BC tip - The Hillary Clinton campaign: Designer subtitles

A US political video gets its message across to viewers who have their sound turned off.


The Site

The creators of a YouTube film of President Barack Obama endorsing fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton have made subtitles an integral part of the design.

As Obama speaks to camera, his words appear in different places on the screen, and in varying font sizes; larger fonts are used for points the Clinton campaign wants to emphasise.

The Takeaway

A problem with video online is that so many people cannot listen to the audio because they are in an office, on a train, etc. On Facebook and Twitter, videos start playing with the audio switched off as the default.

The producers of this slick video of Obama endorsing Clinton for president seem to understand this - and have made ‘mega subtitles’ an key part of the film, rather than a small-text, crude-font bolt-on.

This means that the video gets its messages across whether viewers have their sound off or on, a potential lesson for companies looking to use video effectively on their online channels.


'Vote Leave' or 'Vote Remain' – who has the best campaign website?

A few months ago, I had a trawl through the campaign websites for Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz to see what lessons corporate web managers could learn from them. As a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union fast approaches, I decided to do the same for the ‘Vote Leave’ and ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaigns.

First up, the campaign for leaving the EU:

The official site is easy to find – it was the top hit in a depersonalized UK Google search for ‘Vote Leave’.

The first thing visitors see on arrival is an embedded YouTube video that automatically starts playing. Potentially fine – but the site’s designers assume that visitors have their audio switched on. If they haven’t (because they’re sitting in an office, for example), the video doesn’t make any sense.

Below the video is a more successful feature: a twelve-digit figure showing ‘UK contributions to the EU’, which shoots up at an appropriately alarming rate as the visitor stares at it.

Further down the long-scrolling home page, things fizzle out.

A horizontal panel of graphical links to articles and videos is difficult to scan due to unwise use of white font on light images.

Text-only ‘facts about the EU’ are too wordy to digest quickly.

A heading ‘Tell us why you are Vote Leave’ is grammatically inelegant.

Yet deeper in the site, there are some nice touches.

A ‘Briefing Room’ section makes clever use of icons to label links to specific topics, such as ‘Security’ and ‘Immigration’.

A ‘Get Involved’ area houses a pleasingly straightforward application form for those who want to help with fundraising and campaigning.

And the entire (fully responsive) site is looks good and works well on a mobile phone. Indeed, it displays better on a small screen than a big one.

The 'Vote Leave' home page

The 'Vote Leave' home page


On now to the less snappily-titled ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign:

This name is a drawback on search engines. Our Google searches for ‘Vote Remain’ failed to bring up the campaign site on the first results page; users must type in the full campaign title to find it.

There are plenty lessons for corporate web managers on the home page – but mainly on things to avoid.

The main headline is in a white font, overlaid across rotating images that often make it hard to read. (Like Vote Leave, this campaign seems to be struggling with making a red, white and blue colour scheme work well on a screen.)

A mobile-style hamburger icon hides the primary navigation menu, even on a desktop screen.

Multitudes of block-capital headlines clutter the page, compete for the visitor’s attention and drown each other out.

A still image in an embedded video panel is blurred.

Britain may well be stronger in Europe, but it’s the Brexit campaign that is strongest online.

The 'Britain Stronger in Europe' home page

The 'Britain Stronger in Europe' home page

By Scott Payton



From ‘Bernie’s story’ to ‘Cruz gear’ – rating the presidential contenders online

Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election campaign broke new ground in online communications.

From an office in Chicago, the Illinois senator’s young team of digital experts and enthusiasts conjured up a raft of powerful new tools and techniques.

Obama billboards were added to video games. On-message quotes and Messianic photos were spread across Facebook and other channels. A location-based app was created that gave campaign volunteers the addresses of target voters – and a script to read to them when they opened their doors.

Do any of the contenders for the Oval Office in 2016 have online campaigns similarly fizzing with ideas? I’ve picked four high-profile candidates – two Democrat and two Republican – to find out.

Let’s start with Hillary Clinton (don’t worry – I’ll get to Donald Trump in a minute).

The former US secretary of state’s official campaign site gets right down to business: an overlay panel urges visitors on arrival to join the campaign by entering their email address and ZIP code – or to ‘just go ahead and donate’.

Smaller text gives visitors the option to bypass these options and reach the home page. Yet here, too, the site doesn’t give up on its two main goals: ‘Join us’ and ‘Donate!’ are the dominant calls to action at both the top and bottom of the page.

This bold, single-minded focus on urging visitors to give up their contact details and cash continues deeper into the site. The ‘Volunteer’ primary menu link leads to a simple form titled, in huge font, ‘Sign up to Volunteer’. Click ‘Events’ and you’re greeted with the big heading ‘Host your own event’, with an accompanying ‘Get Started’ button.

Click on ‘Feed’ and the site takes a different tack – one borrowed heavily from online news site BuzzFeed. A listing of intriguing headlines and eye-catching images mixes serious topics (‘Meet a 9/11 responder whose health benefits are being threatened by Republicans’) with the not-so-serious (‘12 things you can learn from Hillary Clinton's throwback photos’). It’s interesting, fun and draws you in.

