Category Archives: Campaign Tactics & Analysis

And the Award for Epic “Green” Campaigning Goes To…

So there I was, a day before all that rain, walking home when I noticed something in the doorways of all the apartments on my street…piles of doorhangers. In the picture, note how this “grassroots” campaign covered the front gate with no less than 7 on the gate and a few more on the ground.

Guess what happened to them?

These went in to the recylcer and NO ON SAW THEM. The other ones made their way onto the street, and by the next day, when it rained, they were a papier mache mess.

Now, the candidate in question shouldn’t take all the piss on this one – just about every Big Campaign, especially the “No on B” campaign, did the same thing.

News flash: it is the second decade of the 21st Century. Sending a bunch of people in the last weeks of the campaign to put up expensive die-cut door hangers made of dead trees in piles around the city is NOT GRASSROOTS CAMPAIGNING.

(I guess no on listened when I said this before.)

For the same price as a pile of junk mail, these campaigns could have chosen a better way to get the message out. With online advertising being as cheap as it is, they could have spared the neighborhood some dead tree papier mache, and instead put the money into window signs and a hyper targeted mailer.

Just remember: In San Francisco, we force everyone to compost…but we never force politicians to be more Earth-friendly with their tax-funded campaigns.

Wait a minute….this may become a “thing.” What if candidates who took the public financing in SF were required to use only soy inks, super-recycled paper, vegan snacks and other tough regulations?

Hey, it could happen, especially with the so-called “progressives” in charge!

And the Award for Epic Design Fail For Campaign 2010 Goes to…

This campaign season has been one of the worst in history in terms of the sheer amount of bullsh*t heaped onto the public via the media, and not just from Her Megness and Carlyfornicated and Uncle Jerry and about a million ballot measures. Combine that with some of the worst design I’ve ever seen, and my eyes are ready to bleed.

So imagine the amount of eyeball blood spilled when I saw this ad in the Sunset Beacon. I’ve shown this to professional designers and we all agreed – if they’d submitted this work to a client, they’d have been fired, and rightfully so.

What kills me is that the people who paid for this thing had a ton of cash, and it’s not like you can’t find decent print or web designers in San Francisco who understand political advertising.

Anyway, more political razzies as events warrant.

Political Parlor Tricks: Fundraising Reporting Fun!

Right about now, just about anyone running for office, from Mosquito Abatement District Commissioner to Governor is sending out pleas on Twitter, Facebook, email, smoke signal, etc. begging for money. You see, we’re hitting up against a “reporting deadline” whereby after today, most candidates will have to account for money raised and spent up to this point. Hence the e-begging and so on.
The Press, as usual, will peruse these, and based on how much money is reported, will declare who is a “viable” candidate. Predictable, yes. Accurate? Not necessarily.
That’s because virtually every campaign (with the exception of those run by vain plutocrats) plays a little game with the reports. What they’ll do is often ask staff to hold off being paid, or find vendors willing to wait a day past the deadline to get their bills paid. Why, you ask? Simple. By not showing that money as being spent they can show it as “cash on hand.” Then, when The Press reports how much “money” they have, it looks like they have more than they really do. Trust me when I say this goes on way more than you might think.
It’s a cheap trick, kinda like using wide ruled paper to make your report in school look longer than it is, or bumping up a font on that term paper. However, it is a tried and true way to make you look good, and The Press always falls for it. They can’t help it – the next reports won’t be filed for months.
Quarterly reports and the like are so 20th century. Instead, if people want to do public disclosure of money raised and spent, they should be filed electronically every week, and put online within days, and that way this kind of nonsense ends. More importantly, if you wanna drill down and see who is getting money from who, and whom they might be spending it on (vendors, consultants, pollsters, ad agencies, etc.) you’d find out a lot sooner.
As it stands, “disclosure” just means more money for the specialty lawyers and accountants who can deal with this bureaucracy legally, while the voter remains uninformed.
San Francisco has some unique twists on this, especially regarding spending limits, public financing, and so on, but that gets its own blog post.

