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Op-ed: Dear Hillary campaign, It’s authenticity, Stupid!

By James Cannon Boyce 12 October 2015

American voters want and crave authenticity. In the days of social media and outside-in branding, we are more than capable of creating and defining the Hillary Clinton brand on our own. No television commercial is going to convince voters that Hillary is a friendly grandmother who bakes cookies, loves puppies and has a meatloaf recipe that will knock your socks off. By JAMES CANNON BOYCE.

James Cannon Boyce is a two time US Presidential Campaign Senior Advisor, MSNBC Democratic Strategist and top Huffington Post Blogger. James has recently opened on office of Common Sense in Cape Town. James is also the author of the soon-to-be-published book, “Floating” about his father’s life and death in Burma.

Hillary Clinton. She’s campaigning like it’s 2004 all over again.

Bear with me a moment. I’ll start with the product of Hillary Clinton ?— ?who she actually is and what she stands for.

This is partially a factual review and is also partially from personal experience. There are no pictures in this article, apart from the main one. The problem is that no matter what picture I decided to use, either fans and supporters of Hillary’s would scream and complain that the one I used wasn’t flattering enough, or critics of Hillary’s would scream and complain that the picture was too flattering.

This is an equal criticism of both parties I might add. Supporters of any candidate, male or female, can not reasonably expect the media to only use flattering pictures of their beloved leader. Supporters of opposing candidates should worry more about other things.

So who is Hillary Clinton? Well, her many supporters claim she is the best known female politician in America ?—? and that is probably true although I couldn’t find the survey or facts that actually support that claim. If I could have, I would have linked to it. However, I don’t need a survey done for me to believe that that’s probably true. She’s been prominently in the national public eye for close to 25 years.

Before I go on.

I should mention that I am Hillary neutral ?—? I am neither a Kool Aid drinking supporter nor am I a basher. I have met and spent time with Hillary probably a dozen or more so times in the last decade through my involvement in politics, so I am more than comfortable stating impartially that:

Hillary is without a doubt very smart, diligent and focused on serving her country.

Hillary graduated from both Wellesley and Yale University where she earned her Juris Doctor degree. She was the first student commencement speaker at Wellesley and used her law degree from Yale to become the first female partner at the law firm where she worked in Little Rock. She was also named one of the top 100 lawyers in America while working in Arkansas in the late 1970s, which is quite an achievement if you think about biases at the time against both female lawyers specifically and lawyers from Arkansas in general.

Hillary was, in terms of the broader public eye, a most engaged and active first lady? — ?too much so for some tastes which I do understand and she attempted to tackle the same healthcare issues that continue to dog our country in 1993. She was subject to the same attacks that President Barack Obama suffered when he created the Affordable Care Act. After her time in the White House, Hillary was, of course, a strong senator from New York State and I think a solid secretary of state.

Hillary has served our country and is more than qualified to be president. As a candidate, she has a proven track record of being right on the major issues that American voters, especially progressives, care about ?—? from women’s rights to guns to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. None of that matters really, much to the chagrin of the campaign and the people around her who literally spend days pushing her positions on social media? — ?not realising that is not why the campaign has floundered, and will continue to do so.

Because here’s what Hillary is not.

With close personal friends, Hillary is said to be funny and warm.

Her public persona and what I have seen of her is that she absolutely is polite, and can be warm at times, but her experiences in the public eye perhaps have made her a bit distant and not quite aloof, but most definitely heading that way.

This is fine ?—? not everyone can be, say, Bill Clinton and have the magic touch with everyone they meet, but Hillary most certainly is not your standard “pose with the baby” politician. She is not extremely warm and friendly ?— ?and my proof to you is that if she was, her reputation after 25 years would be that she is.

She’s not.

She is not the type to willingly show up on Saturday Night Live (SNL) or do things like that because if she was there would be a 25-year archive of those events.

Which is where we run into our first problem with Hillary’s campaign.

I have many good friends whom I respect and like who are supporting Hillary. I can hear the e-mails being typed already. “Did you see her with the baby in Iowa, James? What about Hillary with the little girl at the parade in New Hampshire? She is friendly?—?she is likeable.”

Well, no, she’s not really that kind of candidate and that is fine.

Margaret Thatcher wasn’t either. Angela Merkel does not look like someone I want to have a beer with even though she is German, and, well, they have great beer.

Did you see her on Saturday Night Live? She was amazing!” I hear the screams.

My Clinton friends are now catatonic that I don’t see her as they do. I saw her on SNL? — ?I will quote someone who has known her for 20-plus years and really does love her.

I thought she was okay.”

Hillary was reading the cue cards poorly at the beginning and, overall, she wasn’t amazing. It was also so clearly and overtly a hack public relations move that it lost any sense of being real.

