Why I Think Warren Failed

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So our candidate of choice is out, which is a bummer. And there is a lot of speculation as to why Elizabeth Warren’s campaign didn’t succeed. I’d like to throw out my own theory why:

He messaging was terrible.

OK, stay with me; I’ll explain. But before I do, let me start by saying that I’m actually an expert on the subject. I’ve worked in marketing for over 20 years as a creative director, and messaging is my forte.

In fact….I will now present…

BASIC MESSAGING 101
(A lesson for politicians)

Messaging Lesson #1: Use Active Voice

You won’t ever see Walmart say:

Walmart has low prices

Instead they’ll say:

Walmart keeps prices low

See the difference?  In the first example, they are telling customers what they have. In the second, they are telling customers what they are doing. Walmart is active, not passive.

Good messaging always uses active language: Eat Fresh. Just Do It. Think Different. They call you to action. They use active voice.

  Unknown.jpegHow did Trump do?

Make America Great Again.

Drain the swamp.

Lock her up.

Build the wall.

They’re all active. They’re energetic. They call voters to action. They actively declare what Trump is going to do.

Grade: A+

Unknown-1.jpegHow did Hillary do?

Better Together.

It doesn’t inspire me to act. It doesn’t say what the campaign will accomplish. Hell, there isn’t even a verb. It’s beyond passive.

Grade: F

Unknown-2.jpegHow did Warren do?

I’d say she was hit or miss. She had messages like “Persist” and “Dream Big. Fight Hard.” That’s active.

But she had some duds like “Big Structural Change”, which again, doesn’t even have a verb.

Grade: B-

Messaging Lesson #2: Speak to an Unmet Need

What if Nike were to say:

If you want shoes with thick rubber soles, choose Nike

They would go out of business. Why? Because no one is looking at their current shoes and saying, “Boy, do I wish there was a shoe out there with thick rubber soles!” It is not an unmet need.

Instead, Nike knows that everyone wants to be better. Everyone has aspirations to get in better shape. To do a 5K. To join a gym. To win the starting role on the team. So Nike creates messaging that answers that unmet need that is burning in almost everyone.

Just Do It. Choose Nike.

If you want to create a message that people pay attention to, you need a message that speaks to an unmet need.

  Unknown.jpegHow did Trump do?

Trump looked at people, especially in red and purple states, and saw that lots of them felt left behind. They pined for the old America of the 50s. These people felt like the country they loved was slipping away.

And he went to these people with the message:

Make America Great Again.

 

Grade: A+

Unknown-1.jpegHow did Hillary do?

I voted for her. I campaigned for her. I donated to her campaign.

I genuinely do not know what her message was.

By the end, it had basically devolved into: Trump is awful. And when I cast my vote, I wasn’t voting for Hillary. I was voting against Trump.

Grade: F

Unknown-2.jpegHow did Warren do?

I’m going to focus on just one of her messages:

Big Structural Change

What the hell does that mean? It invokes no emotional response whatsoever. I mean, seriously, how many voters are sitting there thinking, “Boy, you know what I really want? I want big structural change?” None.

Grade: F

Actually…she did have some other messages that were stronger than that — but none of them really hit on a burning unmet need that was going to get voters cheering.

Grade: D

Messaging Lesson #3: Repetition and Consistency

What comes to mind when I say “15%”?

Over 80% of people in the US will answer: GEICO. Why? Because they have pounded that message into us for years. 

15 Minutes Could Save You 15% or more

Relentlessly and consistently. They don’t switch it around with other messages. They don’t say it some of the time. They say it again and again and again and again.

If you’re not sick to death of your messaging, you’re doing it wrong.

  Unknown.jpegHow did Trump do?

Did you ever see that doofus without that stupid red MAGA hat?

Grade: A+

Unknown-1.jpegHow did Hillary do?

Stronger Together? I think it was on some of her signs. I might have had an “I’m with her” magnet. She didn’t really say “Stronger Together” in speeches, I don’t think.

Grade: D

Unknown-2.jpegHow did Warren do?

Persist.
Big Structural Change.
Dream Big. Fight Hard.
A Woman’s Place is in the White House.
She’s Got a Plan for That

That’s a lot of messages. Too many. I was on her email list. I sometimes noticed that she sometimes used some of these messages.

I also noticed that her emails were too long.

Grade: D

NOW…Imagine if THIS had been Warren’s message.

You all remember the recession of 2008? Well, in 2006 someone predicted it. Me.

And when the recession hit, I led the effort that stopped that recession from becoming a full blown depression.

Well guess what folks? I see all the signs. Another crash is coming any minute. Businesses are going to go bankrupt. People are going to lose their homes and see their 401Ks disappear. And Trump is pulling all the wrong levers. He’s making it worse. He’s heading for the cliff.

So now…before it’s too late…it’s time to…

STOP THE MADNESS

Scare the hell out of voters that the crash is coming and position herself as the only one who can stop it. That hits on a powerful unmet need, it’s active, and you can pound that message all day no matter what happens.

