As we noted in our recent roundup of political creativity, the most memorable election-related ads, with a few exceptions, tend to come from outside of the official party organs—from third parties, creators from various disciplines, motivated people coming at the political debate from a fresh angle.
The latest example, "Wake The Fuck Up," is a four-minute video wherein Samuel Jackson does his best to rouse lapsed or lazy Obama supporters out of their complacency. The tone and cadence of the piece will be familiar to those who enjoyed the non-traditional children’s book Go The Fuck To Sleep penned by Adam Mansbach and narrated by Jackson in a much-viewed video. "WTFU" started as an emailed "what if" from Mansbach, that turned into a discussion between Mansbach, director Boaz Yakin (who had worked with Jackson in the past), and members of an organization called Schlep Labs, the political consultancy founded by Ari Wallach and Mik Moore. About a month after the original exchanges, the video was online.
It’s that nimble, crowd-oriented creativity that Schlep Labs has sought to bring to the election process—taking ideas that originate outside of its own five-person organization, filtering and shaping them and turning them into tangible products (videos, websites, or any number of other media experiences). And while the Schlep Labs team goes into high gear every four years, the Labs’ partners’ aspirations aren’t exclusively political—they are looking to bring their open innovation approach to big brands in between elections too.
Schlep Labs was launched this year as an outgrowth of Wallach and Moore’s Super PAC, the Jewish Council for Education and Research, a name you’ll likely recognize from two election cycles’ worth of politico creativity. Over the last five years, a handful of buzzy web videos and stunts on behalf of the Obama campaigns, 2008 and 2012, have been, in whole or in part, the work of the JCER.
The Super PAC first gained notoriety for its 2008 project, "The Great Schlep," created in conjunction with Sarah Silverman and agency Droga5. Based on the premise that the Jewish vote in Florida was key to an Obama win, the project envisioned a very personal hearts and minds assault—sending Democratic-leaning grandkids to visit their skeptical grandparents to explain why Obama was the right choice. The JCER provided talking points for schleppers and logistical support and the initiative was promoted by a video featuring Sarah Silverman explaining the urgency of the trip in her trademark style. Silverman returned early in this election cycle with a video appeal to billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson: If the 78-year old billionaire would divert his $100 million campaign contribution to Obama instead of Romney, he (Adelson) would be the happy recipient of a scissoring administered by a bikini-bottom-clad Silverman. The video threw to a website, ScissorSheldon.com, where viewers could get more information about Adelson’s political track record and past donations to conservative causes. More recently, Silverman inveighed against voter ID legislation that potentially creates barriers for certain demographics to vote (or, as Silverman put it: "Hey black people, old people, poor people, and students: lawmakers are trying to f.. (radio edit) you in your a…(radio edit)."
In all, the JCER videos have been among the most watched and discussed creative executions of both elections. And Wallach is looking to bring the same open approach that made those projects successful to big brands with his consultancy, Synthesis Corp.
Synthesis was born in 2008 after the success of "The Great Schlep," when Wallach says he fielded several offers from a range of companies, all of which assumed, "that someone proficient in social media and its usage for campaigning and outbound messaging understood innovation writ large.
"What I realized in some of these conversations I was having post-great Schlep was that the role of technology was fundamentally reshaping the enterprise."
Wallach says in those conversations it became apparent "that what people were really asking for was not a new social media campaign but a fundamental rethink of their actual business model. That’s when Synthesis Corp was born because it became apparent that where organizations were heading was in a direction that leveraged technology not just in the marketing department but in operations and finance and accounting and across the entire board."
Synthesis offers strategic consulting but with an emphasis on the organizational impact of technology and an open approach to sourcing ideas. "A lot of what we were doing was much more in the kind of psychodynamic change management realm—literally how do you get organizations to learn and to pivot around what technology is bringing. And that is what we’ve been doing since then.
It’s an approach that Wallach says should and does transcend the marketing department and it also transcends the in-house staff of any agency, consultancy, or brand. Via its skunkworks model, Synthesis actively sources ideas from and works with relevant experts to solve "really kind of sticky wicket problems" for brands.
"This idea that you’re either inside the enterprise or outside is pretty much going away. And so we work with a lot of outside experts," says Wallach, who was featured in Fast Company's Generation Flux issue.
Schlep Labs, he says, is the personification of that in the political realm.
Via Synthesis, Wallach also works with organizations like the UNHCR, on projects like developing shelters in refugee camps and CNN, for which the company "shot a pilot for a show that exists in the future."
In the immediate political future, Wallach says there will be further Schlep efforts in Florida, but they’ll be hypertargeted (and may or may not involve delis and bingo halls as well as videos).
And as for the marketing process in the wider brand world, Wallach says "I think the CMO and COO are going to go, over next 5 years, through a radical transformation where they are working much more closely. Because the COO will need the outside world engagement on product and platform development and that will in and of itself be your marketing."