Two weeks ago, Mary Jennings Hegar was a textbook definition of a long shot: a rookie Democrat running in red state Texas’ 31st Congressional District against John Carter, a Republican who has held the office for 15 years. Although MJ, as she likes to be called, had a distinguished career as a U.S. Air Force Medevac pilot in Afghanistan (winning a Distinguished Flying Cross and Purple Heart when her helicopter was shot down), she was a political unknown. But last week, after she released a campaign video that went viral with nearly 4 million views, she was all over the media; USA Today, People, Time, Washington Post, and CNN.
Whether the video will translate to an upset victory won’t be decided until November 6, but what made the ad so successful and so quickly can be attributed to two powerful communication factors:
The essence of any presentation is a good story and any good story has what Hollywood calls a “story arc,” or a clear through-line of continuity. MJ’s ad tells the story of her life in 3 minutes and 28 seconds using doors as a linking device: the bullet-riddled door of her helicopter, the smashed doors of her broken family, the closed doors of the Pentagon that limited her military career, and the doors of Texas politics that were closed to her.
Hollywood’s use of a linking device goes all the way back to the 1942 film, Tales of Manhattan, which followed a formal tailcoat from one owner to another, and the 1964 film, The Yellow Rolls-Royce, about three different owners of a luxury limousine.
Contrast the through-line of MJ’s ad with typical political ads—as well as typical ads for commercial products or services—which are characteristically edited as quick-cut images in the frenetic style of rap music videos. Viewers of any ad, whether commercial or political, may be entertained and even dazzled by a high-speed montage, but they respond more deeply when they are swept along by a human interest story. The classic example is this Coca-Cola video ad with Pittsburgh Steeler Mean Joe Green and a little boy—which also had nearly 4 million views.
Although MJ’s ad was professionally produced, she is the star; and although she is a complete novice to performing, she did win a Toastmasters award as Communicator of the Year.
Every aspect of MJ’s life—every closed door—presented her with an opportunity to strive and persevere until she opened them: although bullets pierced her helicopter door, she kept flying until she completed her rescue mission; she sued the Pentagon’s Combat Exclusion Policy, which kept women from many combat jobs and reversed the policy; and when Congressman Carter would not meet with her, she ran against him. And, as she says in last line in the ad, “We’ll show him the door!”
Sounds like a campaign slogan about to go viral.
Jerry Weissman is among the world’s foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intuit, Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, RingCentral, Mobileye, OnDeck, CyberArk, Twilio, Zuora and many others.
Jerry originally founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. In 2017, the name was changed to reflect clients’ goals: To make an impact, to influence, to get results, to persuade. The new name is Suasive. As Jerry says, “The name has changed, but our mission has not: Be Suasive: Be Heard.”