Why the Political Parties Need Branded Content, Not More Convention Schlock

The two major political conventions, like never before, are getting hammered for being irrelevant.  Some argue that the conventions have changed, becoming more scripted, more fake, and with all the surprise of the pre-flight instructions from a jetliner’s crew. (In the unlikely event of a water landing…)

But I really don’t think the conventions have changed much at all. For as long as I can remember, they’ve been scripted, fake and familiar.

It’s us who have changed. Reality shows, DVRs, Yelp, digital media and social networks have helped fuel a flight to authenticity and credibility. We unmask fake. We skip past commercials. We crave sources we can trust. We’re already seeing evidence of audiences abandoning TV coverage of conventions and looking instead at social networking sites.

CurrentTV has been scrolling Twitter feeds alongside the live video from the Republican Convention floor, and it’s a comically dissonant experience. Most of the tweets rake the convention proceedings over the coals.

The conventions play like one long infomercial. They are marketing material. True believers nod their heads while the bulk of Americans roll their eyes.

What might the parties do differently? One suggestion: produce credible, great branded content.

But this could be difficult territory, because creating great content that wins people’s trust means taking the chance of going off script — of showing the bad so that we believe the good. But the reward is that if a party produces a terrific web video or a gripping Kindle Single, the public will devour it and post it on Facebook and Tweet about it and believe it.

I’ll throw out some content ideas. (I’m sure someone who knows politics could do better…)


— How about if the Democrats fund a real West Wing — essentially a White House version of HBO’s behind-the-scenes docu-shows that have turned cameras on NFL and NHL teams? Let’s see how Obama works and how the White House functions. Let’s see him arrive at a decision, or blow up and bitch someone out. It would help me decide whether I want such a man running my country.

—  The Republicans want us to believe that cutting taxes is the key to reviving the economy. So, have the party sponsor an eminent historian to write a short e-book — untainted by Republican editing — on the history of cutting taxes around the world and its effect, drawing conclusions about what might or might not work today. Implicit in just publishing such a book is that cutting taxes has over and over proven to be the right idea — because if that’s not true, then why the heck are the Republicans espousing that doctrine?

—  It’s hard to get the nation to fix Medicare without understanding it. Either party could fund a Ted Talk-like video by someone such as Freakonomics author Steven Levitt explaining how Medicare became what it is, the role that skewed economic motivation has played in creating a monster, and what kinds of changes might alter that motivation and lessen the burden on the U.S. budget.

I’m not saying the conventions should be tossed aside. The parties just need to recognize them for what they look like to most Americans: marketing schlock. It’s time to try something else.

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