Have you created content today?
John Boehner has. The Speaker of the House’s digital team just published a BuzzFeed-style listicle titled “12 Taylor Swift GIFs For You.” The article utilizes that time-honored rhetorical technique favored by Daniel Webster and Winston Churchill, the animated Taylor Swift GIF. With these GIFs, Boehner aims to explain to Millennials and sub-Millennials why President Obama’s tuition-free community college proposal is a very bad idea.
First off, Obama’s community college plan has many nuances that we shouldn’t expect a predictably partisan blog post from the Speaker of the House to capture. (Blame Boehner, not Swift.)
But setting aside that discussion, the Boehner-Taylor post tells us a lot about how political wars — in particular the upcoming 2016 presidential elections — will play out over the coming months.
Just as 2012 was the “social media election,” 2016 is shaping up to be the “content election,” as politicians leverage the tools and techniques of content sites to communicate their messages. And it won’t just be BuzzFeed-style listicles. In November, Medium, which with its high-brow conclave of contributors and readers has become the go-to destination for the burgeoning think-piece economy, announced a job listing for a head of political partnerships. Ev Williams’ site has already played host to a number of politicians, from Barack Obama to Mitt Romney. When you want to reach an audience that fancies themselves intellectuals, accept no substitute.
If I were building a content team for a modern Presidential candidate, it might look like this: A millennial intern to file listicles like the Taylor Swift GIF article that would run directly on BuzzFeed, a poli-sci grad student to file more in-depth thinkpieces for Medium, a Photoshop whiz to create memes for Twitter and Reddit, and a video artist to create clips for Facebook and Vine. Also, something something Snapchat. I might even have an interactive team to produce beautiful scrolling “Snow Fall”-esque media experiences to live as sponsored content on the Times’ website, assuming the NYT is game. None of these content types is “better” than the other. Whether it’s a cheap meme or a 1000-word essay, it’s all the same propaganda. And just because you read Medium and scoff at listicles, that doesn’t mean you’re any less susceptible to political messaging.
How much these posts will impact the election, however, is an open question. They’re essentially no different than any brand’s “sponsored content,” only instead of convincing customers to click “Buy,” the goal is to convince voters to hit “Hillary.” But because content marketing is more about Building a Relationship than Making a Sale, it’s difficult to determine the return-on-investment of a piece of content — even one that’s shared tens of thousands of times.
But that won’t stop digital svengalis from telling candidates they’ve got to become content creators. In fact, the most surprising thing about the nation’s top-ranking Republican talking in the language of Taylor Swift GIFs is that we shouldn’t be surprised at all.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]