In this ‘Crazy Campaigns’-series, Medium presents political campaigns that strike attention. This week: A reality TV-star in Sweden
If 2016 were to be described in the history books as a year of chaos, with Brexit and Trump as two prominent features, 2017 would probably be dubbed “The year of elections.” These are turbulent times, not only politically, but also when it comes to campaigning. Breaking through the noise on social media, battling the spread of fake news, even hacker attacks from foreign territory are all features that are relevant in analysing campaigns in 2017. So how are politicians responding to this changing environment? In this series of articles, we’ll examine a few creative attempts to reinvent political campaigning. This week, we’re diving into Sweden’s Green Party and their 2014 campaign, featuring a scandalous TV star and their own reality TV-series.
The Green Party in Sweden had a tremendous success in the European Election of 2014, getting an all-time high of 15.4 % of the votes. Generally speaking, the elections to the European Parliament have a lower turnout than national elections, and Sweden is no exception. This meant that the political parties were working harder than ever to reach the segment of society that cared enough to vote (let’s face it, can you tell the difference between the European Parliament and the European Commission? What are we even voting for?). An important demographic were the young voters, many of us voting for the first or second time. So, how do you reach the youngsters? How do you become “down-with-the-kids” if you usually spend your day talking about tax-cuts, health care or fiscal subsidies? The simple answer: you familiarize yourself with their interests, and start talking their language.
“What do young people like? What do they talk about? Who do they talk about?”
In the intense months leading up to the election, the Green Party practically re-invented what it means to campaign politically and specifically focused on reaching young voters. It was as if the campaign managers asked themselves: “What do young people like? What do they talk about? Who do they talk about?”. The pretty obvious answer seemed to be: Reality TV and more specifically, reality TV-stars. Let me give you a quick review of the most popular reality TV-show in Sweden at that time: Paradise Hotel. Put a few stereotypically “hot” young people with an IQ lower than 100 in a hotel in Mexico, provide them with unlimited access to alcohol and make them vote each other out: voilà, a recipe for success (or disaster, depending on how you look at it). Aina Lesse, an adorable, extremely likeable girl who had a tendency to become screwed over (both sexually and socially) by guys, quickly became everyone’s sweetheart. Imagine the surprise when she became a part of the official political campaign of a respected party.
In the campaign-ad, posted on Facebook, Aina is portrayed holding a lamb in a meadow. There is a quote which translates into: A vote for the environment and against racism is good for all of us!” Genius. What do young people like? Cute animals, reality TV-stars and an easy-to-grasp message that doesn’t take a lot of cognitive effort to process. But the innovative campaign strategy didn’t stop there. The Green Party even developed their own reality TV-show, called “Everything Green”. The aim was to show people what was going on behind the scenes, to show that politicians are just like us! Almost every day, they released a new episode, and of course, their reality TV-sweetheart Aina was featured as well.
Using celebrities in political campaigns is not a new invention. If we take a quick glance at our neighbours across the Atlantic, we saw Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and other prominent celebrities endorsing Clinton, and Obama before that. However, to use a reality TV-star, who is practically only known by young people, is a gamble. It specifically appeals to young voters, and has no effect on those who do not know her. Partially, the same goes with the release of “Everything Green”. It is aimed at a young audience, familiar with the reality TV-concept. However, it of course reached a wider segment of society and was very successful in familiarizing politics and making it more comprehensible. This campaign is three years old, yet the thought behind it still feels relevant. Anger towards the establishment and low trust in politicians are real threats to our democratic system. Opening up, showing what goes on behind the camera, is a good way to inform and engage potential voters, in a fun way. Although, I hope they involve even more reality TV elements in the coming election. I would love to see politicians do body shots and dance on tables.
Cover: Tamar Hellinga