I want to begin with a caveat: I am not an American political expert and have never claimed to be one. I am writing about this campaign purely from a creative-strategy point of view...
Now that we’ve gotten that out the way, have you seen THE MOST SAVAGE ad in the US that came out a few weeks ago called ‘A Family Defends Its Honour’? No? Let me fill you in.
Remember when Taco Bell got loads of guys called ‘Ronald McDonald’ to launch its new breakfast offering? Well, this is exactly what I thought The Democrat Party was doing when I first saw ‘The Gosars’ taking down Republican, Paul Gosar, in the 60-second spot and endorsing his opposition candidate, Dr David Brill.
The Big Idea
me back up a bit. If you haven’t heard of Paul Gosar, I’ll paint
a picture. He is an
American politician (and dentist; thought I’d mention this because
he brags about it a LOT) who has served as a member of the United
States House of Representatives from Arizona since 2011. He currently
represents most of the rural western portion of the state. With
midterms fast approaching, he is currently campaigning hard to be
re-elected in November.
However, Paul is also known for recently speaking at a rally in London for one of Britain’s most notorious anti-Muslim campaigners, Tommy Robinson. He believes that the liberal philanthropist and financier George Soros, who survived the Holocaust, had collaborated with Nazis.
But perhaps his most notorious (but not limited to) moment came in 2017 when he spread a conspiracy theory that the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last year had been “created by the left” without any evidence whatsoever.
So, when a video of six people (all with the surname ‘Gosar’) slagging him off, did the rounds, I thought: clever Democrats, Taco Bell already did this though years ago. But then, you get to the end of the video and they all say, “Paul Gosar’s my brother, and I endorse Dr. Brill wholeheartedly”. Yes, Paul Gosar is their brother.
I was like, what the actual ****? They are not just ANY Gosars, they are the real-deal, flesh-and-blood family members! Six out of eight of his siblings appeared in the Democrat promotional video and all claim that he hasn’t got the people of Arizona’s best interest at heart. One sibling even goes so far as to say that he can only be described as a racist and it is now intervention time!
What They Did
What’s interesting (if that wasn’t juicy enough) is that, apparently, Dr Brill hasn’t had much financial support for his campaign up until now and activities from the Democrats have been low key. But then this cost-effective bomb drops out of nowhere and suddenly everyone is talking about it on social media, international news outlets, late-night talk shows, you name it!
Jimmy Kimmel described it as ‘the most creative ad of this election cycle’. The American public seems to be going to town with awkward Thanksgiving cracks, and the comments section on the YouTube ad prove a very entertaining read!
The problem is, the family feud has stolen the show and Dr Brill seems to be nowhere in sight (except for the very end of the ad where he awkwardly says that he approves this message).
Paul Gosar’s responses have also been rather amusing and he’s cleverly engineered messaging that frames the betrayal of his family in terms of ‘leftists everywhere putting political ideology before family’. If anything, it feels as if this advert has polarised the left and right even more so rather than the intended opposite.
You can’t pick your family. We all have crazy aunts and relatives etc and my family is no different. I hope they find peace in their hearts and let go all the hate.— Paul Gosar (@DrPaulGosar) September 22, 2018
To the six angry Democrat Gosars—see you at Mom and Dad’s house! #AZ04 #MAGA2018
Last week’s opinion poll, that evaluated the aftermath, said that most of the ads did not affect their vote, but of those who were affected, 25% said they were more likely to vote for Gosar and 17% were less likely. On the upside for the Blues, they defended the ad by saying that donations for their campaign have skyrocketed since the video aired.
If the objective of this campaign was to purely raise donations for Dr Brill’s campaign, then yes, it did the job. However, if the objective long term is for Democrats to sell values and ideologies of left to those on the far right in a compelling way, those who support the likes of Trump, well, then they have failed miserably.
We can’t beat the demonizers and divisive bigots of this world by playing the same games. There is a reason that there are so many awful people in power at the moment – they speak to the fears and concerns of the masses, and we as communicators haven’t managed to persuade them in a different direction. As our Secretary General, Kumi Naidoo at Amnesty International told us recently, “If we can’t see the humanity in Trump supporters, then that is lazy activism”.
We need to stop being lazy with our strategy and messaging and start really getting to the bottom of how to influence audiences in this new ‘us versus them’ world that we live in.