Appearing likeable, relatable, modern, and trustworthy is harder than it seems.

Political image is pivotal in today’s politics. But how should a politician address this issue to give them the best chance of winning?

Yes, politicians could release detailed manifestos outlining their key intentions and motives. Or they could rely on word-of-mouth recommendation. However, this will not connect with voters on an emotional level. On the other hand, speaking with voters face-to-face at events, conventions or speeches, while effective, is of course restricted heavily by time and geography.

Issues such as the above can be addressed in several ways, but there is one method that stands far above the rest when it comes to connecting with the general public on an emotional level: video.

Video – A New Approach to Politics

It was Kennedy and Nixon’s televised debate of 1960 when US politics bore witness to the power of video. Both parties held their own in terms of the debate, but it was Kennedy who appeared more comfortable and charming than his opponent in front of camera.

Kennedy / Nixon Debate
Note Nixon’s pale appearance and how he’s wiping away sweat

Kennedy’s onscreen appearance led to a surge in popularity and is said to have played a large role in his subsequent election win. The format of video suddenly enabled the public to make judgements on personality and charm. They could now scrutinise how ‘at ease’ candidates were, how they spoke and carried themselves, all in a way that was unrivalled from before, and this arguably changed the course of modern politics.

One of the first instances showing the power of a political video advert, however, came four years later. Lyndon B. Johnson’s infamous ‘Daisy’ ad of the 1964 US presidential campaign aired only once, and is still considered one of the most controversial political ads ever shown on TV.

Many historians believe it to have been a major factor in Johnson’s landslide victory over his opponent Barry Goldwater a few months later. The power and effectiveness of the ad comes from the emotional connection the medium of video forges with the audience – so much so that it is frequently accused of winning votes by striking fear into voters.

In more recent times, political ads have become a staple part of a campaign journey. From Barack Obama’s ‘The Choice’ (2012 – currently over 3.2 million views on YouTube), to Tony Blair’s ‘Do It’ (1997, and featuring D:Ream’s 90s gem, Things Can Only Get Better), the campaign ad is an essential feature of setting the tone of the campaign and inspiring the public (well, hopefully).

What makes a good political ad?

In general, there are certain key points that can be thought of as best practice for a political ad.

  • One message per video – rather than clutter the video with too many ideas and beliefs
  • Set a mood – convey the right tone and appeal to the right audiences
  • Inspire action – perhaps a CTA with a link to a landing page

(This being said, candidates are often guilty of falling into the trap of creating a formulaic advert. Check out Dissolve’s ‘This is a Generic Presidential Campaign Ad’.)

Video as Proof of Modernity

Politicians often try and prove their modernity and stand out from their opponents through the use of video – be it with campaign ads, backstage videos or explainer videos/animations (similar to ‘Hygiene’ content). Even live video is creeping into campaigns – either in the more formal setting of a live TV debate or in an informal ‘guerrilla’ style that makes them seem more personable (series 4 of the US House of Cards proves the show again to be a timely piece of television). The CEO of Periscope, a live video streaming app, had this to say:

‘Historically, we’ve all interacted with political candidates in a very similar way. We see them on TV, we read about them in the papers, we get these very crafted experiences that have been used for decades.

‘What’s unique [about live video] is that you can engage with these folks in some real way on the car ride to their next event, or behind the scenes at their office as their staff are furiously preparing for the next debate.’

Kayvon Beykpour, CEO of Periscope

Conway live video
Will Conway, as played by Joel Kinnaman in House of Cards extensively uses live video to earn voters’ trust

Marketing Crossover

It is hard to ignore the similarities between the political video best practices and the advice given to brands producing ads. Video marketing has multiple transferable qualities with political video collateral.

Once we see politicians as a cleverly and carefully sculpted ‘brand’ of sorts, it is easier to notice certain marketing methods. Essentially, when it comes to video, politicians strive to employ the same techniques as well-established and successful brands.

Using video to appear more human and relatable, releasing large-scale ‘hero’ ads to raise brand awareness, consistently outputting ‘hygiene’ content aimed at their target market, maintaining their online presence with regular pushing out of content and more, are all in line with companies who have effective video marketing strategies.

One thing’s for sure: politicians are a brand, and as a brand they have got to use video as a promotion tool if they are to stand any chance of success in today’s online society.