The political circles I used to travel in tends to romanticize learnings from other Social Democrat/Democratic Socialist Campaigns from around the world. And, for good reason, there are learnings within them that absolutely benefit them in building the next campaign.
From my time within the partisan political realm I noticed that the application of the learnings is where there were shortcomings. For instance, after Obama’s election in 2008, both Liberals and New Democrats started talking about “pulling an Obama” and started developing communications and marketing materials that were directly derivative of Obama’s Campaign collateral. And, instead of looking at the Obama marketing for how the story and the visuals were related holistically, most of the teams did a surface dive of the tactics and products, without studying Obama as a character and his featured attributes. The bouquet of Campaign products leaned perfectly on his strengths. Most of the attempts to replicate the Democrats 2008 successes failed in realizing that an Obama campaign was built for Obama. The style, tone and message in their products were in his specific voice. This is the same thing I discussed in observations about the NDP’s 2015 Campaign (see below)… But first, let’s look at the 2011 Liberals, because the biggest Obama misappropriation was the Michael Ignatieff lead Liberal Party’s Explainer documentary titled “Michael Ignatieff’s Town Hall for Canada.” Which of course was an outright theft of Academy Award Winning filmmaker David Guiggenhiem’s 2008 prime-time documentary “The Road We’ve Travelled.” The Liberal Party TV buy was significantly smaller, their piece aired on a Sunday evening in a “who gives a shit” time-slot.
Barack vs. Iggy
“The Road We’ve Travelled” (2008)
Not “Michael Ignatieff’s Town Hall for Canada” (2011)
I know the video above is not “Michael Ignaieff’s Town Hall for Canada.” That’s because, it’s nowhere to be found… The original YouTube embed that lived on the BC Federal Liberal Party page is gone. In fact, the Liberal Party of Canada’s own site, Liberal.ca has erased all memory of not just that terrifying bad documentary, but of Micheal Ignatieff completely. Which is something I find a little odd given the Liberal’s penchant for name-dropping past leaders.
Liberal.ca – The Iggy Extinction
However, Canada’s New Democrats are equally as guilty of ripping off the Obama Campaigns. And this is something I know a bit about… Because I helped make some of these rip-offs pieces.
ObamaCare for Mulcair?
“Our Story” (2014)
“The Story of Us” (2012)
The “Our Story” piece being the most obviously derivative of piece lifted from the Obama team’s work. However, differentiating it from the Liberal’s misappropriation was that it was unapologetically borrowed. In conversation with (former) NDP Digital Director Michael Roy, we spoke about what the basic message was in “The Story of Us” piece. How the language and message was deliberately inclusive and activist-centric. It was intended to speak to supporters, sharing mission priorities with them and giving them authorship in accomplishing the goals. In the Ignatieff’s documentary, the piece began by attempting to contextualize current day political issues in a family-centric frame, intended to relate the issues back to the viewer. Where they strayed was in how they attempted to personify Michael Ignatieff through that same framing. Implying that he is “one of us.” By attempting to relate Ignatieff to the audience in that same frame, it trivialized how the conflict environment they had just established around core issues. Because, they start to tell the story of who Michael Igantieff is, and then speak about his competency as a leader and policy-maker, while showing his “full and happy life.” This is a mistake that Canada’s New Democrats repeated in their 2015 Campaign pieces about Tom Mulcair.
“Tom’s Story” (2015)
This piece was a second attempt, at the 2013 NDP Policy Convention in Montreal, a 10-minute documentary piece about Tom was run before his Friday night Interactive Town Hall feature. That piece featured people from Tom’s life speaking about him, his leadership and his strength’s. The only parts of that piece that lives online now is this short ad I was able edit after the Convention. The difference in this piece versus the documentary was how Tom’s story was being told… I made an specific effort to not use clips of Tom talking about himself. The 10-minute piece was edited like a “Call and Answer” piece, one speaker would talk about him and introduce a part of his life or career, then he would respond and expand on it.
“Leadership + Experience” (2013)
Of course, we know the results from the 2015 election and the fall out that came after that. This video from the NDP’s 2016 Policy Convention in Edmonton shows that despite the large Campaign post-mortem the senior team missed key findings in what was and continues to be at fault writ-large in their messaging and engagement.
This seamed a bit tone deaf?
Edmonton NDP Convention “Apology” (2016) Not the actual title, the NDP removed it from their YouTube Channel.
The, UK election results have Social Democrat/Democratic Socialists within my circles buzzing about the success of the Labour Party’s Campaign. The same as most were with Bernie Sanders Campaign for the Democratic Nomination. Most of these left/NDP aligned folk are looking at these campaigns for valuable lessons. The same as they did with Obama’s 2008 and 2012 Campaigns. As well as the Alberta NDP’s winning campaign, as they’re now surely looking at the BC NDP’s Campaign.
