Hillary Clinton has faced many challenges in the course of her decades in public life, but none quite as daunting as her speech Thursday accepting the presidential nomination at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia.
The former secretary of state arrives with some of the highest negative perceptions of any candidate — and is facing a media-genic Republican rival in Donald Trump, a man with a penchant for fiery oratory and an eagerness to exploit any Clinton weakness.
“One of the most difficult things in advertising is to shift entrenched perceptions of a brand,” marketing expert and founder of the Los Angeles-based “The Brand Identity Center,” Chad Kawalec, told TheWrap. “People don’t like to be told they were wrong about something, so the content can fall on deaf ears.”
But while Clinton is currently trailing Trump in some national polls, Kawalec said that her barriers to winning the White House are by no means insurmountable — and pointed to how brands like Apple managed to overcome similar branding problems.
“Before the iPhone, tons of people did not feel Mac was for them. It was seen as a creative tool for computer graphic designers,” Kawalec said. “The iPhone changed how people felt about the brand and opened them up to reconsidering all Apple products.”
Clinton faces some ingrained negative opinions — and associations with scandals from Whitewater and her husband Bill’s impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair to her handling of Benghazi and a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
And by her own admission, she is not a “natural politician.” She’s been often criticized for being too stiff, and her stump speeches branded either stoic or wonky.
That increases the pressure on her televised speech on Thursday — though experts caution that she not attempt a complete overhaul of her personality but embrace the aspects of herself that got her to where she is.
“Authenticity matters,” Ben LaBolt, former Obama press secretary during the 2012 campaign, told TheWrap.
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To connect with undecided voters, though, Clinton may have to step out of her comfort zone and show a more personal side — a marked departure from her usual public persona.
“She has to continue to talk about policy while making herself more relatable,” Kawalec said. “She has to be not only smooth but also personable.”
The key, observers say, may be to reveal what’s behind her stated policy positions. “What you’ve got to do is really open the curtain and share your values and your motivation,” LaBolt said, adding that for Clinton, “that’s going to be the benchmark that she has to clear.”
Of course, Clinton also has to follow some of the party’s most golden-tongued orators at the podium in Philadelphia.
“Michelle Obama helped grab the spotlight on Monday night and delivered a powerful persuasive argument in support of Hillary,” Kawalec said. “And Bill Clinton’s charm was effective and disarming. Hillary should benefit from all the good will both of them possess and use it to her advantage.”
While Clinton may never be as engaging as her husband or President Obama, some argue that it’s not a prerequisite to be a good commander-in-chief.
“She cares about people and she can get things done,” LaBolt said. “If the test of the presidency was, Who do you want to have a beer with? George W. Bush would have been one of our best presidents.”