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The Best Political Ad Ever

I know that’s a strong statement, but I’d only amend “best political ad ever” with a “so far.” Because that’s how good this video is.

It blurs the line between traditional political advertising and content marketing, because it tells an incredible story in a little over a minute. And in doing so, it breaks the mold in political campaigning: I’m certain that every politician in America directed his or her campaign manager over the past few days to figure out how they can replicate some of this magic, too.

Take a look:

Carl Sciortino is running for a Massachusetts Congressional seat in the 5th District, which includes several communities outside of Boston (but not mine). He is one of seven Democrats running for the seat in a special election this December that is part of a sequence of events set off when John Kerry became secretary of state. The 5th District seat had been held for 37 years by Ed Markey, who was elected in June to replace Kerry in the Senate.

Sciortino is openly gay (he plans to marry his partner 10 days before the election), and the story in the ad plays with the idea of Carl “coming out” to his conservative Tea Party father. Not as a gay man, but as a “Massachusetts liberal.”

In other words: Gay? NBD. Liberal? Ouch. “He’s been this way for 35 years,” Pops grouses in a kind of mock “kids-say-the-darndest-things” despair.

The story has received national attention (the New York Times, Daily Beast, Hardball). The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake called it “one of the more interesting campaign ads we’ve seen in a while.” MSNBC’s All In host Chris Hayes tweeted to his 250,000 followers:

Political pundits praise it for the way the ad sets up Sciortino as principled but loveable, in the vein of former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. People might disagree with him, but they still seem to respect him.

I get that. And from a political perspective, I like the way that, as my daughter learned this summer, you can have controversy with civility. The idea of disagreement without name-calling, cheap shots, and gratuitous attacks strikes me as something more politicians could project—period—no matter which side of the issues you stand on.

But from a content marketing angle, I like this ad for reasons that transcend the political agenda:

It’s a narrative, not a slogan. At the heart of this video is a compelling narrative: A son and father disagree. Somehow, they make it work.

Think about this: Sciortino could’ve created a typical ad outlining what makes him different. He could’ve listed his progressive values, outlined his belief in the right to choose, and so on. As my friend and video genius Tim Washer says: That isn’t really a story. Would that have been compelling? Nope, because it wouldn’t get people emotionally invested. It wouldn’t make Sciortino relatable. It would’ve lacked heart.

What’s new in your market… is new. Instead of relying on the formulas of well-known political campaigns, Sciortino borrows a page from storytellers. He scripts his own narrative. As I talk about all the time, that’s the real opportunity of content marketing: the ability to tell your story yourself, rather than begging for or buying attention.. In other words: Own your own story, rather than waiting for a news reporter or public relations campaign to get the word out for you.

Most organizations, brands, bands, churches, nonprofits, politicians and the like aren’t there yet: They still see content creation as a box to check on some broader marketing campaign. But Sciortino doesn’t squander his opportunity here. He takes a compelling story and plops it right in the lap of politics.

Tell a bigger story. I say this all the time, too (are you sick of it yet? Sorry.): But your content story isn’t what you do, it’s what you stand for. This video tells the story of Sciortino as a person (you get a richer, fuller sense of who he is), but it also subtly suggests that Sciortino is a person who can work within a structure where people don’t agree with him—perhaps even if they aren’t related to him.

Innovation is more about brains that budget. A week ago at Content Marketing World in Cleveland, I talked about 12 innovative content marketing programs that I think are groundbreaking. And yet, in the week since then, I’d seen three more great examples of brands’ breaking new ground in content marketing: Chipotle, Airbnb, and, now, state rep Carl Sciortino.

As I said in Cleveland, innovative content is more about brains than budget. This video didn’t have a big budget behind it, yet it’s effective because (as we wrote in Content Rules), the best content tells a true story well. Q: How many campaign managers are out talking to storytellers today to replicate some of this magic? A: All of them.

Paid media is part of a content strategy, too. Content marketing doesn’t mean you shift all budget away from advertising and into content creation. Paid media remains part of the mix. Content gives you something more interesting to promote other than dumb offers with no context.

Sciortino’s campaign manager tells the Boston Globe that the campaign will be spending “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on airing the ad between today and the Democratic primary on October 15. As my friend Jay Baer says: Market your marketing.

Your innovative content is not the end of your marketing, in other words. It’s only the beginning.

And, in this case, it’s the beginning of something interesting… in more ways than one.

