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Why Biden's MTG Ad is So Damn Effective
The Biden campaign's latest video is a master class in digital communications because it combines virality with a message.
Joe Biden has been having fun at Marjorie Taylor Greene’s expense recently. The President loves using the extreme, conspiracy theorist congresswoman from Georgia as the avatar for the MAGA extremism dominating the Republican Party. As Mike Memoli recently wrote for NBC News:
Over the last five months, Biden has referenced Greene either directly by name or often simply as the “gentlelady from Georgia” about a dozen times in public remarks, including a cutting joke at the White House Correspondents Dinner in April. ("If you find yourself disoriented or confused, it’s either you’re drunk or Marjorie Taylor Greene,” Biden jabbed.)
Earlier this week, President Biden tweeted out this video of Greene making an impressively persuasive case for Bidenomics:
To say people went bananas for this video would be a huge understatement. It had 10 million views across all platforms within three hours. That number was over 50 million by Thursday. Marjorie Taylor Greene stumbling into a campaign ad for Biden is just too much fun.
It’s embarrassing for Greene and highlights her willfully ignorant approach to public life. The video is also a testament to the talented folks doing digital rapid response for Biden and the Democratic National Committee. Strategically, this video bodes well for Team Biden as they prepare for a long and brutal campaign.
I love dunking on MTG, but I am in love with this video for another reason — it is the archetype of what political communicators should aim for.
The Communications Conundrum
Here’s how things tend to work on a campaign. The consultants and strategists commission polls and focus groups to get a sense of the electorate and test various messages. They then go to the communications team and say something like, “According to our research, voters love it when we talk about ‘growing the middle class.’ Let’s do some middle-class press events. And oh yeah, tell the digital team that we need some middle-class content.”
The second the consultants leave the meeting, the comms people start banging their heads against the nearest hard surface. The press doesn’t want to cover an event on “growing the middle class.” Social posts about the economy get very little engagement.
Therein lies the inherent tension in political communications — the topics you want to talk about are rarely the topics that travel well in a media environment powered by conflict, controversy, and clickbait. Getting attention is hard. Getting attention for the right issues can feel impossible.
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As a communicator, the choice is between optimizing for the message that helps the campaign or optimizing for virality. In the last few election cycles, many campaigns chose the latter.
I am sympathetic to why people make this choice. The communications team gets judged by the quantity of coverage of various events and speeches. The digital team is judged by the amount of engagement with the campaign’s social posts. No one wants to get up every day to do the PR version of a tree falling in the woods.
Back in 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign quote-tweeted a stupid Donald Trump post with “Delete your account.”
It was the first time Clinton engaged with Trump on his chosen medium of Twitter; and people loved it. The tweet was instantly a viral sensation and became one of the most engaged-with Tweets at the time. But to what end? It didn’t advance a strategic goal or communicate a persuasive message. It went viral for the sake of virality. This is not a critique of the Clinton tweet. It was a totally fine and fun thing to do. No harm, no foul.
Now compare it to the Biden/MTG video.
Informing the voters about his economic achievements is one of President Biden’s most important strategic objectives; and one of his biggest challenges. The press doesn’t want to cover the past. Stories about the economy do not drive web traffic. The many events the White House and other Democrats have done (touting the CHIPS Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law) don’t lead the news or drive conversation online. The video with Marjorie Taylor Greene is the platonic ideal of a piece of political content. It is viral AND communicates a persuasive message at scale.
There is, of course, an element of lightning in a bottle with this video. It is impossible to do something like this all the time. However, Team Biden’s video is still worth studying because it exemplifies success for every person who works in communications.