Why I Didn’t Do My Usual Scan and Critique of Mail…

For years I’ve often picked up pieces of political direct mail and scanned them in, with critiques, much like the way mainstream media does with political TV ads. I’d collected some for this season, but two things got in the way of doing so in advance of the election – technical difficulties (both with the blog software and my scanner) that took forever to fix, and a lack of material.
Normally I tend to get a lot of mail because I’m a mail ballot voter. But this year most of my mail was concerned with things like this zany Democratic Central Committee stuff (I mean really, do you even care who’s on this, much less remember ever hearing about it before this year?) which is lovely for those who produce it and for the people running. As I sat here trying to come up with something to write about the actual mail, it was hard write it in a way that people would actually read. I mean, it’s one thing if you’re writing about advertising for a big campaign for Governor or Mayor, but Central Committee? Really?
I suppose what surprised me the most, with all this money being spent, is how not one slate of candidates, or any of the various local organizations promoting their favored candidates, used any online advertising. When you consider that the typical mail piece costs $600 per 1000* voters mailed to, versus online advertising where you’re paying less than 10% of that**, you’d have thought that maybe allied candidates or whatever would have mixed in a little online advertising to reach voters, instead of relying exclusively on dead tree which end up in the recycle bin. And it’s not like their consultants wouldn’t have made money either – they just wouldn’t have had the overhead of paying designers, printers, mailhouses, postage and shipping, but would have still made their 15%.
Ah well. I’m kinda glad this boring primary is over. I’m really hoping the next few months we see something better out of our candidates for state office, and for city office. I know it’s asking for too much, but would it kill some of these people to avoid devolving debate into small smart-ass soundbites and instead demonstrate that they know something besides what some smart guy told them to say?

How Many Trees Must Die For the Sierra Club’s Sins?

There’s a really boring primary coming up in June and by now you’ve likely received a voter guide, and some political junk mail. It’s rather amazing to see so many groups and campaigns (especially for DCCC) that have little money to begin with, who are spending big money on dead tree mail and doorhangers.

It’s especially baffling to see the Sierra Club, which is allegedly in the business of Saving The Earth or something, literally littering neighborhoods with thousands of dead-tree doorhangers. In fact on the day they hit my neighborhood, not only did they do a poor job of distribution (often just dumping them in a pile at the front door or in our case putting them on our gate), but because it was windy, 80% of them blew all over the place. Really effective and “green,” smart guys.

It was followed up by what is likely to be their one postcard sent to voters before the primary – one that cost a lot to mail because postage is now so high for bulk mail, and because they had to use a special blend of smug and soy to print the damned thing. Guess how much I (or any of my neighbors) looked at it? Well you can come by the recycle bin by our mailbox and see how effective all those dead trees were.

It never ceases to amaze me how lower budget campaigns insist on using dead trees as their exclusive campaign communications medium. It’s especially amazing given that San Francisco has the highest concentration of voters online anywhere in the United States, and by using targeted online advertising, they could reach more people for less money, and a big percentage of their budget wouldn’t be at the Post Office. And yes, their consultants could still make the same 15% they would off the junk mail.

San Francisco: Where talk is cheap – and so is “going green!”

Let’s Do Write Ins For The Non-Challenged Incumbents in June!