And real is what the world is about these days. We don’t see brands through the eyes of the brand and through television commercials ?— ?we see them through our eyes and make our own decisions about what we think of them. (I have to note that I have learned a lot on this concept from my friend and business colleague Pat Hanlon.)

American voters want and crave authenticity. In the days of social media and outside-in branding, we are more than capable of creating and defining the Hillary brand on our own. No television commercial is going to convince voters that Hillary is a friendly grandmother who bakes cookies, loves puppies and has a meatloaf recipe that will knock your socks off.

The campaign’s focus on trying such saccharine, crappy moves has three results.

  1. Millions of Americans nod their heads in wonder and ask themselves “what is she doing?”.
  2. The campaign’s consultants with television contracts high five each other in the hallways and yell “ka-ching.” Wouldn’t you like to make $40,000 (8% of $500,000) a week by e-mailing a media order to five New Hampshire and Iowa television stations?
  3. She will lose.
  4. She will lose because they are trying to make her something that she is not.

She will become increasingly uncomfortable publicly. The campaign officials are — ?in broad terms ?— ?spending all their time and money trying to make a highly-accomplished dedicated and decorated woman into Betty Crocker.

Why would they do that? It’s simple. They think what worked in the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s to a degree will work now. They gaze adoringly back to the day when Ronald Reagan was turned into the great American cowboy leader instead of the union president he actually was. They are certain that if they raise more money and just bombard everyone with television, taking their 8% of course, they will make something that isn’t true, true.

I have some experience with this.

I am a John Kerry fan and friend of his though I haven’t seen as much of him since he has been secretary of state. He’s been busy.

John shares some characteristics with Hillary in that he is actually much warmer and friendlier in person, though he too will never be confused with being a back-slapping politician. He is a decorated war hero, bilingual (his French is perfect), in amazing shape for his age, was a great athlete at St Paul’s and Yale and while many of his colleagues went to Wall Street, John went to Vietnam and has literally been in public service his whole life.

John would have been a very good president, but he never got the chance for a few reasons. One that sticks out 10 years later is that the campaign never took his strengths and built them higher.

They took his weaknesses and tried to make them strengths.

Everyone has their strengths. You. Me. Everyone. Everyone has their weaknesses ?—? mine is spreadsheets, I can read them and I have spent my career online and often have to look at them? — ?but I have never created an Excel spreadsheet in my life.

If I was running for president, some Democratic consultant would do a poll ($50,000 a pop) and tell the campaign that the American people want a president who can do Excel spreadsheets / drink a beer with / talk healthcare / kiss babies.

Next thing you know there would be a television commercial with me talking about Excel spreadsheets, a subject I know nothing about? — ?I have a friend and business colleague, Andrew Daley, we’d have to bring him in because he is amazing at them (but he is thinking right now as he smiles, yeah but look at this blog post, James, I could never write that).

There would be a cringe-worthy moment as I did a press op with other fellow Excel spreadsheet lovers who clearly know I am not one of them, as everyone watching thinks, ‘huh, he looks uncomfortable, and kind of aloof and standoffish” which is EXACTLY how virtually everyone acts when they are trying to be what they are not or to do something they don’t know how to do.

Would you like to be on national television talking about what you don’t truly care about (see any archived John Kerry healthcare speech) or being what you are not (see any archived Al Gore man-of-the-people photo shoot.)

It’s worse now that it was for Al Gore and John Kerry and that is because now brands have virtually no ability to push what they want about their brands from inside out anymore.

Outside in is how brands are created?—?JetBlue’s brand is created by the people who fly it, Tweet about it, Instagram it, by the barrage of news on the stock price and release that we all see? — ?and not the television commercials they run? — ?those commercials are just drops in an ocean of branding messages we get and who watches television like that anymore?

Seven-figure marketing geniuses and consultants with contracts with campaigns like to still believe and really want their bosses to believe that a nice “at Ford quality is job one” commercial can convince people to buy Fords when the average American knew at the time a more accurate slogan was “Ford. Fix Or Repair Daily”.

Fords are better now than then and I know that because of what I see and read and what the people around me tell me.

Washington lags the rest of the world in its understanding of communication and branding ?—? this is why politicians still use direct mail ?— ?it’s like your grandmother is in charge of the advertising budget. Bill Clinton, as you may recall, showed the world how Washington thinks it can still operate as it did the last time Hillary ran when he claimed that something to the effect of “I’ve always opposed the war in Iraq” except he didn’t.

Dick Cheney claimed in 2004 that he had never met John Edwards when, of course, he had.

