October 2008 - Columns: Ask the Expert

Obama Infomercial Proves the Candidate Communicates

By Timothy R. Hawthorne

Q: What’s the best new infomercial product of 2008?

A: Barack Obama isn’t a product, but he may be our next President. If his leadership skills are as strong as his infomercial instincts, he might be a very good one (see for yourself at http://my.barackobama. com/page/content/08-2008_join/).

With 28:30 to utilize, the infomercial format enables a more complete portrait than nightly news sound bites, and Obama’s program faithfully follows the AIDA formula. The show grabs our Attention, opening with the candidate’s impassioned unity speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. Obama’s subsequent biography reveals Interesting facts from which his philosophies sprung. Next, comes a riveting testimonial from Lawrence Tribe, who voices a common Desire for politicians who are willing to sacrifice personal profit (a probable lucrative Wall Street career) for public service (community organizing in Chicago). Nine minutes in is Obama’s first call to Action, where he invites you to join his campaign by visiting his website or calling toll-free.

The program succeeds despite daunting direct response hurdles. The product-a candidate-can’t provide immediate viewer benefit. The best result is new governance, months away. Because candidates can only promise, not command, their programs can’t show a magical DRTV transformation. Still, Obama leapfrogs these obstacles with time-tested tactics:

  • Unique selling proposition. As a newcomer to national politics, Obama legitimately proclaims himself “an agent of change”-a mantle he generously offers to share with each citizen who joins his campaign.
  • Testimonials. Nearly 40 different citizens of all hues and backgrounds speak up on Obama’s behalf. His multi-demographic appeal is literally easy to see.
  • Product is king. Obama is omnipresent, vanishing only for quick graphics, testimonials and CTA tags.

The most impressive element is how the program tailors its message to the critical audience: undecided and open-minded voters. Within its first 30 seconds, Obama embraces everyone: “There is not a liberal America…and a conservative America…there is the United States of America.” In a graphic that identifies his Illinois state senate accomplishments, two appeal to conservatives-moving people from welfare to work and tax cuts-while two others solidify his Democratic base (adding 154,000 people to health care roles and strengthening government ethics rules). Inclusive cross-party appeals permeate his program, including claims that taxpayers “don’t want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or by the Pentagon,” and that he’ll “protect American jobs and create new ones.”

Our polarized political parties are clearly a problem. But just take a look at Obama’s new program. It isn’t perfect, but within single sentences, he communicates convincingly that competing sides can both be served. Is our solution at hand? I hope so. If it is, Obama’s infomercial might knock Ross Perot’s 1992 “charts and pointer” pitch off its perch as the best long-form political show ever.

Timothy R. Hawthorne is founder, chairman and exectuve creative director of Hawthorne Direct, a full-service DRTV, print, mail and digital ad agency founded in 1986.

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