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Monday, October 4, 2010

Heidepriem Trailer: Another Example of Medium over Message

We have a governorship to win. I should not be writing movie reviews.

But the Scott Heidepriem campaign seems to think it's making movies. Whoever the magic marketers are behind the Democrat's gubernatorial campaign, they continue to put medium over message.

The latest misdirection: the campaign releases a trailer for Thursday's half-hour Heidepriem campaign commercial.

The first two lines are great. Heidepriem speaks of needing to leave no regrets. Republican Don Frankenfeld says we face a choice between "eight more years of complacency, or are we going to have decisive action." Ding! Pow! Nice one-two of the eager, earnest leader and the hard attack.

But then the trailer gets fuzzy. In an apparent effort to overdevelop the theme, the kids in marketing dilute a series of pretty good attacks and endorsements from other pols with a scattershot blast of disjointed personal comments from Heidepriem. His statements make little sense without context:
  • "It was a wild summer" with high soybean, corn, and cattle prices... but we don't hear which summer, or what that has to do with state ag or tax policy.
  • Heidepriem chokes up recalling a funeral... but we don't hear whose, or when.
  • "By the time we were a few songs into it, the crowd had evacuated..." from where? into what? Was the State Senate singing lieder in the middle of a bomb scare?
  • "She was a rock star, and I was a security detail..." Who was she? where? And what does this have to do with anything?
  • "...the balance that I thought was so important for South Dakota had vanished..." getting back on message, probably referencing the Legislature.
  • "You can see that arrow point up dramatically, then flatten for a generation..." and that arrow would be... what? the average income of South Dakotans that your economic development policies will rescue from stagnation? the amount of funding for education that you will increase? the percentage of healthy baby deliveries on the reservation?
Compare that mostly meaningless hodgepodge with the good lines Heidepriem's endorsers get:
  • Scott Abdallah (I think that's him) gives a good line about things not getting done because of too much partisan politics.
  • Ann Tornberg gets a decent line about education not getting another dollar until we get our priorities straight, although there's a pronoun without an antecedent that obscures the argument.
  • Russ Janklow offers a quote from his dad (that would be Governor, Congressman, Republican icon and ex-convict Bill Janklow) that could get huge mileage encapsulating the Rounds/Daugaard Administration's drifting, visionless governing through the economic downturn: "Anybody can be governor on a good day, but sometimes we don't have that many good days."
  • Frankenfeld comes back with the cookie jar line, which we know has to do with state government balancing the budget with stunts and stimulus money, not Bob Mercer in the press hospitality room.
  • Former Governor Harvey Wollman returns with the "put in a new team" line.
I can just imagine the brainstorming session with the filmmakers. They said they needed a theme. Someone said, "We need to show this campaign ad is different." Someone else said, "Let's show that it's personal as well as political." Another gal said, "And let's build excitement by leaving people asking questions!" Some dude with donut crumbs on his shirt says, "Yeah! Do a fast montage, strip the context, get people excited to watch the movie!" And the policy wonk with the 17-inch laptop in the corner considers mentioning the need to include some notes about the Heidepriem-Arndt plan to retool the state economic development loan fund, but decides to keep quiet, knowing how temperamental these artsy types are.

Now maybe the creators of this shiny little trailer will complain, "We're not making a campaign ad! We're making a movie trailer!"

No. Horsepuckey. This ain't cinema school. You are working for a candidate for governor. When you brush your teeth, it's a campaign ad. Every communication that comes out of your office must add value to the campaign by screaming "Vote for Heidepriem!" Every communication you issue should stand on its own as a campaign statement.

This trailer fails in that regard. In its Youtube version, it doesn't even sell the advertisement it advertises by telling us when to tune in. The trailer thus wastes viewers' time, and that's really, really bad marketing.

But far be it from me to complain without offering solutions. Here's how to turn this disjointed video into a butt-kicking campaign ad:
  1. Cut all the personal Scott moments.
  2. Move Heidepriem's line about the loss of balance to come right after Abdallah's.
  3. Keep that "arrow" quote, but tell us what the heck the arrow is!
  4. Insert captions for each endorser so every viewer knows exactly who these impressive people are.
  5. After Wollman's line, splice in a nice video of Heidepriem and Ben Arndt shaking hands before a cheering crowd.
  6. Then fade to Heidepriem and Arndt looking straight at the camera: "I'm Scott Heidepriem." "I'm Ben Arndt." "It's time for a new team. That's us."
  7. Over that last ten seconds, you display the campaign URL in very clear letters.
Scott, it's time to get the kids with the cameras back on message. We have 29 days until the election. There isn't time for anyone spending your money to say anything that doesn't end with the words, "Vote for Heidepriem!"


  1. Good analysis. Debate coach is coming out.

    But, might you be thinking too hard? Couldn't SH's campaign trying to tease people into watching? Thus, all the half-told stories.

    But, you make a good point. It should say when and where to watch to get the answers.

  2. I can hear that marketing discussion, too: "People don't want to watch 30 minutes of politics, so let's make it feel like something else." I'm probably too idealistic to accept the practical reality of marketing a candidate. But if I'm running a campaign, every communication, every squeak one of my team makes says, "Vote for our guy!" I'm uneasy with a public ad like this that leaves non-political-junkie viewers wondering, "Who was that, and what the heck was he talking about?" even if my marketing tells me it's got tease factor. Can candidates afford to tease 29 days from election?

  3. Troy, Cory. We are NOT the intended audience. Not even close. At this point it would be ridiculous to spend even one dime trying to talk to any of the three of us. Jarding knows this of course. You guys do too. Maybe you just forgot?

  4. Bill, are you seriously suggesting that the world does not revolve around the smartest blog readers in South Dakota?


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