Oh, June Democratic Primary Ballot. You are, in fact, the worst primary ballot yet, and I’ve been voting in these things for far too long. At the top of the ticket is a yawn-fest (if some crackpot no name actually beats Gov. Brown in the primary, I’ll buy everyone that reads this column a beer), in the middle an “evil of two lessers” choice (nominees for Attorney General), and at the bottom, a confusing battle locally for people who actually want to serve on the San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee (a job that pays nothing, sucks up your time, and drives you mad).
What to do, what to do?
Here’s what I’m doing – my time-honored tradition of using my mail ballot as a taxpayer funded coloring book. Now, far be it from me to trivialize voting in the World’s Greatest Democracy, but when so many of these things have been pre-ordained, I think it’s time for some Write In Candidate Fun.
This is nothing new – when San Francisco instituted its IRV/RCV/WTF/OMG/FML voting system, it was reduced to a joke since so often, incumbents were unopposed for re-election. Despite the fact we were promised it’d make it easier for no-names to beat the Big Kids, nothing changed, so I took the liberty of making those poll workers work, by counting my write in ballots, more than once.
This time, I propose something different. Many, many incumbent legislators are on the ballot in the primary who have no opposition, so there’s no risk if you decide to say “Frak It” and write in the name of someone else. It’s not like we dislike people like Fiona Ma, Tom Ammiano, or Leland Yee, but they’re going to win with 99.99% of the vote in the primary, AND win re-election in the fall. So why not write in someone for those spots, and have some fun with it?
I have no delusions that out of such an exercise we’re going to read in our Google Readers the day after the election that Fiona Ma has been ousted, via write-in votes by Rory B. Bellows or some other crazy thing. So go for it, and post in the comments who you wrote in for what.
PS: Of course, the idea that taxpayers are paying for an election that is for the nomination of candidates by party is nonsense – there’s no reason at all we need to waste tax dollars on this. Party nominees should be made by members of that party, be it by convention, private vote, or whatever, but this idea that the government has to sponsor such contests is ludicrous.

I Wish I’d Posted My Prediction on the Massachusetts Senate Race…

Lessons for bloggers: don’t hold back on unpopular predictions, lest you end up being right. A few weeks ago I predicted that Martha Coakley would lose the US Senate special election in Massachusetts. Every single time I brought this up, my Democratic friends would look at me like a heretic and proceed to rattle of something they read on “Daily Kos” about why I was wrong and that speaking such heresy meant I was going to Hell. And yet, none of their reasons had anything to do with actual facts or history. So here was my reasoning, and why liberal bloggers sometimes have their heads in the sand:
-Martha Coakley’s campaign was spectacularly poor. She didn’t campaign like she should have, once she got the Democratic nomination. If part of life is showing up, in campaigns, it is everything. By basically assuming she’d win by default, she made the classic mistake that allowed the other candidate to define the race. She also made several verbal gaffes that amplified her seeming disdain for talking to actual voters.
-Her campaign was run almost exclusively by DC based political people, and veteran campaign consultants and workers were sidelined by the Geniuses from DC. Another sign of something Really Bad. Pushing aside the people who know the state in favor of generic strategies based on abstract polling data and focus groups doesn’t work well. Plus, there are a lot of rings that need to be kissed in Massachusetts politics, and you don’t necessarily know which ones those are if you’re relying on whiz kids from DC.
-Massachusetts is not 100% Communist Leftist Whatever. Massachusetts has elected Republicans as Governor exclusively since 1990, and it was only in 2006, when Deval Patrick won, that the cycle broke. Also, remember that Ted Kennedy himself came dangerously close to losing his re-election in 1994 against Mitt Romney (!), and it took a Herculean effort of money and resource to ensure his re-election. Had it not been for some extremely poor choices of words by Romney, and a recognition that Kennedy was in trouble in time to do something about it, he might have well lost. Remember, in 1994, the Speaker of the US House lost his bid for re-election that year.
-President Obama is an easy target. People know right now they can call him names, they can use code words for the “n-word,” and they can call him a liar in front of the entire country, and nothing will happen. Obama’s obsession with getting the acceptance of people who quite literally, do not think he’s a legitimate holder of the office, and who will say or do anything to tear him down, is his ultimate weakness.
No one fears President Obama if they cross him, so they rip him a new one on any big or little thing (remember that bullshit crying spasm the righties had about his choice of mustard? WTF?). So of course they’re going to prop up some dude in Massachusetts and make 41 the new majority number for a Senate of 100. (Wait, what?)
There’s no reason why Obama and Democratic office seekers can’t turn this around, but it isn’t likely they will. Running around and “re thinking” and “re framing” are popular pastimes of bloggers, party insiders, and the endless amount of “staff” of officeholders, and while they’re talking and bitching, the other side wants to kick their asses. Until they decide they’re going to respond in kind, they will continue to get their asses kicked.
The sad part is the other side has nothing of substance to offer beyond blind rage. When we had them in charge of Everything (President, Senate, House, SCOTUS), the best they could come up with was Tom DeLay/Jack Abramhoff style corruption, a war without end, and endless trillions added to the deficit, and a bubble economy that just blew up on us. But we don’t think about that anymore, right?
PS: Oh, and one other thing: despite what the folks Outside of California assume about our Golden State, California is not 1000% Communist either. Look at the history of statewide initiatives and elections starting in 1982, and see just how well “lefties” do. Barbara Boxer has always had to run a tough race, and the Democratic hold on statewide offices has NEVER been absolute, ever.
The fact the California State Democratic Party acts like it IS 1000% Democrat is well, I suppose good news for Republicans?
PPS: Jack Donaghy is one of my all time favorite characters on TV. F*ck yeah, Jack!

