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Arun Chaudhary

Creative Director, Bernie Sanders 2016

YOU’VE PROBABLY NOTICED: There’s something different about Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator has built a sleeper hit of a campaign, a slow #bern that’s shocking both sides of the aisle. And if his targeted messaging and success with young voters seems reminiscent of Obama, that’s because he hired the same guy: Arun Chaudhary.

But what’s unique about Chaudhary isn’t that he helped elect the President. Twice.

It’s that, unlike creative directors on other campaigns, Chaudhary doesn’t come from a background in politics — he comes from a background in fine art. (Hillary hired a political science major to run creative; Trump hired no one in particular.) The NYU-trained filmmaker is one of only a few artists working in politics, which begs the question: Could artists create better content for voters than political consultants?

Can art disrupt politics?

Arun Chaudhary - Creative Director, Bernie Sanders

HERE’S HOW CAMPAIGNS WORK: When a candidate decides to run, they hire external consultants to come in and generate content—TV scripts, copy, social media posts. And the issue with this is twofold: one, these guys (and they usually are male) are an archaic part of the Washington establishment; two, they’re often paid on media buy commission, creating a huge and obvious bias.

“I’ve never understood why consultants are responsible for content,” Chaudhary explains. “They’ve never written a book, never made a movie. And they’ve never run for office, so, why are they leading campaigns?”

The answer? Because that’s how it’s been done—at least since Reagan first popularized consultants in the 1980s.

“I find this model troubling,” Chaudhary continues. “Because consultants aren’t motivated to educate voters. They’re motivated by money—a lot of money. Take a standard 30 second TV ad, which can run up to $10, 15, 20MM per buy. A consultant might take home 15% of that.”

Take this Donald Trump video as an example (although democrats, too, fall guilty to this trend). Everyone agrees these “mass appeal” advertisements are less effective than more targeted messaging, like social media. Consultants know they’re ineffectual, but don’t want to part with the hefty paycheck.

“The problem, being, every dollar wasted on ineffective tactics means one less dollar toward an authentic, genuine campaign—toward helping you choose a candidate. I’m worried our elections have become more of a business than a platform for ideas.”

The Issue: Campaigns Are Driven By Money, Not Ideas

Arun Chaudhary - Creative Director, Bernie Sanders
“Take a standard 30 second TV ad, which can run up to $10,15, 20MM per buy. A consultant might take home 15%.”

WHICH BEGS THE QUESTION: Who can educate voters? According to the men behind Obama’s presidential bids, David Axelrod and David Plouffe, the answer is artists—filmmakers, writers and photographers. They credit these folks with creating the revolutionary nature of these campaigns.

“We hired [Chaudhary] to run video for the President because of his artistic eye,” says Axelrod. “Because, as an artist, he would contribute a compelling and authentic story to voters… That narrative was invaluable.”

Axelrod also references Chaudhary’s dedication to authentic content—to portraying the future as a man instead of a superhero.

“Most consultants barrage your screens with roaring crowds and cooing babies—ads that make a candidate look larger than life,” he remembers. “But I took a different approach. I chose to capture the President in every boring moment—every freight elevator and stubbed toe—to give voters a real sense of Obama as an individual. It might not be glamorous, but it’s true, and that helps people vote.”

Therein lies the crux of the issue: Artists, unlike consultants, are motivated by quality content. It’s the complete opposite of propaganda tactics exemplified by Nazi Germany and ISIS, as it attempts to humanize, not deify, its subjects.

“Propaganda takes the mundane and elevates it to the extraordinary,” Chaudhary asserts. “What I propose is hiring artists to take the extraordinary—things like the presidency—and make them mundane. Use that to inform voters.”

The Solution: Hire Artists

Arun Chaudhary - Creative Director, Bernie Sanders

In his “offseason” role as a partner at DC marketing agency, Revolution Messaging, Chaudhary’s applies these methods to progressive clients like the ACLU, MoveOn.org and billionaire Melinda Gates

So, it came as no surprise when Millennial-loved Bernie Sanders asked Chaudhary to build a campaign team that now includes five Masters of Fine Arts—more than the rest of the field put together. Sanders demonstrates just how effective artists can be in politics. That his average donation hovers around $27 evidences their success in targeting individuals.

“My favorite thing is the 404 Error Page we created for his website,” Chaudhary laughs. “If you type something wrong into the search box, you get this amazing clip of Bernie explaining you’re in the wrong place—a video that totally embraces how tech unsavvy he can be. Our video acknowledges his shortcomings in a way no other campaign would allow, but is just so quintessentially him.”

Voters walk away from the video with a better understanding of Sanders as an individual. And isn’t that the point of it all? Both Chaudhary and his artist gang say yes.

Campaigns At Bernie's

The video acknowledges [Sanders] shortcomings in a way no other campaign would allow.”

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