Hillary won’t win I fear because her campaign will continue to try to make her something she is not and will continue to blame everyone else who doesn’t understand that she really is something she isn’t.

The American people know better.

It’s why they like Donald Trump? — ?they know he is a windbag who says stupid stuff but he’s not an idiot and he’s made money. It’s not that they don’t know who is, they get he is who is ?— ?much like they got who George W Bush was. I knew George W personally well for years in Dallas. He is friendly, fun, I used to jog with him and he’s great to hang out with? — ?that’s the president we got. When he was elected governor the first time, I drove over to see him. He was hitting tennis balls to his dog down the street. I got out of the car:

Hey you’re governor now. Congrats.” He paused.

How are your Blue Devils going to be this year?” And we talked hoops.

Bernie Sanders might win as long as his campaign doesn’t try to convince him he needs to wear a suit and stop being the Socialist Jew he is.

Ben Carson has a chance for the same reason. Ted Cruz, no chance because at some point, it’s going to be an issue that he went to Princeton and Harvard? — ?what was he doing? Scouting the enemy?

One more point about Hillary? — ?there is nothing worse than having a bunch of insiders reinforce the primary negative narrative about the candidate by saying: She’s not really like that.

If she’s not like that why is she acting like that? And if in private she is someone else ?— why does she do that?

I believe our country desperately needs the White House to stay in Democratic hands? — ?if you saw the Republican debate, you might agree. If Hillary is the nominee, I hold the baby and hand it to her to kiss.

Speaking of babies, the best example we will see this year of perfectly authentic branding is Pope Francis? — ?do you have any doubt in your mind that he drives around Rome in a Fiat? Well don’t ?—? because he does. The baby dressed up like him that he kissed on the street? That’s who he is.

I don’t need “Vatican insiders” telling me the pope is down-to-earth, honest and humble? — ?I see that he is ?—? I believe him and I get him. Now, don’t forget, some people are horrified at his shoes, his stance on immigration, and much more, and they can disagree with him? — ?but they too have no doubt at all about who he is and what he stands for.

If you think my theory on Hillary is stupid and she needs to run more TV commercials, I put to you: Isn’t it amazing that we all know who Pope Francis is and what he stands for and yet, the Vatican hasn’t run a single television spot about him? I don’t have any direct-mail piece telling me “Pope Francis. For The Poor Among Us.” How is that possible, oh crappy Washington consultants? Weird huh?

And it’s not the media either though the Clintons do have a fundamental media management problem that makes the issues far worse.

The issue is how the campaign is presenting the candidate. Which is why SNL was so painful?—?the campaign spent all week leaking how they were going to make her more approachable and then oh so not smoothly, here she is? —? approachable.

Awful.

The Democrat who best benefits from the new world of outside-in branding is Joe Biden. Vice-President Joe Biden I should say, but when I look at him, I think of him stretching out his hand, smiling and saying, “Hi, I’m Joe Biden.”

Which is exactly what he does. I don’t know him well but I’ve met him a few times.

Biden is a great guy. He loved his son Beau dearly and with most politicians, the whole “I can’t decide if I want to run” bullshit would be an excuse to secretly build the war chest and enjoy hundreds of folks kissing your ass telling you to run. With him, it’s the truth. (I think he runs by the way ?—? my two cents.)

In the press, the story is “he doesn’t know if he has the strength to do it ?—? he is still recovering from his son’s death? —? he wants to make sure he can be all in.”

Biden appeared with Steven Colbert and said the “same thing”.

A friend of mine chatted with Biden recently. And it’s the “same thing”. That’s who Joe Biden is. He’s a decent man who lost his son and who looks in the mirror and doesn’t know if he has the strength to run for the White House and doesn’t know when he might find it.

If he runs, he will say some silly things and he will make some mistakes. He will cry more than once and beam with joy talking about his family. (I’ve been known to cry in the produce aisle? —? I’m with the VP on that one.)

As long as no consultant tries to change that about him, or get him to talk about crap he doesn’t know or care about or send him out armed with an Excel spreadsheet (it’s just a guess, he could be great at Excel for all I know)? — ?then he will be fine.

Hillary’s team will scream at the injustice of it all. They will claim it’s because she’s a woman (it’s not) they will claim the American people don’t understand (they do) and they will, I am certain, bring out a story about how Hillary was devastated by her father’s death (she may well have been but kept it to herself.)

My prediction is that if Biden gets in, a television commercial with Hillary with tears in her eyes runs within days.

And all the kings horses and all the kings men and 1,000 points a week in television commercials won’t help her then. DM

Photo: US Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, addresses the media following a town hall meeting in Exeter, New Hampshire, USA, 10 August 2015. EPA/CJ GUNTHER

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