This week begins a journey into the blue and red divided world of politics, and it's many
influences, challenges, and issues relevant today. We kick it off with a conversation with Yosi Sergant on Radical Ones. Sergant, a publicist, CEO of Task Force, and former media consultant for the Obama administration sits down with us to discuss how cultural art impacts political and social change.
When we think of certain things or places, images come to mind, like graffiti. Many people's minds will wander to NYC streets in the 80s. Despite street murals still being a trend today, a go-to image of neon bubble letters on concrete walls circa 1987 Brooklyn is an impermeable vision to many Gen Xers influenced by a decade of breakdance films. Photos take you to a time and a moment, either where it was created or experienced.
When asked to remember President Barack Obama's campaign run, people inevitably recall the poster. The famous blue and striking red image of Barack Obama's contemplative face with HOPE's bold words. An innovative image with a simple message that changed the way we looked at political marketing forever. The original artwork was created by street artist Shepard Fairey and was commissioned as well as co-produced by Yosi Sergant.
Watch this clip from CNN of their 2009 interview with Fairy about the making of the poster
Yosi Sergant was in marketing and communications at Toyota in 2006, where he worked on a youth brand centered around hip-hop influence. At that time, Congressman Obama's senior advisor saw something in Sergants' work and recruited him. Despite his lack of political experience, he found himself working in the White House's Office Of Public Engagement in 2008.
Sergeant recalls bringing his life experience from a dropout to an artist who initially felt like a political outsider, into his new role. "I brought this to the party 'cause that's what I know." He says, "The only way we're going to win is if people feel comfortable engaging in a political process that they've been intentionally excluded from for generations."
This public engagement unit was initially called the Office of Public Liaison. So, why did the Obama administration find engagement to be critical? Don't politicians want to lay out their plans and have the people vote yay or nay? Sure, but the Hope campaign was focused on inclusion, which was why the image became so popular; it's rooted in art, and art touches all people.
People who didn't feel invited are now grabbing seats at the political table. If art imitates life, then that includes our political life, and our culture is engaged in its many forms. We watch movies, take pictures, paint, read, and write. Yosi says, "It takes culture to change culture and culture to change behavior and behavior to ultimately change policy."
Images capture the imagination, and they also capture hearts, minds, and, more importantly, votes. Barack Obama, being the first black candidate and president, already implied hope. Still, the poster ushered the public into a rallying call for change with its creativity blatant in it's a new and fresh form of expression. "At the core of my work is the belief that there's never been a social movement built without artists at the tip of the sphere," Sergant says, describing the importance of imagery. Obama's media campaign wasn't politics as usual; it was art; art pushes boundaries, and art can bring forth change.
Click here to see Shepard Fairey’s ‘We The People’ series released in 2017 in protest to Trump.
Imagery in Politics Through The Years
Using pictures to relay thoughts is not new, however. American politics have seen an array of political cartoons and images as far back as the 16th century. Many historians believe that the actual start of political propaganda, as we know it today, started in 1828 with the race between Andrew Jackson and Quincy Adams, which was famous for their dirty tactics. Jackson and Adams made public accusations against each other from murder to prostitution, but despite these verbal assaults, pictures were worth a thousand words and imagery became more critical.
In 1911, the Capitalist System's Pyramid, a cartoon against capitalism, brought social issues to light. With school integrations came anti-racial promos such as the infamous Help Keep Your School All American posters, which featured superman explaining diversity's importance. None are as famous as "Rosie The Riveter" who debuted in 1943; the "We Can Do It" poster was the government's attempt to add women to the workforce.
As television sets entered more homes, people became further influenced by images. Many believe that it wasn't just the charismatic words of John F Kennedy that landed him the win but his confident presence and good looks during the nationally televised debate in 1960 sealed the deal.
Times have changed, so how does society go from being galvanized by a single image to today's standards of a fast-paced, selfie-obsessed world?
The Art Of Social Networks
Despite our fast-evolving media outlets, Sergant still believes in the importance of actual engagement. It doesn't matter how big your budget is for a commercial or how many followers you have if one cannot connect with their audience. Think of Instagram influencers; they produce content consistently but are most successful when they engage with their followers in various ways social media allows. A reply to a comment or a follow back goes a long way.
Between fake news and conspiracy theories, the public has lost faith in politics, so campaigns now focus on engaging through social media. Americans keep their phones and laptops near and connect to friends and news giving a sense of validity as opposed to a campaign rally. According to a report on UKEssays, 20% of social media users stand firm in their social and political views based on information from social media content.
This video by KQED shows how social media influences political views including recommendations on how to balance it all.
Getting GIPHY With It
Is keeping up with the engagement of people possible while our media moves so quickly? The answer is that most people are already doing it. Memes and GIFs have become a second language. Texting and emailing with friends can almost entirely be done via GIFs.
A paintbrush or pen is now clickable, made easier by companies like Sergant's Task Force, which he launched in 2010. Yosi and his team create videos, GIFs, and campaigns that make up 68% of content on Gifphy.com through their project, Into Action. Graphics Interchange Format, or GIFs, are the most popular forms of communication today.
One may imagine a 30-something in the basement of their parents' house tapping away on a laptop putting pixels together, which may have been the case a few decades ago, yes GIFs have been around for over 30 years, but much more thought goes into it these days. GIFs went from being used by 100 million Americans in 2016 to over 700 million today. In 2016 Giphy officially partnered with the election campaign for Live-GIFing, which uses real-time images during an event with an immediate turnover into a GIF to share on sites like Twitter.
Click here for examples of Political GIFs on GIPHY
Sergeant's company curates various memes and GIFs, empowering, and employing artists to be the creators of visual aids that are socially conscious, giving nonprofits free content. Whether reposting stories, pictures, or news clips, many are engaged in spreading a message and creating culture. Marketing using properly placed digital photos was once reserved for retailers and services but is now a must for non-profits and politics.
Task Force works with many non-profits such as Amnesty International, Women's March, and McArthur Foundation. 86% of charities use social media platforms, and 55% of users engaging via social media result in taking some form of Action or donation. Be it political or social, uniquely worded looped pictures can be impactful with humor or stunning in sadness. It's like having your very own set of campaign tools for personal beliefs to be molded and shared as chosen.
Reposting or sharing a picture online may not be the same as the portrait of hope from Obama, but a GIF can be worth a 1,000 words or, as we approach election season, a 1,000 votes.
To learn more about Yosi Sergant company's culture creating mission visit www.taskforce.pr.
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