The year was 1992, and a presidential race was in full swing with incumbent Republican president George H.W. Bush and Democratic nominee Bill Clinton going head to head in a vicious battle. The election eventually made history as the first Democratic presidential win following three consecutive Republican landslides in previous presidential elections.
One of the most important moments of the 1992 election, and of Bill Clinton’s political career in general, was his guest appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in June 1992. The appearance wasn’t your typical exchange of banal pleasantries, but rather an exemplification of the principle “Know Your Audience.”
You see, The Arsenio Hall Show was aimed at a young, urban audience, so Clinton knew exactly what he was doing up there crooning away on his sax to “Heartbreak Hotel.” He was well aware of the fact that the millions of viewers who were turning in to watch him on the show were young and urban, and so he planned accordingly.
Clinton’s performance was unexpected, and unlike anything anyone had ever seen before in a presidential race. Imagine… a young presidential candidate jamming on his saxophone with a band, his eyes hidden by a pair of dark, hip sunglasses. He wasn’t pretending, and he wasn’t pandering. He was a cool dude, obviously hip to what young people liked. He was a guy who could hang with musicians, and at the same time, be the leader of the free world. He seemed like a guy who’d be fun to drink a beer with.
This performance ultimately solidified Clinton’s popularity with minority and young voters. It’s a moment in time that exemplifies the virtue of knowing your audience. Clinton knew his audience was young and urban, so he decided to give a performance he knew would resonate with them. And as they say, the rest is history: Clinton went on to win the 1992 election in November, largely as a result of winning the minority and youth vote, and in no small part thanks to his ability to know his audience and make decisions with them in mind.