believe” statements. After months of prior research we found the approach successful, but one element stood out as the most critical—and most difficult—to get across: authenticity.

However, authenticity is precisely what is missing in the RNC’s new ads. The links to the videos say “Listen to His/Her Story,” but there are no stories; there are only talking points from angry republicans. The mediocre actors read conspicuously from scripts, which are written to cram a policy argument into 30 seconds. They come across more like bumper stickers than stories.

Every time the person in the video says “I am a republican because…” it translates as “I’m getting paid to say…” which doesn’t help sell the idea.

It is not enough to package the same slogan in a different medium, the slogan itself has to evolve with the medium and audience. Un-coached snapshots of real people struggling with the real damages of government overreach would be much more effective.

One has to question whether different creative teams on the project even spoke with one another. The whole campaign is tagged with “Create Your American Dream,” but, just like stories, no one is talking about their American Dream—they are complaining about the government. The website offers no place for the visitor to create anything, though they can download and share an “I Believe” card, which lists what the Republican Party believes. There is a “What’s your story” button, which allows you to share your story… no, actually it just prompts you to give your contact information and say why you are a republican, which is presumably because you are angry and you believe something.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in marketing and brand development, it’s that your message has to be memorable, meaningful and believable. The producers of this new RNC campaign seem to have started on the right foot with a creative presentation, but somehow produced a set of angry, staged performances that are uninspiring and off-putting.

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