Graphic: “Preamble” by Mike Wilkins, taken at the Smithsonian Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

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23 Responses to The Best Political Ad Ever

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this Ann. I’d not seen this even though I watch a good bit of MSNBC. And thanks for the added insights in your post. I love the simplicity of the message, the smart humor (about very serioius subject matter) and the obvious good nature of both son and father. Like you say, so many politicians, left and right, must be workshopping ways to duplicate the delivery style of this spot. I don’t think this kind of message can be faked so good luck trying to copy it if you aren’t for real.

    I also agree that there are lessons to be learned from this spot for any of us in marketing that are trying to tell our own stories or those of our clients.

    Again, thanks for sharing. If I have anything to regret from seeing this, it’s that neither you or me can vote for him!

    • Ann Handley says:

      Very true, Billy: It can’t be faked. But I’m hoping the strong story here will inspire other candidates to innovate their own content campaigns.

      If he wins, of course, it’s a great content story!

  2. Jay Baer says:

    Great find, Ann. As a former campaign consultant myself in my “pre-Internet” days, this one is really right up my alley. I wonder, in a 7-person primary, where this guy is raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to run this, and the production values are pretty shiny, too. He comes off – wisely – as an aw-shucks kid, but there’s some dough and some pros behind him, too.

    • Ann Handley says:

      I thought of you with this one, Jay – knowing your background. I’m guessing part of that “hundreds of thousands” has come from the notoriety of the video itself. Seems he & his team smartly gambled on this one, and it paid off. I didn’t get Aw Shucks – but I did get Savvy!

      Thanks for weighing in, my friend.

  3. DJ Waldow says:

    Not sure what I like better, Ann – the ad or your commentary on it.

    Brilliant. Brilliant.

    LOL
    #SSS

  4. Stephanie Montreuil says:

    I love this ad. Such a breath of fresh air and a good example of “if you make awesome content, people will share it”.

  5. I’d say it’s a reasonably good ad for a liberal in that it does the required portrayal of Republicans as old, white, out of touch, and wrong on all the “important” issues without totally demonizing them, because after all, every good Democrat loves their Dad. And it does a good job of avoiding any mention of economics or actual benefits in the job market, because that would be embarrassing. And it has that great fuzzy Tuesdays with Morrie feel, while allowing in this case, the young person being the one trying to school the elder. That seems to hit the demographic pretty well. I’m not in the target market, so the fact that it totally misses my mark is irrelevant. I liked the ad I saw yesterday about Obama and Kerry negotiating with Putin and Syria yet not Republicans, but I suspect you wouldn’t name that the best political ad ever, or even marginally good. I liked it though. Pardon the interruption. Y’all carry on.

  6. Ann Handley says:

    Blaine – the Tuesdays with Morrie reference made me laugh out loud…. Truly! (Hilarious!) Thanks for your perspective – nicely articulated.

    • well, thanks for letting me off the hook. Every once in awhile I slip up and speak out of pseudonym. I legitimately felt bad that I might’ve overstepped, but there was no edit icon, kinda like the older version of facebook. But it’s not polite to assume what ad you might not like. Sorry about that part. I meant the other stuff… Thanks for being gracious and seeing the humor. But seriously, I did write mostly in pseudonym for a few years, because openly not being a liberal can get expensive, and unlike major Romney supporters I can’t afford it. Also wanted to mention it was a good move in this video to bring up the Tea Party only as an aside, the father’s association, because that way the ad can take advantage of all the negative branding that has been poured into that even by the President, without having to actually state it. It’s assumed. That was smooth. And I should also mention your headline was very effective, because I had to click on it, albeit suspiciously.

      As for storytelling in ads I will mention a favorite video I’ve seen I assume everybody knows about but just in case: it’s regarding the sodapop stop store in LA http://youtu.be/gPbh6Ru7VVM

      That was presented to me as a way that charming, real stories can hold people a lot longer than 30 or 60 seconds.

      • Ann Handley says:

        Excellent point on the Tea Party name-drop. It diffuses the issue while referencing it.

        Also: “…being a liberal can get expensive, and unlike major Romney supporters I can’t afford it.” LOL…

        Also – just started watching that video and already love it just for this alone: “My customers are going to be happy I was honest with them” (the Pepsi story). That’s awesome. (I hadn’t seen the video, BTW.)

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  9. Yes! Of ever! Especially if it makes a trend out of this —> “you can have controversy with civility”.

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