2020 is a nightmare year for most metrics, and it’s also a worst-case scenario that emerges from a best-case scenario for Joe Biden . After falling behind in the early primary states, Biden fell back on a breathtaking wave of Super Tuesday support. Now, as a suspected democratic candidate in the midst of a global health crisis that has immobilized the US workforce and has somehow further polarized American politics, the former vice president has to navigate completely unknown waters to find a way to the presidency.
Biden – not most internetty Candidate from the wide democratic field of 2020 by far ̵
To this end, the Biden campaign is introducing a new collection of digital assets to motivate supporters who are stuck at home and to convey the visual language of the Biden brand to everyone else. The “Team Joe Swag” selection includes some DIY options for supporters such as “No Malarkey!” Home window posters and templates for “We Want Joe” buttons.
The campaign also publishes a number of print-friendly coloring book pages to amuse idle political offspring. Some of the pages thank the employees at the front line and immortalize Bidens two German shepherds with crayons, while others represent symbols worthy of memes: ice cream cones and his typical aviator glasses. (A viral moment from 2014 combined the two.)
For supporters who are not yet involved in handicrafts, there are “Joementum” mobile phone wallpapers, banners optimized for social media and a full zoom set Backgrounds that represent Biden’s most recent campaign phase: his home library.
Some critics say he has to leave his basement studio, but Biden said he plans to follow public health guidelines and follow the virtual campaign path from his now expanded Delaware home setup to virtual town halls and video chats like his most recent Reach Instagram live sit – including with the US soccer superstar and former Warrenite Megan Rapinoe.
The signs and background images are only a tiny part of the overall picture of the campaign. Depending on what comes after, a candidate’s visual signature can infuse a political moment into the collective consciousness. Think of Obama’s 2008 Hope poster by artist Shepard Fairey, which was later acquired by the National Portrait Gallery (Fairey himself later condemned the Obama administration’s drone program). Or Trump’s telltale red MAGA hats, which no one will forget, regardless of how the general election turns out.
Warm and fluffy
For an indoor campaign, visual branding is more important than ever. Biden’s visual brand seems to focus mainly on positive feelings that bring people together – friendliness, belief, togetherness – and not on political peculiarities or even calls for action in the “dump trump” style.
“We want to find ways to make people feel involved while locked up at home,” said Camp Hill’s Deputy National Press Officer, Matt Hill. “These are tools that anyone involved in the campaign can use to visually communicate at a time when everyone is logged in.”
A lot has been written about how the virtual race presents unique challenges to the Biden campaign. The alleged democratic candidate is a candidate best known for his easy-going, empathetic behavior. However, empathy does not always work well online, especially if it is directed against the sound and anger of the de facto unencumbered, cashless Trump campaign.
“Branding conveys values, and during this crisis we want Joe Biden’s values to shine through,” said Hill. “Yes, of course it’s ice cream and flier, but it’s also decency, empathy, hope and everything that is exactly the opposite of Donald Trump.”
The campaign broadly frames this, in a language between good and evil, and describes Biden’s online movement as one of “empathy and human connection” to overthrow the dark forces at work on the Internet. Campaign digital director Rob Flaherty said 2020 was not only a struggle for America itself, but also a “struggle for the soul of the Internet”.
“Right now people are longing for empathy and good … that gives us an advantage,” said Hill. “You have a page that often struggles to win the Twitter verse with Vitriol, and then you have us”
Biden’s campaign has undergone some testing in recent weeks to determine that it has been slow to adapt to the pandemic. The veterans of the Obama campaign, David Plouffe and David Axelrod, wrote a New York Times in early May asking Biden to step up his digital efforts by broadcasting his current shows with “An Astronaut Who Shines Back to Earth” to compare.
After weeks of concern from insiders who feared that the Biden campaign would not be able to build the necessary online momentum, the campaign has only spiced up its previously lean team with a number of new employees. The new talent will particularly expand the campaign’s digital activities, which are expected to double in size.
Employees include Elizabeth Warren’s former employee, Caitlin Mitchell, who will advise Biden-Camp on digital strategies and scale-up, Buzzfeed Video, and Kamala Harris campaign alum Andrew Gauthier, who is involved in the Biden campaign as a video director, and Robyn Kanner, previously Beto for America’s Creative Director, to manage design and branding.
It will be interesting to see what else emerges from the “Biden” brand, which is not as easy to translate into organic virality as Bernie’s all-purpose meme “I ask again” or that somehow not sweet Antics from Elizabeth Warren’s adorable Golden Retriever Bailey. At least for now, the campaign doesn’t seem to see this as a problem.
Cracking virtual campaigns is not the only headwind for the Biden campaign at the moment. Allegations of sexual assault by former Biden Senate adviser Tara Reade entered mainstream reporting in April. And if it would be difficult under normal circumstances to formulate an answer to such serious accusations, the Biden campaign had to figure out how to do it from a silo.
With the early technical issues resolved, the Biden campaign may have a little more leeway to get creative. The campaign focuses on what it currently sees as its “core platforms” – Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat – but plans to both invest more deeply in them and explore other platforms as it scales above.
“We’ve already seen volunteers expand on Discord, Reddit, Pinterest, and elsewhere,” Pam Stamoulis, director of the Biden digital content campaign, told TechCrunch.
Stamoulis also notes that the campaign is in “close communication” with the main social platforms on which it focuses its efforts.
“… We have scheduled and consistent check-in times to review best practices, recommendations, new tools, and brainstorming ideas and concepts and to optimize the use of their platforms,” said Stamoulis. “We expect that we will work closely with platforms if we continue to focus on the general.”
Biden’s digital strategy of staying on course seems to reflect the thinking of his unlikely Super Tuesday coup. He believes that you need the largest possible coalition and you don’t necessarily have to build it through the most vigorous politics or the most striking moments. The campaign doesn’t want Biden to become as viral as it connects to most people in the broadest sense.
And to his honor, Biden somehow did everything between the comeback in South Carolina and his rival’s Super Tuesday trick. If there’s anything we can rely on in 2020, be it US politics or a global health bill, we don’t know what the hell will happen. This lesson seems particularly important to them extremely online among us who seem to keep discovering that we’re just a tiny, self-selecting part of the American electorate.
There is no word on whether Biden will trade island codes for Animal Crossing à la AOC or a virtual likeness of the candidate looming over Fortnite’s psychedelic Travis Scott-style card, but in a really unusual election year, nothing is off the table.