His name was Rosser Reeves and he changed the world.
You may never have heard of him, but you should have. He created, to a large, extent, the world we live in today.
Reeves was an advertising executive with the Ted Bates agency in the 50s, just when television was getting started. He created the USP, or the ‘unique selling proposition”, one point he pounded home unrelentingly. If you are old enough, you probably remember a lot of his ads and a lot of his slogans, “M&Ms, Melts in your mouth, not in your hand”, or Anacin:
It was annoying but effective. Anacin sales jumped 30 percent.
Reeves was so good at selling M&Ms and Anacin that in 1951 he was hired by the Republican party to see what they could do with their lackluster candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Eisenhower may have been the hero of D-Day and the War in Europe, but when it came to public speaking, the General was a dud. And he was up against a great public speaker, Adlai Stevenson. (Stevenson’s best line, among many was “I think the country is ready for more of the specific, and less of the General”.
Eisenhower was toast and so were Republican hopes for the White House… unless Reeves could figure out a way to ‘package’ the General…. like M&Ms or Aspirin.
Of course, television was in its infancy, but Reeves took to the job and created the first television commercials for a politician. No one had ever done that before. Television was a new medium. There was no instruction manual about how to proceed. So Reeves made it up as he went along. He put Eisenhower in a studio, shot him from a low angle, and had him repeat a series of ‘answers’. When he was satisfied with the ‘answers’ he garnered ‘average people’ off the streets of NY and had them come into a studio and ask a series of ‘questions’, looking upward (as one might to God, for example). Then he married the two together and created the first political commericals in America.
Reeves understood the new medium of television better than anyone else. He understood that the days of criss-crossing the country no a train, the way Harry Truman had in 1948 were over. He also understood what made people buy a product.
After Reeves, Presidential politics would be all about TV, ad buys, and packaging. Presidential ‘debates’ would be decided by snappy on-liners like ‘John Kennedy was a friend of mine, and you sir, are no John Kennedy’.
Now comes the Internet. And video on the Internet.
It’s a new medium, just like television was in 1952.
And it’s incredibly powerful – just like television was in 1952.
Do any of the candidates understand the web? They are trying.. but not too well. Take a look at Hillaryclinton.com. She has her videos archived under something strangely called Hillary TV. (It is not television, it is webcasting). But it is the content and style that amazes me.
They are death to watch.
It is like watching C-Span backwards.. or having root canal.
Tedious, boring, endless videos of Hillary giving speeches only a policy wonk, or at best, someone on her payroll could love… or look at. They remind me of listless coverage from The Jim Lehrer Report – in short. Unwatchable. Hillary is interesting in that she understands what has to be done, just does it badly.
Last summer we got invited to a fundraiser for Hillary in the Hamptons. Dinner by Daniel and a seat at the table with Hillary and Bill all for only $8400.
During the dinner (which was only 10 months ago) we mentioned that she and her campaign should start posting videos on Youtube. They looked at us. What? Youtube… youtube. “let me write that down. Youtube?”
So they’ve made progress… sort of.
Hillary – here’s another one to write down Zefrank.
Take a look at what he does. This is what you should do. OK?
Rosser Reeves would understand.