Matt McLaughlin hasn’t always been a fan of political ads. For a long time he thought most campaign videos were “horrible.”
But it was his distaste with the status quo that led the 31-year-old filmmaker to translate his storytelling techniques from consumer brand commercials to political campaigns.
Teaming up with Bill Hyers, a campaign strategist, McLaughlin said the duo have “set out to do something different, do something new, and make better ads.”
Instead of relying on polling to create “extremely message-heavy” ads, McLaughlin and Hyers prefer to let their subjects talk freely about what matters to them.
“They communicate with people instead of speaking at people,” McLaughlin said of his videos. “Honest stories work.”
While the team has created content for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, it was their video for Democrat Randy Bryce that caught the public’s attention, with more than half a million views on YouTube alone so far.
The video brought national recognition to the unknown steelworker in his quest to unseat House Speaker Paul D. Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st District. Bryce, who came to be known as the “Iron ’Stache” on Twitter for his definitive facial hair, raised more than $430,000 in 12 days after the video’s release.
Now, McLaughlin and Hyers are back with another video that has the same potential.
An introduction video the two produced for Boyd Melson, a Democratic candidate in New York’s 11th District, racked up 100,000 views in under an hour, according to the campaign. The video is similar to McLaughlin’s previous work with emotional music and dramatic shots.
But for McLaughlin, having an “amazing human character” was the most important factor, something he said he found in Melson.
McLaughlin said the former professional boxer and West Point graduate has a story people can connect with.
“He really embodies someone who fights for other people,” McLaughlin said.
And finding inspiring characters is what McLaughlin and Hyers have set out to do.
The duo started a political media company called WIN, with a focus on creating “video-centric campaigns that engage audiences, drive action and create change.”
Their goal is to turn standard political advertising on its head and take a “drastically different approach,” McLaughlin said.
“We’re not making ads,” he said. “We’re making short films. We are making pieces that are honest.”
McLaughlin said the success of the videos can be credited partly to the current political environment, in which people are “looking for new solutions.”
“Traditional political media strategy is not working,” he said.
While Hyers had a background in politics, McLaughlin came to the field with experience in consumer brand strategy and commercial production.
It is the duo’s knack for storytelling that makes them stand out, McLaughlin said, adding that he and Hyers are “constantly honing in on how to tell a story.”
Part of that comes through the production process. Instead of going into filming with a script, McLaughlin and Hyers have long conversations with their subjects. From these filmed talks, the duo shapes a narrative for their videos.
“The whole point is that they are honest,” McLaughlin said.
As for his own future in political campaigns, McLaughlin said he and Hyers have been swamped with interest from potential candidates since the Bryce ad went viral.
But McLaughlin said making videos is only half the battle — the candidates he works for still need donations and for people to come out to vote.
Most of all, McLaughlin said he wants to change the direction of political advertisements in the Democratic Party.
“We hope that the party as a whole pays attention to some of the things we are doing,” he said.