The Deconstructed Brief

Knock the Vote


Brand: Acronym
Agency: Nail Communications


Millennials don’t vote. Period.

Less than half (46.1%) of Millennials voted in the last presidential election, which compares to a majority (70.9%) of citizens 65 and older. This serves as an example of this generation’s tradition of lackadaisical apathy: a recent report from Pew Research Center found that Millennials have “consistently underperformed in terms of voter turnout in midterm elections” [compared with Boomers when they were the same age].

Turnout for midterm elections is even worse:  less than one-third (28%) of young adults ages 18 to 29 say they plan to vote in the midterms, compared to almost three-fourths (74%) of older Americans. Overall, while over half (60%) of seniors report that they’re consistent voters, less a quarter (15%) of young adults say the same.

The Democratic Party needs Millennials to get out and vote - desperately: the 2014 elections gave the Republicans control of the Senate - and, consequently, both houses of Congress - for the first time since the 109th Congress. This Congress began with the largest Republican majority in almost ninety years. The general election this November could tip the odds in Democrats’ favor, and they need Millennials to do it.

The statistics don’t lie: for a generation that likes to populate social media with complaints about the current administration, Millennials don’t like to vote. Knock the Vote needed to challenge widespread voter apathy and get Millennials to the polls; however, they needed something new to mobilize this generation.

Key insight

Don’t vote.

The idea:

Putnam Partners is the firm responsible for a number of the breakout political advertisements this election cycle, and according to their founder, Mark Putnam: “I have been in so many focus groups where voters dismiss the formerly tried-and-true ways of presenting candidates. Voters are savvy, and they pick up on these techniques that for literally decades have never changed—the B-roll shots of the candidate in a hard hat, reading a book to children or talking to seniors in a community center.”

The campaign from Nail Communications features one 60-second spot and three 15-second spots featuring elderly voters encouraging Millennials not to vote. They address a number of the political issues Millennials find most pressing and discount them with statements like: “Trump. That was us - he’s our guy” and “Sure, school shooting are sad. But I haven’t been in a school for fifty years.”

Nail produced the spots to run on Facebook, Snapchat, Hulu, and YouTube using Acronyms pre-existing media budget and connections. They also produced a microsite encouraging visitors to get informed and register their friends to vote: a majority (62%) of unregistered voters state that they have never been asked to register. The Knock the Vote campaign also includes a new tool to enable voters to check their friends’ voter registration statuses online, without downloading an app.

What they said:

“Every election we tell young people to vote. And every election they don’t,” said Alec Beckett, creative director at Nail. “What if we told them not to vote? The ‘we’ are people who vote regularly and have put this country on the path it is and whose continued influence depends on young voters staying home on election day: old people.”


Lessons to be learned:

  • Smarter, not harder. — Fundraising plays an instrumental role in modern politics. Long-form introductory videos that get wide reach can be one of the most effective ways to stir up national support for a local candidate and attract donations from around the country, which then allow campaigns to turn around and spend that new money on local ad placements.

    “That’s the key,” Putnam says. “We are launching candidates on a national platform digitally to hopefully raise the funds to be able to run a localized campaign where we’re actually talking to voters.”

    Designing for digital allows brands - or candidates - to produce a national advertisement without the level of spending associated with a national advertisement. While only a select percentage of viewers can vote for these candidates, fundraising donations are not dictated by state lines.

  • Lay a foundation. — These elections are on track to be the most expensive in U.S. history, according to a recent estimate from Bornell Associates, a consultancy that tracks political advertisement spend.

    “This year, the Democrats are being far more aggressive in their use of money to make sure they win elections they believe are critical to them,” said Kip Cassino, EVP at Borrell Associates. “Their strategy is to win, and if it takes a lot of money to do that, they’re willing to spend that money.”

    Democratic candidates are investing; however, this does not solve the key issue: Millennials need to register and vote for these candidates. Democratic and left-leaning organizations needed to step-up and lay the foundation for the efforts of the party if they want to address the issue at hand.

    The same principles apply to brands seeking to build an authentic brand voice. Statistics and research regarding the appeal of authenticity to Millennials has driven a number of brands to investigate how to impart these qualities in their advertising; however, companies must first lay the foundation within their brand and its actions or this advertising and media-savvy generation will reject their attempts.

  • Fight the norm. — Traditional political candidacy advertisements fall into one of two camps: informative or trashing the opponent. A number of advertisements this midterm election cycle have bucked this trend and found new ways to connect with voters, ranging from long-form metaphors to heartbreaking “what ifs” to Bigfoot. They pull from some of these themes; however, they are no longer the focus.

    Campaigns are now gravitating toward political ads that look more like documentary features or Hollywood biopics. These digital-first ads, which are sometimes condensed and repurposed for shorter television spots, are designed to encourage sharing and discussion, and motivate people to join the cause.

    “You are seeing a lot of production techniques that are a lot like a documentary in style, that are capturing real moments that are not scripted,” Putnam says. “We have found that that’s compelling.”

    The success of spots for first-time candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  demonstrate the value of authentic messages and documentary-style filmmaking that are fast becoming the new normal for political ads. Several clips were repurposed for radio spots, but the target audience for the video itself was digitally native people, they say.

  • Capitalize on the culture. — The language in the spot is aggressive - it mocks everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and concludes by turning the acerbic tone against the viewer: “Sure you don’t like it - so you’ll like some meme on Instagram. You might even share this video on Facebook. But you won’t vote - you young people never do. But I do.”

    The callous and brash language in the spot capitalizes on the critical ways that Millennials speak to themselves as well as the way they are perceived by other generations: Because we’re a generation of doers, not whiners. And we’re doing great.”