As noted a couple weeks ago, the Clinton campaign was soliciting our input on what her theme song should be. As a social media marketer I liked the concept and frankly some of the executions have been simply superb, like this vid. (Although, remarkably, I can’t find a copy of this video at YouTube. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?)
But the songs themselves? As I said then, the list left me cold (and it was a list that featured my two favorite bands of all time, to boot – I liked some of the songs as songs, but none were right for this situation). Still, what was the worst that could happen?
Now we know. The winner is… Celine Dion, the queen of preprocessed, prefabricated, premeditated whitebread sentimentality music-like product. (Note: Dion fans aren’t going to like some of what follows. Sorry. If it helps, I like a lot of stuff that I wouldn’t defend on critical grounds, as well.) I’m sitting here examining the fact that, as sad as it is to say, I’m less likely to vote for Clinton than I was before. (Not that she was top of my list anyway, but at least she was on the list.)
At one level my reaction is as silly as her choice. Why the hell would anybody with an IQ above 40 care about a song – it’s about the policy, stupid. But here’s the thing – I’m not the one who injected Celine Dion into the discussion. I didn’t foreground a theme song selection process in ways that no campaign ever has before. I didn’t spend a lot of money asking you to think about Celine vs. U2 vs. The Police vs. KT Tunstall vs. Shania Twain vs. goddamned Smashmouth, and make no mistake, this project cost a little cash. I’m not the one trivializing the process here, although if I’d enabled Dubya’s adventure in Iraq and insulted America’s intelligence with my little Grand Theft Auto pogrom maybe I’d want you looking at anything but policy, huh?
Clinton and her people used this event to brand her in a certain way. They wanted us to believe that she likes music – a wide range of music – and they wanted to use music to unite us. They wanted her to plant a flag on cultural terrain, and using new social media techniques they asked us to watch her choice, to pay attention, to care, to take it seriously. (Yes, seriously – “light-hearted” and “fun-loving” are brand poses, kind of like the “punk” character the handlers created for Avril Lavigne, who’s ultimately about as punk as Barbara Bush.)
If I’m one of her advisors I’m going to tell Clinton the following. Yeah, pick a song, but let’s pick carefully, because it ain’t the ’60s anymore and in our fractured media landscape musical choice is more likely to divide than unite unless you do it really well. And no, let’s not do a “help us choose” campaign – that only exacerbates the fragmentation dynamic and believe me, people who care enough to log a vote for U2 are not going to be impressed by your aesthetic when you pass The Edge over for Celine. And once we’ve found the right song, let’s just do it instead of talking about it a lot. Music is art, and if you have the right tune it doesn’t need you to explain or make a big deal over.
Instead, let’s use this massive war chest to make Brand Clinton about things we’re united in caring about. I know, I know – it’s the Age of Media and Blank Celebrity, so we have to be sparkly. I get that. We can use technology to make you glow so brightly we can see you from space, and since culturally hip matters in ridiculously important ways we’ll address that using back-channels and viral. But we’re not going to make Brand Clinton about trivial and if you’re going to get the shizzizzle kicked out of you – and you are – we’re not going to let it be about a song choice. Make them beat you on the issues. (unless, of course, we know we can’t win there…)
We’re not going to let Celine Dion be your answer to Mike Dukakis’s tank ride. We’re not going to let this be your answer to John Kerry windsurfing.
But I don’t work for Clinton, so what we have is a bad idea with even worse execution. And even if I thought the whole thing was a good idea, ask yourself – how seriously should we be taking a woman who aligns her brand with
Debby Boone Celine Dion? Don’t blame me for asking the question – it was Hillary who made it an issue.
If Clinton were my top choice I’d be beating my head on my desk right now, but since I don’t think she’s the best we can do maybe I’m enjoying this latest Barney Fife moment more than I should.