Something is changing in our politics—waves of resistance that ebb, then spike when called upon.
One such spike happened in our last round of elections: New Jersey Republican politician John Carman, who shared a meme on Facebook criticizing the Women’s March in January, lost his seat to Democrat Ashley Bennett—driven to run, for the first time ever, because he simply made her angry enough.
Meanwhile, over in Virginia, Chris Hurst, a man who lost his girlfriend to gun violence, won a delegate seat against an incumbent backed by the NRA.
If nothing else can be said about our last presidential election, one thing is certain: It has changed the faces of the people pursuing politics. Hoping to elevate just such efforts is fledgling political media firm WIN, the force behind a number of unexpected candidacies lately—and their remarkably compelling, often emotionally resonant advertising.
WIN just found its latest rising star—the actress Cynthia Nixon, who on Monday announced her run for governor of New York. The former Sex and the City star, 51, narrates a two-minute spot, in which she argues that “something has to change” in the state she loves so much.
“New York is my home. I’ve never lived anywhere else,” Nixon says at the outset, over a quiet piano score, as she is seen enjoying family time with her wife Christine Marinoni and their kids. “When I grew up here, it was just my mom and me in a one-bedroom, fifth-floor walkup. New York is where I was raised, and where I’m raising my kids. I’m a proud public-school advocate, and a prouder public-school parent.”
But things aren’t like they used to be, she says. New York is now “most unequal state in the entire country,” home to the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. She goes on to lay out her agenda—addressing such inequality, tackling healthcare and incarceration, fixing the broken subway.
At the end of the spot, Nixon is seen on a commuter train. She finally looks directly at the camera, offering a calm but defiant smile. “Together, we can win this fight,” she says in the V.O. As the screen goes black, the conductor is heard. “Next stop, Albany,” he says.
The spot was quickly celebrated as an inspirational departure from typical political advertising, but in fact it’s part of a trend toward longer, more emotional pieces. And no one is doing it better than WIN.
The firm launched last year. Composed of Matt McLaughlin, executive producer at production company Acres, and Bill Hyers, campaign manager/political strategist of Hilltop Public Solutions, it’s committed to “creating positive change through the best storytelling and new media strategy, aiming to work only with candidates and causes of substance.”
Its first ad, released last June, was for Wisconsin ironworker Randy Bryce, who is running for Congress this year against Paul Ryan. Again, a personal story was used to highlight the causes most important to him: We met his mother, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, and learned he himself is a cancer survivor.
“I think it’s time for us to trade places,” he says. “Paul Ryan, you can work the iron … and I’ll go to D.C.”
Last fall, WIN made a compelling spot for Hawaii-based politician Kaniela Ing, who declared his run for Congress.
“People are waking up to the fact that their voice is being silenced by a handful of wealthy elites,” Ing says in the calm, affecting work. “We have the ability, we have the ideas, we have the solutions—we just need the will to take our destiny into our own hands.”
While it isn’t unusual to use emotional storytelling to make candidates feel more relatable, this particular approach seemed especially tailored to Ing and his audience. It managed to be both meditative and infused with quiet will.
“Where you come from shapes who you are,” Ing tells us, creating a clean pretext for both telling his personal story while touching on subjects likely to matter to his constituency. In short, Ing fights for working families because he comes from one. He recounts the early death of his father, and his mother’s efforts to support four children and a grandparent, while highlighting the importance of community and government programs.
“It was in the pineapple fields where I got my first calluses—my first paycheck, at 14 years old, to help my mom with bills,” he adds.
But the message is largely hopeful, capturing the sense of vigor in citizens who suddenly feel compelled to act. “We’re a vessel for ideas; the wind blows through us like a whistle. And the wind is the people.”
WIN had another hit just this month with an ad for Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Kelda Roys, who was seen breastfeeding her baby in the spot.
Without saying as much, all of WIN’s work juxtaposes its breed of candidate with the people we assume are already in power—career politicians whose lives and actions bear no relation to the people they impact. In contrast, WIN’s candidates are largely next-door types—even Cynthia Nixon has a down-to-earth quality—who look like their voters and bear politics born in life experience. Bryce’s own video enjoyed nearly 25 million views, per WIN.
Prior to spotlighting the everyman and -woman, McLaughlin was responsible for creating numerous such political ads, including Bernie Sanders’ four-minute campaign spot, “It’s Not Over,” featuring Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner. Alongside Hyers, he’s also worked on pieces for clients like New York City’s Bill de Blasio and Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman.
It’s refreshing to see work that hits close to home and doesn’t rely on fear or mudslinging. WIN’s political Spielberg approach says volumes for the sincerity of its mission. As Ing says in his piece, “If you stand with the people, it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side.”