Copy We Like: A Voice in the Wilderness
I get a lot of political e-mails. And yes, the causes associated with them happen to be on the liberal side.
Regardless of your spot on the ideological spectrum, however, if you're on such mailing lists, the messages you receive resemble the ones swarming my in-box: urgent requests to support so-and-so's brave stand against such-and-such; desperate appeals for cash before some looming electoral deadline; high-dudgeon screeds about what some muckety-muck proclaimed on Meet the Press.
The language aspires to intimacy, but no matter the signatory, the voice sounds suspiciously the same. An alarm is sounded; calls to action (linked to the donation page) appear every few lines; fewer words are preferred because, you know, nobody reads anymore.
That's what made me want to write about Alan Grayson's e-mail appeals. Grayson served but one term in the U.S. House of Representatives as the distinguished gentleman from Florida's eighth district (dominated by Orlando). His bluntly combative style and impeccably progressive outlook made him a target for conservatives, who toppled him in 2010's midterm wave.
But Grayson's left-wing orientation isn't the distinguishing attribute of the e-blasts he sends in an effort to reclaim his seat; it's his personality, which is on full display. He wears his unique selling proposition on his sleeve. The man does not hesitate to be who he is. This seems particularly bold when even leading political contenders contort themselves daily to become the person they think you want them to be.
For one thing, Grayson's messages are longer than the typical solicitation, but they always reward sustained attention. They reflect not only his incendiary passion but also his impish sense of humor, and they engage in what I fear is becoming a lost art: genuine debate. Rather than proffering paeans to "stopping the Republicans," he takes on specific claims with fully fleshed-out arguments that he backs up with documentation.
Witness his Jan. 3 missive, "Rick Santorum Is Wrong," in which he trashes the would-be presidential contender's claim that Americans don't die for lack of health insurance. He attacks this assertion on factual, logical and emotional grounds, working from the empirical to the moral with an ever-increasing intensity. He includes a link to a substantial published report and even to video of his own speech on the subject. He cites the names of the aggrieved. What he does not do, until the very end, is request that you support his campaign.
And while Grayson's e-mails are always well written, sometimes he permits himself a flight of literary fancy. His use of the phrase "attenuated connection to reality" to describe Newt Gingrich is certainly distinctive, but I daresay no one else on the political scene would e-mail his list with copy like this:
Many people have flailed Newt for being a philanderer; a corporate shill; a crass greedhead; an egomaniac; and a cranky, crabby, crotchety, caustic, cantankerous, choleric cuss. All of that may be true, but I think that it may miss the point. The point is that Newt is wrong, wrong, wrong. Consistently wrong. Shockingly wrong.
"Newt is not astute. Newt's grasp of things is minute. Newt's credibility is in disrepute."
Now, it would be easy enough for Grayson to assail Gingrich's talking points without this puckish parade of alliteration and rhyme. You need only glance at "Rick Santorum Is Wrong" or a straightforward forensic blitzkrieg like "The Fed Bailouts: Money for Nothing" to see that when he wants to be, Grayson is serious as a heart attack.
But Gingrich clearly brings out the entertainer in him, another rich facet of his personality. (To be fair, that may be in part because Grayson sees something of a doppelgänger in a grandstanding political pro like Gingrich, loath though he may be to admit it.)
In any case, the resulting tour de force reminds us, yet again, what a truly singular voice can do for a brand. And make no mistake: Politicians are every bit as engaged in branding as are makers of toothpaste and television.
The Grayson brand soared and plummeted within a single election cycle and may well do either or both again. But it will do so based on an authentic, organic, highly quirky brand voice, not the ready-made, focus-grouped truisms of his contemporaries' e-mail machines. In our book, this makes Grayson a winner.