(originally appeared on Medium)
Or, simply stop making terrible content. There isn’t much time left.
We’re 41 days from one of the most significant moments of the Trump era: the 2018 midterms. So far, Democrats have spent more than $400M this cycle trying to flip Congress. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that the average winning U.S. Senate big costs $12M. Apparently, zero of these dollars are going toward good storytelling. Facepalm.
With 0.1% of that budget, a campaign manager could commission a documentary-style advertisement for their candidate. The kind of advertisement that gives viewers goosebumps, that resonates on a deeply human level. The kind that goes viral overnight.
I should know. This summer I directed such an ad for Alessandra Biaggi, the insurgent New York State Senate candidate who handily beat one of the most powerful democrats in New York political history. A handful of staffers collaborated on the script; I shot and edited the video, which garnered more than a quarter million views and fired up hundreds of Alessandra’s volunteers. When I flew out for the primary earlier this month, I was astonished by the energy on the ground. The victory felt inevitable.
A few weeks ago, the New York Times wrote a valuable piece about the effectiveness and potential for this kind of advertising. In short: authentic digital advertising works because it gives folks a crucial ‘why’ to endure the ‘how’ of grueling campaign work. Film, like other forms of art, carries with it the potential to unlock incredible emotional currency. But to do so requires something most politicians are reluctant, or unwilling, to surrender: vulnerability.
I lived with Alessandra (and her lovely parents) for two weeks while filming her campaign video. Why? Because that’s what it took to gain her trust, capture raw human moments, and help her unlock the kind of emotion I knew could translate on screen. The amalgamation of these variables creates the potential for something truly special, which is exactly why most advertisements are… not good. Most media consultants aren’t willing to commit the necessary resources—namely, time and emotional energy—to tease out these crucial threads. In other words, archaic reasoning leads to expensive, obtuse 30-second broadcast advertisements, despite the fact that TV viewership has been steadily declining for years.
So, to those making decisions around messaging for Kyrsten Sinema, Bill Nelson, Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill, Jared Polis, Beto O’Rourke, and the like: I implore you to watch a few of the advertisements—this one, or this one, or this one—that we’ve seen mobilize voters in unexpected ways. Imagine connecting with the country with something that feels like cinema. Imagine articulating the kind of emotion that makes viewers feel like they’ve known a candidate their entire lives. Imagine leveraging powerful anecdotes and real stories to invigorate campaign volunteers, to raise eyebrows, to show the public why your candidate deserves what you want from them the most: their vote.
Go ahead. Get to it. The stakes are too high for shitty content.