GOP ads targeting millennials are the right step, but on the wrong foot.
The GOP recently released a series of ads targeted at millennial voters, that is, those voters born after 1980, who are between 18 and 33 years old. The ads were cringe-worthy, and panned across the political spectrum, not because they were conservative, but because they only called attention to the fact that the Grand Old Party came across more “old” than “grand.”
Because it is so important that Republicans reach out to this large bloc of voters, especially since they tend to be unaffiliated, and increasingly dissatisfied with President Obama’s performance, I’ve compiled this list of five things the party would do well to learn about them before creating more ads. I’ve also included helpful tips, in my opinion, to help make better ads in the future.
#1 – Ugly eyewear doesn’t make you “cool”
Nor does it make you hip, intelligent, or relatable. The same goes for facial hair, plaid, or gratuitously dropping the words “like” and “apps” into sentences. Yes, I know the Democrats had ‘pajama boy’, but who said that was a good idea either?
Instead … Let the actors wear their own clothes, don’t stage manage their appearance. If they are from this age group, just let them wear what they would ordinarily wear on any given day. At least they’ll look comfortable, not stiff or like they’re being paid to look like what Republicans imagine they should look like. All that does is make the GOP look more out of touch, not less.
#2 – Millennials aren’t Republicans
A series of ads featuring young Americans telling us why they are Republican is particularly strange in light of the fact that very few millennials are affiliated with any party, and most who do vote, tend to vote for Democrats. As Pew Research found, “Not only do half of all Millennials choose not to identify with either political party, just 31% say there is a great deal of difference between the Republican and Democratic parties.”
Therefore, casting actors speaking in GOP platform sound bites, while claiming to be strongly affiliated with the party, makes these people seem out of touch with their peers.
Instead … As with the clothing, if ads feature young voters, let them speak for themselves, about what matters to them. If the goal is to select those who agree with Republican policy positions, find young people who really do, and let them explain why in their own words. Better still, just find real millennials who are unaffiliated and ask them questions we already know they’ll answer in ways unflattering to Democrats. Ask them how hard it was to find a job, or if they’ve been laid off in the past 5 years?
Ask them if they have lots of student loan debt, and if it changes how they make decisions about their lives? Ask them if they’ve had to move back home, or if they can afford to have a car, never mind gas it up? Ask them if they’ve signed up for Obamacare, and if not, why not?
Then summarize their answers with a final question: “Is this what you voted for?”
#3 – Talking to no one is just weird
Who are they talking to off camera? Some random stranger who’s just dying to know why they’re Republican? When does that ever happen? When’s the last time you stopped in the middle of a run to explain to anyone – even someone you know well – why you vote the way you do? Never. That doesn’t happen in real life, and if it did, you’d think it extremely weird, so on screen, the weirdness is amplified.
Instead … If we’re meant to see people living their lives, or experiencing some negative impact of Democratic policies, show us, and let us just hear the person’s real unscripted voiceover. Alternatively, at least have the person looking at the camera, which means at the audience. It’s more personal, and more sincere. Scenery is optional. If the important point is that all voters in this age group would benefit from Republican policies, then what difference does it really make where they live or work, or exercise?
#4 – Racial diversity matters
Voters between 18 and 33 are the most racially diverse in our nation’s history, so any campaign targeted at them needs to take that into account, but not necessarily in an obvious way. Stereotypes, like the Asian girl whose hot button issue is education, fall flat and feel forced. This is another area where using real people would make a difference. Letting people speak about issues that really matter to them, regardless of their race or ethnicity sends the message loud and clear that Republicans see people as individuals, not as hyphenated groups.
Instead … Consider ignoring race and ethnicity entirely, and just select people to speak who do the best job speaking. Trust the numbers, they speak for themselves. If we’re going to argue the GOP isn’t just for white males, then trust that the ultimate talent pool will reflect the diversity of the target audience. To force the issue by intentionally “casting” people purely because they are the right gender, or have the right skin tone or “look” is not only cynical, it reflects a mistrust of the audience they are bound to detect immediately, especially given this generation’s high level of social mistrust.
#5 – Parodies are Persuasive
The Millennial generation loves parody and satire. They get their news from The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert; they made Saturday Night Live (“SNL”) skits politically important; and as many of them heard Rush Limbaugh speak for the first time as a character on Family Guy as heard him on the radio. Sarcasm and snark come so naturally to them, ads depicting serious, concerned millennials talking earnestly about gas prices, and bloated government are more persuasive as parodies of GOP positions, than arguments for them. The goal isn’t to get this generation laughing at the party, is it?
Instead … Take a lesson from Jimmy Kimmel, and make a parody like this one:
Notice something? No racial diversity, not one 18-33 year old in the ad, no plaid or horn-rims, no faux sincerity, just an unapologetic mockery of a very real issue that affects every single millennial in America.
Rather than making a series of awkward ads, starring actors dressed and scripted to sound the way others think they sound, or ought to sound – ads that will end up being parodied by Democrats – go ahead and make parodies like Kimmel’s.
Make ads that will do more to persuade this generation of the one truth Republicans should be repeating over and over; however you describe yourself, as a Republican, Democrat or Independent, if you are between the ages of 18 and 33, Democratic policies are hurting you the most. The message is there but the delivery must be more relevant to be effective.