For married-with-children New York suburbanites in the 1970s and 80s, nothing spelled success like a Mercedes S-Class Sedan in the driveway. After the big promotion, hot shot investment bankers, law firm partners, and ad agency execs headed over to Mercedes-Benz of Greenwich. There they handed Hans a fat check and the keys to the family’s now superfluous Gran Torino before cruising back to Scarsdale or Darien in 450 SEL splendor.
There really was no comparable luxury four-door. Jaguars were notoriously temperamental with poor manufacturing tolerances. Like their British sibling, Rolls-Royces weren’t as reliable as the German mark and were, moreover, too expensive and precious for most – even in the choicest suburbs. Cadillac, please, that was your grandfather’s car, if you picked the right grandfather.
In truth, Mercedes made great cars and lots of money selling them at high prices. But, by the mid-80s, Japanese auto giants Toyota and Nissan wanted into the lucrative American high-end market. The Lexus LS 400 and and Infiniti Q45 debuted at the 1989 Detroit auto show. Both cars were beautiful, well-made, and reasonably priced. But only the Lexus really sold. What went wrong?
That August, Nissan rolled out the Q45 with one of the worst marketing campaigns ever. Rather than feature the Infiniti’s evolved stream-lined shape, Nissan’s agency released a 30-second ad that for its entirety showed only a shimmering sea overlaid by hammy and confusing narration about a “well-balanced tool”. There was no shot of the Q45 in the original spot. Disappointed retailers begged Nissan to include video of the car so potential buyers would see what they were missing. By the time the automaker finally obliged months later, the Infiniti’s sales potential may have been irrevocably damaged.
Sunday, when Hillary Clinton announced to the surprise of nobody that she is running for President, she followed Nissan’s strategy to a T. Confusingly, she spoke to the populace via both Twitter and YouTube without linking at the former to the latter. Her campaign manager John Podesta added to the cacophony by tweeting that “tackling climate change & clean energy” would be at the “[t]op of the agenda”. Worst of all, Clinton and Podesta don’t put her on display until 90-seconds into their 2-minute “Getting Started” video.
Instead they treat us to a comprehensive sample of Americans guaranteed to resonate with every imaginable Democratic demographic. An apparently single mother of indeterminate ethnicity opens the video discussing her impending move to a neighborhood with better schools for her daughter. An older gardener brags about her home-grown tomatoes as she discusses the changes that retirement will bring.
A man tells us in Spanish that he and his brother are going to start a business. Another single mom comes on screen to inform us she’s going back to work. Everybody is attractive, smiling, and happy as they relate their upcoming challenges.
At 36-seconds into the video, we see our first heterosexual couple – two young African-Americans expecting a baby boy. Cut to a female Asian college student looking for a part-time job. Next up is a gay engaged couple. We also see a mixed race couple who love their dog and then a white man who’s taking over his family’s business. Finally, it’s Hillary’s turn. She tells us that “everyday Americans need a champion” and she’s “hoping to be that champion.”
Neither Clinton nor the “everyday” Americans in the spot tell us why they need a champion. They all seem to be doing pretty well. Like Nissan’s ill-fated Infiniti spot, “Getting Started” contains no sales pitch. Hillary might argue that she unlike the Q45 is visible. But the truth is she’s unseen and unheard for most of the ad and when she finally appears is not featured to her best advantage.
How much more sensible it would have been to show Hillary throughout the spot. Why not remind Americans of her many triumphs and unmatched experience? Tie her to the relatively good memories America has of her husband’s Presidency by showing photos of her and Bill celebrating his victories. Intersperse footage of everyday Americans with video of Hillary in the US Senate and then conducting State Department business.
It’s easy to imagine some of the representative citizens describing how Democratic initiatives have made things better while others discuss the need for more pro-working and middle class legislation. Finish the spot with Hillary’s vision for a more prosperous America that includes more and better-paying jobs, a cleaner greener energy independent land, and a more secure world.
Some might argue that this bigger better “Getting Started” would need more than two minutes. Fine, make it five or ten. We’re talking about a quest to become the most powerful person in the world. If you need more time and money to sell us, spend them. Jobs, energy and the environment, and national security should be the three-legged stool of Clinton’s campaign. In every speech and every campaign appearance, she should focus on these topics and link them together.
For example, Clinton could explain her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline (I know she probably supports it but suspend your disbelief for a moment) as follows:
You all know how important it is for America to build on President Obama’s job creating legacy. But numerous studies have shown that the Keystone XL pipeline will result in just a handful of permanent jobs. By contrast, the renewable energy sector has been a job creating machine. Moreover, the sooner we move away from fossil fuels the more secure we will be as a nation.
But Hillary hasn’t made such an argument or created a framework that naturally leads to such an argument or to any particular argument or policy.
Clinton and Podesta probably think they were wise to include in “Getting Started” Americans of every race, color, ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual preference. But what they really did is stress our differences from each other. How we come from different backgrounds, have different sexual preferences, and are at different life stages.
Republicans are adept at dividing the electorate by appealing to the worst instincts of people within various discrete groups. The last thing Democrats should want is a candidate reminding us of the understandable but ultimately self-centered wishes of a single mom to send her child to good schools or the paucity of heterosexual white couples in Democratic ranks.
Liberals and Democrats seem to do best in elections when the majority of the country is united behind a laudable goal. Lincoln’s re-election depended on his determination to rid the land of slavery. FDR’s first re-election came as the nation mobilized against the Great Depression, his third in the midst of World War II.
Our country faces extremely serious challenges. Poverty stalks the land. An only somewhat degraded environment is the best we can hope to leave for our children. The Middle East is as unstable as it has ever been. President Obama recognizes these challenges and has taken them on with varying degrees of commitment and effectiveness. Clinton is in a position to tell the electorate how she will build on Obama’s successes and improve in areas where he has been lacking. But she hasn’t done this.
Hillary Clinton remains to a large degree a cipher. She hasn’t told us why she’s running for President. She hasn’t even started to make the case for us to vote for her. She hasn’t pilloried the opposition and therefore hasn’t made the case against voting for one of them. She’s like a car that your local dealer wants to sell but the manufacturer hasn’t given you any reason to buy.