Video is king: How Texas Dems are using documentary- style videos effectively

After decades of nothing but formulaic 30-second TV ads using scary music and ominous narrators, there’s a growing premium on creativity in political campaign ads.

Look just this week at the Texas congressional candidate, Candace Valenzuela, who released an arresting ad on Twitter talking about how she experienced child homelessness after her mother fled from an abuser.

Julie Oliver, a 2018 congressional candidate in Texas, went deeply personal about being a single, homeless mom at an early age. And during the same year, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar released “Doors,” the multi-camera angle spot that made national headlines well outside of the Central Texas congressional seat she was running for.

Why are they effective?

Documentary-style political videos are effective when they leave an impression — a feeling, really — on viewers. “Good” means visually and emotionally compelling, memorable, and authentic. Telling a story is the most powerful way to communicate in human history — and leave the facts and stats on the cutting room floor.

Rick Fromberg, a partner with Win Company, a media strategy firm that produced some of the earliest ads in this style, like Randy “IronStache” Bryce, which went viral, talked to The Texas Signal about how the latest trend in political ads was born.

“We started by meshing more consumer advertising and creative filming with political strategy,” Fromberg said.

The key to success was abandoning tropes that have dominated political ads for decades— think of a short, rapid-fire television ads that sling a little mud here and then talk blue versus red— in favor of an approach that reveals who candidates really are.

“What has been most effective are the ads that tell a story in a compelling way that aren’t hyper-political,” Fromberg said. If they’re too divisive, he said, voters get turned off.

The medium of video

There are practical reasons for Texas candidates to invest in digital videos instead of, or in addition to, traditional TV advertising. The cost of the former is substantially less, a dollars-and-sense reality that takes on greater importance in a state as big as Texas and one that has two of the most expensive media markets – Dallas and Houston – in the country.

The visual is also a more effective way to communicate with an audience. We are visual beings above all else, with images more memorable than text. There’s a reason YouTube sees 1 billion unique visitors a month and why Facebook and Twitter posts perform better with pictures or video.

So which party is using the docu-video storytelling approach?

“I don’t think Republicans are really trying to do these videos in any cohesive way,” said Fromberg. “At least since Carly Fiorina’s Demon Sheep ad!”

When it come to positive spots, Democrats, so far, excel, but it’s probably too early to know with certainty. What’s more certain is that Republicans – and the Russians – strategically manipulate and spread negative digital content on Democrats – the most recent example being the doctored video of Nancy Pelosi who was made to sound drunk.

The 2020 election is the latest backdrop to see which party is the better gladiator on the information battlefield. Let the games begin.

Image: Improve Digital

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