Dear Democrats, Please Don’t Be Eli

I recently rewatched the film There Will Be Blood starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a focused and ruthless oil man. At the end of the film, there’s a scene that’s hard to watch, but it’s worth paying attention to.

The Eli character is an ego-fueled preacher on hard times. He wants money from his former benefactor. But the benefactor has always despised the preacher’s weakness, pious blather, and his failure to face the facts of his own life. Eli refuses to see how the ground under his feet has been eroded by “the long straws” of those more eager and willing to do what it takes to win, and this flaw is his ultimate undoing.

Right now, Democrats are desperate, like Eli. Yet too many Dems want to think of themselves as better people than their Republican counterparts. They want to play fair, all the while fooling themselves that you can enter or survive a knife fight this way.

When Democrats fundamentally misread the threat, their failure puts us all in harm’s way. Why is this? No one wants to sound alarmist or crazy. It might hurt their professional reputations, or make someone they care about angry.

When Will Candidates Recognize That They’re Also A Brand?

It’s imperative to boil down a candidate’s message to one thought. Few politicians manage to do this well. One exception was President Johnson in 1964. With the help of Doyle Dane & Benrbach—the best ad agency in the country at that time—Johnson’s team was able to portray Goldwater as lethal.

When we consider Trump today, we can choose from dangerous, ill-informed, criminal, unAmerican, sexist, racist, and so on. The trick for the Dems is to choose the right pain point—the one American voters care most about—and deliver ads that relentlessly exploit his, and the GOP’s weaknesses.

Like A Winning Company, Design Your Path To Victory

I hope that candidates from coast-to-coast are studying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s historic win in New York and asking themselves what they might learn. There are quite a few political lessons to focus on, but there’s also a communications lesson.

For starters, take a look at the sea of political signs at a polling station or in a supporter’s yard. The visual identity and approach to copy from most candidates and ballot initiatives are stale. It’s a sea of red-white-and-blue with bold lettering. A brand that stands out must veer from this framework. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign materials are mostly purple and look nothing like what we’ve come to expect. Her showcase video also is a moving story that helps voters in her district relate to her. Most voters can’t see themselves as a candidate for Congress. Ocasio-Cortez just changed that score for good.

Make Likeability Your “X” Factor

There are thousands of candidates running for office in 2018. Only a fraction will find their voice and be unafraid and vulnerable in public. Even fewer will properly invest in their own brand identity so it pays off at the ballot box, even though elevating brand standards in political campaigns is a clear way to raise the overall discourse and help attract interest from sideline sitters.

Again, we have an opportunity to learn from Republicans. In Austin, Texas, Gerald Daugherty, a Travis County Commissioner used humor to his advantage and was re-elected.

For an audience that is used to watching King of the Hill reruns, a candidate’s talking points ought to be more like punchlines. I know our current predicament as a nation is not funny. I’m saying that fighting corruption can be. Instead of debating the points, point by point, we can find a way to make light of it, while pointing out the much better alternatives that exist in every district across our beautiful land.

What Bonehook Is Doing To Help Progressives Win

We have four months to wake people up. I know there are thousands of people like me in the ad business who want to help, and who are uniquely prepared to help. Let’s do this right and uplift the long-shots and outsiders with laser-focused messaging and brilliant design.

If you’re a staffer on a campaign and you’ve read this far, thank you. Please reach out to me ask for our support today. I started my communications career on Capitol Hill in D.C. 31 years ago. I know how to help raise money and attract voter attention for your campaign.

Bonehook will rock your campaign materials, and give you a fighting chance to win. I do realize that we’re not the same old or expected choice. Either was DDB in ’64, and either are you!

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