Former McCain '08 consultant Fred Davis explains campaign's unique approach to video.
Republican Jon Huntsman has hinged his campaign on his uniqueness among presidential candidates, and his web video strategy exemplifies that focus. Panoramic shots of a rocky desert landscape, photos of the former Utah Governor's favorite California taco joint, serene music, and oddly curt voiceovers are standard in some of the more than 50 videos the Jon Huntsman for President campaign has posted online in recent weeks.
Web video is clearly becoming a key element of 2012 election campaigning, as is evident from many of the primary candidates, as well as President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. And this year the variety of styles seen from the campaigns is especially striking, displaying an evolution beyond raw, hand-held campaign trail uploads or talking head videos. Yet, while candidates including Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, and others are investing to produce interesting, high-quality campaign videos, Huntsman's break the mold.
"The world is moving from words to video, and so is our progressive campaign," said Fred Davis, media consultant to Huntsman 2012, in an email interview with ClickZ, explaining why video is a key element of the online campaign. Davis, CEO of political consulting firm Strategic Perception, served as chief creative consultant for John McCain's 2008 campaign. "Also," added Davis, "Jon and his family are 'camera friendly,' so [that's] another way to highlight an advantage."
Several of the Huntsman videos are simply clips from a lengthy interview on topics ranging from jobs to Libya to his favorite foods. However, they seem more relaxed than the typical clips featuring candidates gazing directly into the camera, a home library and American flag as the backdrop. While Huntsman wears a suit rather than his signature denim jacket, he's speaking to the off-camera interviewer; a long hallway provides dimension and natural sunlight behind him.
"Jon just talks in the videos - no scripts, notes, etc. He's naturally informed and comfortable in his own skin," noted Davis, whose firm produced Huntsman's videos and all branding elements associated with the campaign. According to Davis, Huntsman has a "special team" devoted to digital work, though most of the digital staff are not based at the campaign's Orlando headquarters.
The Strategic Perception website touts a TV spot the firm produced for McCain '08 that compared Obama to celebrities like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. "The spot surpassed one million YouTube views in just 24 hours and instantly changed the national dialogue in that race," claims the company site. McCain's campaign also ran display ads featuring the two pop stars linking to content portraying Obama as a celebrity. Hilton famously responded to the jab in a Funny or Die video in which, barely dressed in a skimpy bathing suit, she proclaimed, "I'm totally ready to lead."
None of the Huntsman videos feature images of Obama or mention him, other than one in which the candidate tells why he worked for his administration as ambassador to China. And, compared to videos from Romney and Pawlenty that in some ways are intended to rouse anger towards the President regarding high gas prices or unemployment, the Huntsman videos are even tempered enough to be considered placid.
The cinematic "About Jon" video series is especially tranquil, set to a homespun musical backdrop that would be fitting as a Hallmark Channel movie intro - nothing like the jarring symphonic bluster accompanying many political ads. The lengthy videos - some as long as five minutes - also employ signature voiceover phrases rather than complete sentences: "No drama – progress," "The world needs new," "America needs fresh," "not in it for the balloons," "strong, smart, conservative, future thinking, just did the right thing."
In the most iconic video, "Different," words fade into and out of sight as they're spoken: "home," "builds," "global." The word "forever" flashes more than once. "Calm" is also appropriately visualized.
"Jon is a very, very different candidate," suggested Davis. "He's quiet, thoughtful, totally devoid of ego, so can't bring himself to tout his own accomplishments. Those are very attractive traits in a president, but make him an unusual candidate for president. Instead of fighting it, we chose to highlight his uniqueness as the strength we believe it is. [The Different] video is unique, because our candidate is unique."
Another differentiator: Huntsman 2012 is using Vimeo as its off-site video hub, rather than linking to its YouTube channel from the campaign site. For Davis, it's a question of quality. "We do have our 'Jon-to-camera' issues videos and 'About Jon' video series on YouTube so anybody who is searching for Huntsman there can find them, but Vimeo gives us higher quality video, better customization of the embeddable player, much better viewer statistics, no ads or other videos as distractions, and the site itself is a lot more user friendly," said Davis. "Overall, Vimeo is more professional and attractive for our video, which is obviously the centerpiece of the digital campaign."
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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