Getting Started and Everyday Americans

Here I detail the strategy behind the Hillary Clinton campaign’s decision to release its first ad, Getting Started, as the formal announcement for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run. This ad explains how Hillary Clinton’s campaign wants to reach out to average Americans. Clinton states that: “Every day Americans need a champion, and I want to be your champion”. The ad features various demographic segments of the country such as Latinos, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, LGBT people, working class families, and so on. The two main problems with the ad in terms of messaging are: 1.) that while Hillary criticizes elite, wealthy Americans benefiting unprecedentedly from the economic structure, she is herself a member of the same stratum; and 2.) that she should no longer portray herself as “First Mama.” America needs a leader to meet the most challenging issues which will face it in in the coming years, the economy and terrorism.

Hillary Clinton announced her final decision to run for the presidency in 2016 by way of an ad intended to be a road map for her campaign. As a well-known politician she started her campaign as the Democratic Party’s unquestioned front runner, her eyes already on the general election. The issues that matter to the American people are featured prominently: a work ethic central to American culture, economic recovery that matters to many average Americans, hope for a safe future of special value to seniors, young parents, and job seekers. Moreover, the concerns of the LGBT minority are addressed with the image of two men, hand in hand, wanting to get married. Using African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos – key demographics for the Democratic base – is another of the ad’s virtues. To court Latinos, the ad even features some lines in Spanish.

This ad makes great use of media capacities. People were actively interested in her final decision as to whether or not to run; this video, published by way of Clinton’s Twitter account, had almost 4 million followers at the time of its release. Moreover, 5 million viewers watched the ad on her YouTube channel and it earned widespread attention across public and cable television.

Although this ad is well-tailored to connect with the right audience by means of a broad channel, it has two main problems. The messenger is first. The “Big Mama” image of Clinton is next. Hillary is not a good messenger. At a time when the American people are very angry about their current situation, she is a candidate from the past. That’s why her rivals – including the most important one, Marco Rubio – repeatedly say such things. In this ad, she tries to identify herself as a champion for the future, who cares about the average citizen struggling with economic problems. She blames wealthy Americans, characterizing them as out-of-touch elites and assuring the audience that she is fighting against them on behalf of the average citizen. The problem is that she herself has elite roots and is part of the top-earning stratum. The rise of Bernie Sanders among the most liberal part of the Democratic Party and the youth demographic, proves that she’s failed to convince this chunk of the base.

The second characteristic deliberately illustrated in this ad was Clinton’s image as “First Mama.” The term has been previously used by Mark Penn, Chief Hillary strategist for her 2008 bid. He argued at the time that Americans don’t want a first mama figure as president. They need a father, and are “open to the first father being a woman” (link). According to the ad, Hillary’s campaign for her second bid in 2016 tried to distance her from her 2008 efforts. Now, she is a grandma who cares greatly about grandchildren. The strategy might have worked had the U.S. not been shaken by the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks. After these terrorist attacks, terrorism rose in prominence to be one of the two main issues of concern to the American people, neck and neck with economy. Now, the American people want a strong leader who has a proven record worthy of their trust as Commander-in-Chief. Hillary definitely will be that person, as she is more qualified than any of her contenders. In this ad we do not see featured such a strong, anti-terror leader.

To deal with these two issue, she should not deny her origins as an elite American in the way that she did 16 months ago by claiming that she and her husband were once dead broke after leaving the White House. That claim was incredible and insulting to many working Americans. It might be true, but as Frunk Luntz precisely explained in his book (Words that Work), what matters is not what a figure like Clinton says, but rather what people hear or tend to hear or believe.

Instead of denying her wealth she can tell her story as an average American citizen who worked hard and earned material success and who now wants all Americans to enjoy wealth as well. This has been Trump’s strategy, and I think it works well for wealthy candidates. To do so, she of course should double down on anti-Wall Street posturing by reminding the American people that many of the negative ads against her have been funded by donors in the finance world.

Secondly: the era of being “First Mama”, or for 2016 a “First Grandma,” is over. America needs a strong leader who can demonstrate experience at a moment when so much is at stake. That leader is Hilary Clinton, not another candidate. The message of a strong leader would also be in line with someone who wants to unite the country. In this ad she tried to portray herself as a unifier. She could release a new version of this ad, emphasizing additional characteristic necessary for her election bid and reminding people almost a year after her bid announcement that she is still the most qualified contender to sit in the Oval Office.

By solving the messenger’s problem and updating the content of the message in collaboration with the context and communication environment, she will transmit a message far beyond her base and even some moderate Republicans will consider her for the next president of the United States.


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