Celebrity candidates engage GenY with image, with message, with style. There’s a PR lesson here.

Most folks are surprised wjessefboa.jpghen I tell them I’m a Jesse Ventura fan. They’re even more surprised when I tell them I never saw Jesse wrestle. Not once. You see, I’m a fan of Jesse “The Mind,” not Jesse “The Body” (the latter shown here in pink suit and yellow boa).

Jesse won a 3-candidate race for the Minnesota governor’s seat back in 1998. But he had a rough go in his four years in office, largely because he won’t compromise on principle. That’s why I like Jesse Ventura. You know where he stands, and he stands firm.

Jesse won election because of his ability to energize young voters. At first, GenYers were drawn to his celebrity, bad-ass image. But they came to embrace his oddly moderate views that mixed fiscal conservatism with social liberalism. Jesse brought people into the process who hadn’t bothered to participate before, and they worked their tails off for him.

Contrast this with the 2006 U.S. Senate race in Ohio. I asked 10 Kent State seniors the other day to name both candidates in that race. Only one could do it. To the GenY crowd on my campus, what’s his name is opposing what’s his name. They couldn’t care less. That wouldn’t have happened if Ohio’s celebrity candidate had stepped to the fore.

Jerry Springer, TV talk show host and dancer with the stars, toyed with running for Senate in Ohio. Pollsters warned that hispringerhat.jpgs tawdry TV show would kill his chances. But had he run, the GenYers would be paying attention today, and they’d know at least ONE of the candidates in this race.

When Springer toured Ohio to talk with young people about voting, he attracted large crowds who were drawn first by his celebrity, then captivated by his compassion for the poor and the working class. Like Ventura, Springer is a bright and thoughtful guy, more than capable of filling state or national office. Springer’s a card-carrying lefty, a tough sell in my very “red” state, but he has the ability to engage people in meaningful discussion. The guy listens.

If you’ve watched Jerry’s show (come on, we all have) you know he’s very good at keeping unreasonable people from killing each other — a useful skill on Capitol Hill. But what I really like about Springer is what I also like about Jesse: You know exactly where stands.

Can you say that about your senators?

Jerry and Jesse are both folks who bring good markfoley.jpgideas to the table, and both have the ability to draw new people into the process. Sure their celebrity past is a bit outrageous. But better a checkered past than a checkered present, eh Mr. Foley?

2 Responses to Celebrity candidates engage GenY with image, with message, with style. There’s a PR lesson here.

  1. Rajan Sodhi says:

    Another way of looking at it is that people are “brands”. And just like a business brand, a brand needs to stand for something, evoke an emotional connection with its target audience, and remain consistent with the audience’s beliefs and expections of it. The examples of Jesse Ventura and Jerry Springer you cited here are examples of highly recognizable brands. The smart ones know how to leverage this recognition to serve other pursuits such as politics.

  2. Capitalist Academician says:

    Bill – I don’t think we’re red here in Ohio — we’re purple, one of the one-third… There are parts of the state that are deep red and deep blue, but as a whole, we’re a mixed bag.

    As to the premise, one thing that’s fueling social media is the intellectual stagnation of the mainstream media — aside from tone, CNN, Fox and the networks are covering the same things the same way. WaPo and NYT, sameo, sameo. That leads, unfortunately, to candidates that are the color and consistency of oatmeal. When a big flake or nut gets into the bowl, MSM goes on the attack, and in short order, everythings back to pap.

    Add to the mix an aversion to strong opinions and an abundance of caution, and you have apathy.

    Jesse was a breath of fresh air — and Springer could have been. But the other question is: “Where are the truly gifted, talented, brilliant people who are the next generation of leaders?”

    Cap

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