Columns, Opinion

RYAN: Hillary, it’s time to quit the Millennial Marketing

Six months ago, I was so #ReadyForHillary. We had all been waiting months (or years) for the Clinton 2016 campaign to begin. It felt like every news story on the former secretary of state mentioned her potential second run at the presidency. So when the moment finally came, it was everything we had been hoping for.

Then came the onslaught of Millennial Marketing. Clinton’s campaign set up shop in Brooklyn and got to work trying to connect to the voters that put Barack Obama in office. But there is a fatal flaw with this marketing plan. It’s not about clear and comprehensive plans to deal with student loans or climate change. Instead, it’s a campaign with very little substance and a lot of content designed to go viral.

It started with the “Everyday Pantsuit Tee,” which I actually liked at the time. It was young and poked fun at the staple in Clinton’s wardrobe. But then somewhere along the way, the Hillary Clinton online shop went a little too far. There is the “Chillary Clinton Koozie” and the “Grillary Clinton Apron.” The “Loud and Proud Tee,” in particular, drew sharp criticism from some due to the appropriation of “Yaaas,” a term that originated in the black drag community.

But it’s not just Clinton’s store that is trying too hard to appeal to millennial voters. In recent months, Clinton (or her social media team) has taken to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to reach those crucial younger voters. However, even these attempts have missed the mark.

When Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush started a Twitter fight in August, I could only watch in horror. Granted, Clinton and Bush probably had very little to do with this, but why would their publicists hit the OK button on this? Is this really the kind of press coverage they want?

To be fair, not all of this can be blamed on Clinton’s marketing team. In early August, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight found a “near perfect correlation” between a 2016 candidate’s media coverage and his/her polling numbers. Considering Donald Trump is leading in the Republican primary polls, it can’t really matter if this coverage is good or bad — it just matters that the media is talking about him.

Under this assumption, of course Clinton’s team is trying to keep her front and center. Her email controversy keeps popping up, so it makes sense that they’d want to distract the public from this blemish on her image. I just don’t think this superficial marketing is the way to do it.

Recreating Clinton’s brand is an impossibly difficult job. She’s already held so many roles in the public sphere: first lady, U.S. senator, secretary of state. It makes sense to try as many different messages as possible. In particular, this Millennial-messaging plan doesn’t seem to be harming her image. Most people I talk to about this aren’t even aware of it. Why do I care, then? The Millennial voting block is a powerhouse that Clinton needs to be tapping into, and there’s enough potential with that to secure her the White House. But this off-brand marketing is killing that for her.

Compare Clinton’s “many hats” approach to that of Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. As of Monday, The Huffington Post had Sanders in the lead in New Hampshire with 47 percent of the vote. How did this relatively unknown, progressive senator go from obscurity to viability in less than six months? Answer: A consistent message and grassroots support.

This is exactly what Clinton needs to do. It’s what Obama did in 2008. It’s what Sanders is doing right now. Clinton needs to elevate her policy and platform beyond superficial soundbites and edgy infographics. The message is getting lost among all the stunts and gimmicks. Above all else, we should know what she stands for because ultimately we’ll be voting for her values and her platform. Everything else is just supplementary.

I’m not saying Clinton should abandon social media or give up on a human voice behind her campaign. She and her communications team need to determine how to show this different side of her while also conveying a sense of realness. When I watch Hillary Whip and Nae Nae on The Ellen Show, she doesn’t seem genuine. The act is calculated and planned. I want human moments where I get to see the real Hillary Clinton, not the one the marketing team thinks I want to see.

I don’t need a president who understands Millennial slang. I don’t need a president who has a Snapchat and Instagrams pictures from the campaign trail. I need a president who reaches out with genuine messages about issues that matter to me. I think Clinton can be that president, but she just needs to focus more on substance and less on superficiality.

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