Overall, Clinton’s campaign site is bold, focused, unapologetically assertive and clever. Worth a visit for corporate web managers looking to make their site’s online forms clearer – or the news section more appealing to consumers and jobseekers.

Now to one of Clinton’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders. The left-wing Vermont senator follows Clinton’s approach of greeting visitors to his official campaign site with a loud demand for their contact details and money. The language is sneakier, though. A headline ‘Nobody who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty’ is followed by email and ZIP code form fields, and a button ‘I agree’ – which only changes to the more honest ‘Join us’ if you try to click on it without entering your contact details. Similarly, ‘Contribute’ is used rather than the more direct ‘Donate’.

The home page itself is of the long-scrolling variety. Like Clinton’s, it is dominated by further shouty requests to donate money, sign up to the campaign, organize events and so on.

There are a couple of nice extra features, though: ‘Bernie’s story’ is an elegantly executed interactive timeline of Sanders’ life, with some well-chosen archive images and succinct captions. ‘Democracy Daily’ is a lively grid of articles covering Sanders and his big campaign topics on external news sites.

The imagery isn’t as slick as on Clinton’s site – but this may be deliberate. Not being slick is one of Sanders’ political selling points, after all.

Onwards to Ted Cruz for President. No arm-twisting to relinquish ZIP codes or dollars before entering the site here – visitors are taken straight to the home page. Perhaps appropriately, the site is more explicitly capitalist than those of Cruz’s Democrat rivals: ‘Get Cruz Gear’ is a prominent heading on the home page – with links to a well-stocked online shop offering everything from ‘Courageous Conservative in Training’ baby clothes to Cruz-branded iPhone cases and colouring books.

Elsewhere on the site, a short survey asking visitors to rate issues in order of importance is neatly designed – but compared to Sanders’ and Clinton’s sites, pages feel cluttered, colours clash and ‘call to action’ buttons lack clarity and prominence.

If Cruz does cruise to the White House, it won’t be thanks to this website.

Last but not least, let’s visit Donald Trump. Straight to the home page again – no ‘sign up and donate’ overlay panel. Compared to the three sites discussed above, this is, perhaps surprisingly, a rather understated online presence. The inclusion of recent tweets from Trump on the home page is appropriate given the man’s prolific use of the medium. It appears to be a live feed of all of his tweets – even the rantier ones ­– which will keep the lawyers on their toes. 

The ‘In the News’ section, however, is edited with a heavy hand. It’s heavily dull, too – merely a text-only listing of articles narrowly focused on how well Trump is doing in the opinion polls.

Overall, there’s a rather crude, artificial air about the Trump site. Some would say that this was appropriate, too – though I couldn’t possibly comment.

- Scott Payton

Mixing politics and social media - only in America?

Conventional wisdom says that corporate communications and political controversy do not mix. Big corporations have always been political, but usually prefer to work behind the scenes, lobbying politicians, funding campaigns or quietly trying to influence public opinion on issues directly relevant to their business.

Something seems to be changing in the US though, where a number of household corporate names have been staking out public positions on divisive political issues such as gay marriage, immigration reform and whether to display the Confederate flag.

The trend is well summarised and analysed here and here.

This is of particular interest to digital managers because online channels are playing a big role in getting the message out. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple tweeted his support in June for the US Supreme Court’s decision legalising gay marriage. Retail giant Target tweeted from its official account, ‘Here’s to having, holding and marrying who you love’. Macy’s, AT&T, American Airlines and several others followed suit. In June, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, used Twitter to call on the state of South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from its capitol building. A number of other high-profile CEOs did the same.

I did a quick search on a handful of corporate websites of companies that have been vocal on social media – Apple, Target, Microsoft, Wal-Mart Stores and Boeing. There was little or nothing on these issues on the main sites, and the phenomenon appears to be limited to blogs and microsites. Here is Microsoft’s blog on a gay marriage bill in Washington state in 2012. Target discusses same-sex marriage in several entries on its executive blog, including this. Caterpillar mentions immigration (albeit in a very dry way) here and Verizon (much more entertainly) on net neutrality. Boeing has a section on diversity policies for gay, lesbian and transgender employees but we could not find anything on the politics.

What is behind companies’ newfound willingness to take clear positions in America’s culture wars? Partly it is because the battles (for public opinion at least) have already been won. On gay marriage, the Confederate flag, and immigration reform, there is concentrated and vocal opposition, but broad public support. The definition of ‘stakeholder’ is changing for businesses, and they are particularly conscious of presenting a progressive, forward-thinking image to current and future employees. The freedom and expectations for social media and blogs are also driving the trend. If you are company tweeting, posting and blogging, boring corporate-speak will not do; there is an expectation to be clear and interesting.

There may be a cultural angle at work too – it is more acceptable in the US, as opposed to say, Europe, to wear your politics on your sleeve. Americans routinely drop political opinions into conversations with relative strangers, where in other countries your politics stay between you and the walls of the polling booth.

- Jason Sumner