I just attended a conference where one of the big focal points was on the New Media. Twitter, SMS, Facebook, white-label social spaces were all bandied about as the new reality. I personally remain an advocate that blah, blah, blah, everything you’ve heard before.
But I think that it was fascinating to have this all occurring in the shadow of the whole Trump v. Obama thing. While fascinating from many angles, with supporters on both sides of the debate debasing the other in terms of intelligence, fealty and/or arrogance, I saw it as a battle between Old Media and New. At least, in a “cult of personality” sense.
Before we go further, I want to make something clear. Nothing in this blog is taking a political side. I’m strictly analyzing in the context of the old media versus the new. I have friends and family who stand on both sides of these respective aisles, and while I have my own definite views of the world, I’m not discussing them right now. I’m also cynical enough to tell everyone that the only difference between either side is whether they buy you dinner before they…well, you complete the analogy.
Obama, more than any other president before him, has a brand.
This in itself isn’t unique. Each candidate has branded themselves ever since “I Like Ike” proved that hard sell campaigns worked. To wit, presidents have always had tag lines. Reagan had “Morning in America.” The first Bush had “Thousand Points of Light”, Clinton had “The Man From Hope.”
George W. Bush’s team simplified it with “W.” Instead of words, he owned a whole letter of the alphabet, for better or for worse. Seriously. Say the alphabet and see if his image doesn’t come to the top when you get there.
Obama, however, elevated it. Calling back on the “community organizing” days, neat, pleasingly designed signs are at every event. The font choices – and I can say this as someone who works with them on a lesser scale daily – were brilliant. The color schemes evoke calm, bordering on sedation.
And then there was the logo. Usable as a letter, but also ubiquitously used so that you came to associate him with whatever issue he was promoting. Given his public speaking charm, it was unavoidable that to like him and to agree with him were one and the same, while someone who disagreed with him became someone who disliked him.
This is an important distinction. We react much more strongly if we feel we’re defending a person. We’re more likely to vociferously speak out for our friends than our theories.
The President of New Media
Obama’s team, learning from Howard Dean’s successes and mistakes in 2004, owned the new media to boot. They circumvent press channels to control the message on an unprecedented level. The Twitter feed, the Facebook page, the personal Web site and the White House site.
You could argue Obama doesn’t even need the press. He can go straight to people with a “virtual town hall” and not have to wait for press releases, analysis or comment. After all, why would you bother with them if you can get it straight from the source itself?
Again, I’m not knocking this. It was only a question of time until someone figured out how to use these tools for more effective reasons than proving whether or not Ashton Kutcher is a useless douchebag.
Of course, this all occurs as more people eschew old media. Even television will soon feel the bite of the online revolution as the DVR continues to spread. (Seriously, who watches commercials anymore? Unless it’s that awesome one with the sharks in a Snickers boardroom.)
Old Media Strikes Back
But strangely enough, cutting through all of this controlled messaging, comes Donald Trump with nothing more than a ton of noise, a questionable hairstyle and access to a microphone. He’s old school media. He didn’t take to Twitter or conduct one Town Hall. Hell, I’m convinced the guy didn’t really care whether or not the president could produce the birth certificate, so much as to see if he could “make him.”
There was no subtle message manipulation. There was no organized session culled from Twitter or Facebook featureing people chanting “Trump!” or who carried signs with manufactured slogans and branding. Simply a loud, singular man who refused to say anything else or be knocked off topic no matter the reception.
It’s hard to look at this, from the vantage where I’m standing, and see this as anything but a victory for the old news outlets. Here was a news story that could in no way be contained, controlled or conformed by Twitter. Nothing could stop the press from carrying it, because Trump went directly through them to use them as a conduit.
Again, because I’m sure someone’s neck hair has raised, I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with Trump or what he did. What I am saying is that Obama and his team lost control of the conversation because they weren’t engaged in the same arena. Trump hit them from an angle that they’ve left unguarded for some time. Of course the press, who’ve been groaning about the lack of love they receive for a while, and continue to do so, but Obama obviously thought that wasn’t an approach he had to worry over.
In other words, Trump punked the leader of our nation, possibly for no other reason than fits and giggles. All through the Old Media. It’s like he read Sun Tzu and figured he’d try some of those theories out himself.
Is There a Message?
This shows we haven’t hit the tipping point yet. While Twitter and Facebook are the representatives of the way of the future, Old Media is still kicking so long as not everyone is plugged in to the same degree that my generation likes to be. My generation doesn’t even like to be plugged in as much as the next, either. That wall’s going to fall, soon enough, but for now it stands.
Most surprising is that a group of people in permanent campaign mode failed to remember a basic rule of engagement: consider every angle as a potential path of attack. Don’t ignore them, or you could get hit.
Just ask Trump.