Imagine this. A young Native American, his mother a victim of tuberculosis, his father, of chronic alcoholism…
“Bio” ads have become a tired cliché in political campaigns. They don’t have to be.
Democratic Congressman Ben Nighthorse Campbell had decided to retire from politics. Then, in an unexpected turn of events, the United States Senate seat became open. Congressman Nighthorse Campbell decided to run, despite the odds.
His competition in the primary? A well-known former governor who had never lost a campaign. The other? The recent nominee for U.S. Senate. Ben was virtually unknown outside his district. Insiders were convinced it was impossible. But Ben’s greatest asset was a remarkable story.
The first requirement was to prepare an introductory video that traditionally preceded each Senate candidate’s speech at the State Convention. But Joe said, “Why spend thousands of dollars on a film that will only be seen once by a few hundred people? Why not prepare a compelling storytelling film about Ben’s life and issues – send it to key delegates before the convention – have it introduce Ben at the convention – and then strategically place it on targeted cable TV systems for primary voters around the state who’ve never even heard of Ben?”
It was something no one had ever done before.
Polling identified three pivotal issues that were critical to targeted primary voters. But in a classic Joe Slade White bio style, this wasn’t just an “issues” ad or simply a “bio” ad. We connected Ben’s remarkable life experiences to those issues in a way that made them compelling and real.
Conservative Republican candidates often talk as if they “own” values. Ben’s life embodied them. Ben wasn’t just “for” these issues; he had lived them. That made the difference. We also carefully wove in key phrases that subtly contrasted Ben from his better-known chief primary opponent. It worked. Yet at its heart, the piece was about values, issues, and a remarkable life.
Unveiling the film was a huge hit at the convention. It helped Ben secure a spot on the primary ballot his opponents had tried hard to deny him. Then we began to air it with strategic targeting on cable systems around the state. Voters everywhere began to talk about the “Ben Bio” yet not one person ever saw it on broadcast TV. (A lesson we later put to use for the “Pickens Plan”.)
Ben Nighthorse Campbell won a clear victory in the primary. He won the general election decisively, becoming the first Native American ever elected to the U.S. Senate.