The difference between those last two are the climate for success. Alberta had a vote-splitting vacuum that propelled the NDP to success there. Not to knock their campaign, but the Provincial parties are all making the same cardinal sin as the Michael Ignatieff 2011 Documentary piece and the 2013/15 Tom Mulcair pieces.
See John Horgan’s “profile” video. The video is titled “Working for You” … It’s not working, not for me and more specifically not for them.
Same Mistakes, Different Dude.
BC NDP – “Working for you” (2017)
There are so many reasons the NDP, provincially or federal should not be promoting videos with their Leaders talking about themselves. Each one of those reasons are contextualized in thoroughly within their Policy Platforms and within the party’s constitution. The federal and the provincial parties have documents outlining their mission and their core values. The tenants of what forms their leadership and a measure for supporters to identify with and predict their responses to most current day issues. The parties themselves do take these documents very seriously, but somewhere along the line they have been forgotten as the foundation for all messaging within marketing and communication materials.
In auditing Corbyn or Sanders campaign successes review speeches, promotional pieces and other communications, count how many times they speak about themselves. Especially as they’re addressing issues people are facing. They don’t mention an issue and then talk about their own upbringing. They contextualize the issues relate them to the audience, share the mission in affecting change and making their support the solution. They, themselves are a partner, a tool for implementing the change the voter wants to affect. When the leaders themselves needed to be contextualized, testimonials, supporter networks and pieces that are “a party to” did that heavy lifting.
I love this Simon Sine quote.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
Let’s revisit this quote and include that previous note about a policy platform and a party’s constitution being the foundation for all marketing and communications. These documents are deliberately written to express the clearest framing of the Party’s purpose. A Party’s constitution is the outward declaration of core value that are knowingly shared amongst the electorate. The leaders and candidates are the avatars of those values. A policy platform is the current day offer of the party as presented through the avatars. These are the most relatable communications products that a party has. Therefore, they should by all prevailing logic be the standard by which all the Party’s communications and marketing products are developed from and vetted through.
Do that, develop and vet communications through the constitution and platforms, apply it and then apply the logic behind this Muhammad Ali quote.
“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”
The goal of every party and leader is to be elected. If it is not, then they are doing themselves, their members, supporters and constituencies a great disservice. The thing about New Democrats is, they love being New Democrats. They love the party. Referred to as “the base,” which is a grouping of supporters that exist because the party itself is still defined by a contextually relevant purpose and its partisan’s not only share in that purpose, they revel in it. Diluting an offer through itemization of deliverables undermines the reasons the offer and items exist. Undermining purpose disenfranchises and confuses the offer, the messaging that the indoctrinated base, the candidates and leader are putting forward.
And this quote also from Simon Sinek.
“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
Once everyone carrying the message, believes the message their support becomes relentless, even defiant. Defiant in the face of external criticism, media scrutiny (just or not). The supporter has ownership of the mission and the story of the party, becomes OUR story.
The UK Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders were forced into telling their story through their own lens and platforms because traditional or earned media wasn’t providing fair coverage. In Canada, we tend to think that those problems don’t exist here, but they do. Sanders and Corbyn are telling a story of the modern world and through their audience-centric voice, that story is owned by their movement.
How much is Corbyn speaking about himself?
UK Labour – “Let’s do it differently” (2017)
Corbyn and Sanders treat a voter like a donor and showed them that their support has meaning and impact. They do it unapologetically through the values shared amongst themselves and supporters. They’re creating family through sharing the mission. They leave themselves out of the conversation, by choice.
Over the last 10 years, we’ve been seeing studies on the political leanings and social/environmental influencers on “Millennials.” The next wave of voter and the backbone behind much of this recent political re-balancing in Sanders and Corbyn’s successes. We’ve seen their influence grow and we’ve seen what style of message and leader has resonated with them. New Democrats should feel good about this data, and should take direct action in changing their current day marketing and communications practices, abandon the self-centric message and self-narrated explainer pieces on leaders. Which as another observation, shows that the party operational leadership isn’t confident in actual public awareness of their leader and brand. Also, that they’ve bought into generalized media speculation about the leader/party’s potential “shortcomings.”
Tell a New Democrat story. Be unapologetically partisan, speak strongly to values laid out in the constitution, the ideas in the platform. Supporters know the leader, the party and mission, speak to them, always speak to them. Be defiant about media misappropriations and the ideological application of information. The deliberate limitations in what facts are represented to best mythologize their truths.
Simply put, less systemic/strategic marksmanship and more relentless self-truths… That’s what will win.