White House marketeers pulled out all the stops, as CNN “Reliable Sources” anchor Brian Stelter noted, “pulling on every possible lever to promote” the final State of the Union Address. From multiple tweets to videos on YouTube, the buildup was designed to lend the speech a kind of prime-time “cliffhanger” level of buzz.
The blueprint included letting the “Today” show “take over the White House” the day of the address to pull back the curtain on the West Wing drama. Likewise, “artsy” black-and-white video trailers of Obama prepping his speech were uploaded everywhere as part of the State of the Union campaign. Post-speech, Obama and the White House pitchfolk kept the digital drumbeat going, including the president doing interviews with prominent YouTubers that smacked more of a guy on the stump than one with a mere 12 months remaining in office.
Then again, the president had a message to deliver: With unemployment slashed and gas prices almost cut by half and the economy seeing its best growth since the 1990s, he had successfully led the country through troubled waters. Obama was using all the legacy and new-media tools at his disposal to counter the fear of terrorism and the xenophobia exploited by his opponents across the aisle in the 24/7 multiplatform news ecosystem.
Of course, with any such POTUS-ian Adventure, there’s got to be a morning after — in this case, courtesy of Nielsen. And some pundits would note that on those traditional TV platforms, Obama’s final State of the Union drew a comparatively paltry 32 million viewers, the lowest since Bill Clinton’s buh-bye in 2000. And Obama’s overnights pale in comparison to his 2009 freshman address, watched by more than 52 million.
But the president’s team seems to maintain a CBS Supremo Leslie Moonves-like attitude about live-plus-same-night, and when all the numbers are tallied, including streaming and other digital platforms, my bet is the numbers will look strong for the final State of the Union, which traditionally stands as the lowest-rated of any presidency. As Jason Goldman, the White House’s chief digital officer, told CNN, the president’s marketing was all about “meeting people where they are.”
So don’t be fooled by some of the postgame punditry that fails to go beyond the Nielsen overnights. Regardless of your political persuasion, there is much to be gleaned from Obama’s TV Everywhere legacy. Republicans and Democrats alike, looking to derail the incredibly media-savvy, if execrable Donald Trump, would be wise to learn from POTUS, who won elections running cross-platform campaigns. Sell your accomplishments in simple, clear, concise words and artful images, using every media lever at your disposal -- and not treating any of them as if they belong at the kids’ table at Thanksgiving.
Like the telegenic John F. Kennedy, whose understanding of TV helped him defeat Richard Nixon, to the “great communicator” Ronald Reagan and his “morning in America” marketing team, to Bill Clinton’s mastery of the Town Hall forum and late-night TV, our 44th president is part of a continuum of innovative messaging for the highest office in the land.