The Most Annoying Disclaimer On A Piece of Mail. Ever.

IMG_4080.JPGSo I was going through what little political mail I’ve been getting during this quiet political season, and the other day I got one from the No on D campaign, decrying the horridness of billboards on Market Street and so on. Whatever.
I mean this is one of those magic bullet measures that proponents say will bring an era of rose petals and unending “free money” for whatever, and the opponents say will be the beginning of Armageddon. So I normally don’t pay attention.
However, this little chestnut on the mail piece, next to the union bug was an eye opener:

“Printed with VOC-free, soy based inks at a 100% wind powered union shop.”

Wait. WHAT?
You have to be f*cking kidding me. They really went there, huh?
As always, my colleague “Mason Powell” had the best response upon seeing said disclaimer:

“You mean a beer fart from the pressman counts as wind power?”

F*ck yeah!

Let’s Show Gavin Newsom How Crowdsourcing Is Supposed To Work

image.php.jpegSo the other day I ranked on “Mayor” Newsom’s gubernatorial logo crowdsourcing efforts, something I still stand by. I mean, not to go all Don Draper on this, but this selection is a joke. I say this with many years of experience conceiving and executing mail and online campaigns. And as I’ve said before, although I personally do not do design, I know how to talk to creative people in the design field to execute good products.
After talking to several colleagues, we all agreed that perhaps this might be an opportunity to show how crowdsourcing is done properly. Now while I can’t offer cash prizes for submissions, I DO have a couple of projects coming up soon that will need some work, and I’m interested in casting a wide net for talent.
So, in the spirit of Being Constructive and Having Fun, I’m putting out a call for my own Gavin Newsom Logo. Here are the design parameters I’d like you to consider:
-Since we’re not the official campaign, we’re going to go with “Go Gavin Newsom!” as our slogan/logo/whatever.
-Stylewise, I’m looking for something that’s pop-culture aware, but not too cutesy
-The artwork has to be easily seen from a distance (signs) and reproduce well on a variety of media (t shirts, stickers, mousepads, signs, etc)
-Irony, humor, satire and so on are welcome if done well
-If you use the Obama Font, do so carefully. It’s already overdone as is, so show me something new.
Personally, my biggest wish in the political mail business was to do a bio of a candidate in the style of a 70s action movie poster (you know the one where they have scenes of the movie behind the main actor, all popping out at you from the center), but no one ever went for it. I suppose action scenes of commission meetings and speaking out at public comments time aren’t as cool to detail as chasing bad guys in a speedboat in Louisiana.

The Graphic Design Abortions Known as the “Choices” in Gavin Newsom’s Logo “Contest”