Coronavirus keeps getting worse and this administration is doing everything wrong. What are we gonna do?

STOP THE MADNESS

You see Trump got in a Twitter war with Kim Kardashian? Is this what our President should be doing? Is this the picture we want to show to the world? What is it time to do?

STOP THE MADNESS

It works for global warming, women’s rights, racism…you name it. It paints everything Trump does as madness (which is easy to do) — and it gives voters a clear way to stop it.

Stop the Madness. Choose Warren.

Who knows if that’s right, but it’s way better than what she had. What she had was messaging that didn’t follow the basics — and I think it was part of why she failed.

I will end by saying this: Elizabeth Warren legitimately inspired my son. And she inspired me too. I think she would make a remarkable President, and I was proud to volunteer for her.

I’ll also say…if Biden wants help with his message, I’m available. Because he could absolutely use some help.

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Stumping for Warren (How Alex won my vote)

First, some exposition

In 2016…

I did a lot of volunteering for the Hillary campaign. I knocked on doors, made calls, gave money. But in reality, I wasn’t doing it because I was excited about Hillary (I liked her all right). My primary motivation was fear.

So when Trump won, it hit me with a solid sense of despair. And upon reflection, if Hillary had won, I don’t think I would been like “Hell yeah! I’m pumped for the next 4 years!” I think my main emotion would have been relief, and probably some joy at watching Trump crawl back into his golden cave.

All said and done, it was a pretty rotten experience.

But 2018…

Was totally different. In 2018, I followed my mighty activist-maven wife into the service of the Andy Kim congressional campaign in a district near ours. And that was a blast. I don’t think I even knew who he was running against, but I liked Andy Kim, and I loved getting out there trying to take back the House of Congress. And he won.

So here we are, approaching the 2020 election.

First off, I’m doing stuff. No way I’m sitting this out. My feeling – you’re only allowed to have an opinion about politics if you participate in the process. Watching MSNBC and Fox News is not participating in your democracy. Sharing a meme does not make you an activist. If you’re not out there putting in real time and real money, then you deserve whatever elected official you get. In fact, my New Year’s Resolution for 2020 is really get at it for this election.

However, for my own well-being, I didn’t want to go out there with the primary motivation of getting rid of Trump. I wanted to be for someone. I wanted to be excited about the potential of someone being President.

And I liked my options. I liked Harris, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bullock, Castro…lots of really smart people who I felt like I could get behind. I think of an election as a job opening where I’m the hiring manager. This felt like a lot of highly qualified candidates.

But I hadn’t really made a pick. I guess I was hanging back, ready to really go at it when it became clear who the winner was going to be.

But then I went for a walk with Alex.

Alex is in “Model U.N.” where kids represent different countries and debate political issues. This year their issue is climate change, and quite reasonably, it’s scaring the shit out of the boy as he learns more about it. So we were talking about that.

EXT. SUBURBAN STREET – DAY

ALEX, a 14-year old boy, walks with his father, MIKE.

MIKE
(using his “patronizing dad” voice)

Well, you’re not powerless, Alex. In fact, a big way that you can affect the issue of climate change is to participate in who the next President is.

 

ALEX

Oh, I like Warren.

 

MIKE

I’m glad you are aware of the candidates. Elizabeth Warren is a strong option for sure.

 

ALEX

She has a plan to try and get to 100% renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions by 70%.

 

MIKE

She does?

 

ALEX

I also like her Green Apollo plan where she wants to invest $400 billion dollars over the next ten years into clean energy research – so that will help the economy at the same time.

 

MIKE

Right.

(As he talks, the tone Mike’s voice slowly changes. And as Alex talks, one would swear that his voice takes on a tone that sounds just the slightest bit…patronizing.)

 

ALEX

Plus the Blue New Deal she has for cleaning up the ocean is good too. Not to mention that offshore wind power can make 4 times the amount of energy that our whole grid uses today. Most people don’t know that.

OK, so as Alex went on explaining the finer points of Warren’s policies, a lightbulb went off.

  • How cool would it be to do all this election stuff with Alex?

It was followed by a series of supporting light bulbs.

  • Doing this with Alex would motivate me to do it even more. Like a gym buddy.
  • Alex would be an animal on the phone
  • Bringing in Alex would get me a TON of brownie points with my hyper-activist wife

And that’s how I landed on Warren. Alex.

So the next week, we went to a campaign event in town to make calls to Iowa voters, and I was right: Alex was awesome at it.

Phonebanking is basically getting hung up on 19 out of 20 times. But when people hear a kid on the phone, that’s quite a hook. Hearing Alex read the Warren script in his cute mid-puberty voice – people stayed on the line with him…I guess to be patronizing…but, whatever. He was a force.

We’re in for Warren. We’re actually planning to host an event in the next couple of weeks, so I’ll keep you posted.

Final note: I’m gonna be a little bit of a dick about comments on these posts. Not really into hosting a political snipe fest. However, comments about what a great father I am are always welcome.