From late night comedy shows like Saturday Night Live to celebrity endorsements of campaigns, American pop culture has fully ingrained itself into our current political landscape. The questions politicians, interest groups, and public affairs firms must now grapple with include how to leverage pop culture for messaging campaigns and how to strike a balance between political and popular language to elevate an issue in the public’s mind.
History has shown that individuals with a solid understanding and ability to harness popular culture are far more likely to appeal to the American public. Politicians such as Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and President Donald Trump utilized tactics that seemed unorthodox in the politicized world of Washington, but were highly successful in leveraging pop culture trends to gain wide popularity among segments of the population.
Barack Obama, in particular, demonstrated an acute understanding of pop culture trends by inserting popular TV show references into speeches, utilizing celebrity connections, and engaging on popular social media platforms. In balancing his political agenda with trends in pop culture, Obama connected with the public, making issues, and more importantly, the office of the president more accessible to average Americans. A prime example of this successful balance can be seen in Obama’s appearance on Between Two Ferns where he seemed funny and relatable while also educating young viewers about the Affordable Care Act.
With the line between pop culture and politics becoming thinner by the day, it’s important that politicians and public affairs professionals utilize the ever growing number of social and digital platforms available to elevate their message. Whether it’s designing a Snapchat filter for rallies, harnessing timely pop culture references in political ads, commenting on political issues via social media, or inserting political topics into popular TV shows, pop culture is a political super power if used properly.
Politicians and communications professionals should work to adapt messaging strategies to reflect an awareness and mastery of pop culture to connect with their audiences. In times when the country is growing increasingly polarized this shared culture is one of the commonalities that ties Americans together, and leveraging these references will become crucial to gaining widespread support.