Ack! By the time I got home to write this, Everyone Else already blogged something way cooler. Curses!
418216434_8b199a59b4_m.jpgBy now, the Newsom for Governor campaign has spent so much time believing its own hype and that their candidate walks on water, it’s almost a bit painful to critique ’em because they’re punishing themselves just fine. Today, I got a way-too-enthusiastic email from a John Hughes movie villain asking me (yes me!) and everyone else on their list to “vote” for a campaign logo! Oh wow! So web 2.0!
Now, mind you, Newsom had a campaign logo earlier this year at the convention and there was nothing wrong with it at all. In fact, it was kinda nice in that it didn’t look like a typical campaign logo (and it had a URL, Facebook and Twitter logos on it too!) They even had this totally SF hipster tee for sale too for the folks in Sacramento.
But following in the footsteps of Steve Westly and Barbara Boxer, who also offered similar “vote for the logo and be empowered” nonsense, they’re doing this to keep people busy and avoid thinking too much about his actual record or mysterious relatives. I guess if you’ve been cooped up in a war room for the duration it sounds really “out there.”
Fine. But like Westly and Boxer, the choices offered are so crap-tacular, the designer(s) who came up with these should be sent to remedial design school or something. Sure, I am not a designer myself. I have, however, done some award winning creative on direct mail and on the web, because while I can’t draw a picture, I work with some of the best people in the business, and we come up with kick ass shit. Sterling Cooper can kiss our ass.
Before I pick apart these things, one by one, the way one might pick apart a really bad something or other, it’s clear that these are all variants on a very narrow theme.
They all obscure his name a little in some weird way (“ooh he’s the new thing on the horizon, dear!”) and few of them reproduce well in a variety of mediums (the the green one in particular has hideous typography and can’t easily be seen at a distance) If they want the mob to pick a design, fine, but at least have some decent choices so that they don’t end up with a stinker.
Ok, now to the nitpicking, Internet style:

The second worst one of the bunch. The fade in the middle makes this an especially difficult design to reproduce in print, or in black and white on flyers. There’s no URL for the website, Twitter and Facebook (oh wait, the new guys can’t make 15% off of those so I guess those are out), and in almost all these designs there’s a maniacal focus on obscuring part of the guy’s name. This is not edgy design, people, this is just stupid.

Now this seems to combine weird pieces of the second and fourth logos, and again, it doesn’t work. The typeface is way way too thin to be noticed from a distance, and the weird faux sun ray effect simply does not work. If you’re gonna do the whole sunrise, new dawn, new day bullshit, do it right.

This one is a favorite of my good friend Brock at SFist who makes an excellent point about the whole Manchurian Candidate vibe. However, between the blood red color and this fetish for thin, white typefaces, this doesn’t come close to say, Dianne Feinstein’s standard designs, which have been used in one form or another since 1990.

This last one is a doozy. Where to start? Ok, I get it, it’s a green sign because, oh right, he’s the Mr. Green Jeans of the campaign, running around telling everyone what to do about their recycling, all the while driving a gas guzzler and killing Muni back at home. Right.
Fine, but this looks less like a campaign logo, and more like something we’d see in Gavin’s private life, when he partners with Lisa Simpson to start a company to recycle animals into slurry. I’m sure this got points in the war room for “not looking political” (um, like the original) but that’s half the battle, kids. You have to “not look political” and also “not look like crap.”
So far it looks like the consensus amongst the cool kids is for “the wed wone,” If this is any sign of things to come, in the wake of Streetsbloggate, all I can say is go, Gavin go. I need a respite from the day job’s work, and let’s face it, Gavin’s provided enough blog fertilizer in the past to let a thousand blogs bloom. Yes We Can!
UPDATE So today I got this little email from the “campaign manager” talking about all the excitement over this cool, edgy contest:

Dear Friend,
It’s been a fun couple of days with the launch of our online logo contest. So far we’ve had over 6,000 total votes and the comments have been pouring in.
Elisa from Facebook said, “Let’s be bold and go with red!”
Greg said, “I love the green one.”
Jenny on Twitter thought the logo with the white background, navy and sun said, “new day, new way.”
As of this email, the logo with the white background, blue lettering and yellow sun is in the lead but the dark blue logo with the yellow sun is close behind.
Thanks to everyone for participating and giving us your feedback – we’ve been following the commentary and have seen some great ideas.
Voting is open until Sunday at midnight. So, if you have not voted, now is the time.
Cast your vote and help us pick the official Newsom campaign logo.
Nick Clemons
Campaign Manager
Newsom for California
P.S. To stay connected, join with over 1 million supporters on, Facebook and Twitter.

Wait, so out of over “one million supporters” online, only 6000 have voted? Hmm..lessee…that’s .006% of this online army he bragged about not too long ago….WOW. Work that online mojo, Gavster!
As I’ve said before, you can get into a numbers war on Twitter, et al, but it’s all meaningless if they don’t do anything.
And for the record, THIS Greg thinks the green logo sucks ass.