Over 50 million people watched Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address in 2009. Last year, just over 30 million tuned in. Given that this is a President’s one chance to stand up unchallenged (well, mostly unchallenged) and lay out his agenda, a 40% drop in viewership can be a scary thing.
But if no one tunes in, what can you do?
Last year, in an effort met with limited success, the White House tried an end run, encouraging viewers to skip the network broadcast completely and instead watch the speech on whitehouse.gov, replete with additional charts, graphs and data to round out the address.
This year, delivering the State of the Union looks more like advertising on the Super Bowl.
The White House has been dropping “spoilers” (their term) all month, in anticipation of the big event, but also as a tacit acknowledgment that they can’t depend on the speech itself to get their message out.
So they are taking the key initiatives and proposals and doling them out across an array of social channels, with an eye on where each idea will play best (short enough for Twitter, viral enough for Facebook, and so on).
As a senior advisor to Obama noted, “the environment is so cluttered that if you don’t spread out your initiatives and unveil them in channels where people already are, like Facebook or Upworthy, then they’re just going to get lost in the discussion.”
The President will conduct a post-speech interview with in the Oval Office with three YouTube, including a 19-year-old with 10 million subscribers who recently posted on “Five Easy & Fast Breakfast Ideas for School.” Questions for the interview were solicited from each YouTuber’s followers.
And, of course, the entire event will be live-tweeted by White House staffers.
The most interesting part of this is that it’s not a new strategy, just a new channel. From Jefferson until Wilson, no sitting President actually came to Congress and presented the State of the Union in person. Instead, they simply wrote it out as a letter to be published in the press, letting the written word stand alone, where it could be embellished and echoed by supportive press outlets.
The New York Times, a 19-year-old’s YouTube channel… what’s the difference!
How do you feel about the State of the Union being marketed like a soft drink? Is this a smart move, or does it diminish the complexity of the ideas involved?