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Here’s What Politicians and Selling Bleach Have in Common

Voters used social networks like Facebook and Twitter far more in the 2014 midterms than in the 2010 midterm elections. About 16% of registered US voters said they used social media to follow a candidate or get information on a campaign — up from 6% four years earlier.

Voters used social networks like Facebook and Twitter far more in the 2014 midterms than in the 2010 midterm elections. About 16% of registered US voters said they used social media to follow a candidate or get information on a campaign — up from 6% four years earlier.

The ticker tape has been swept up, the concession speeches have been made (some through gritted teeth), and the political pontificators have finally gone home after a night of strident opining into the wee hours. As America wakes up this morning, our country has new senators, our states have new congress people, and our towns big and small have new local leaders firmly ensconced in their seats.

As Americans, we can finally give a sigh of relief that the seemingly endless onslaught of political ads, commercials, radio spots, lawn signs, and door hangers have at last come to their conclusion, at least for the time being. Americans are bombarded with upward to 3,000 marketing messages a day. During the 2014 mid-term election season, that number seemed to quadruple. Nationwide, political comers and their supporters spent over $4 billion on ads during this election cycle, a record for an off-year election, according to Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks money in politics.

Political marketers can learn much from how companies market and brand themselves

Political marketers can learn much from how companies market and brand themselves

But we must admit, those ads had an impact because they got us familiar with a cast of characters and a slate of positions that took root in our brains, even at a subconscious level. And ultimately, isn’t that what marketing is designed to do? In their own unique way, politicians, bond measures, and the like are a product, packaged to appeal to a certain segment of the population by offering a solution to a problem. Whether that problem is selecting the city council candidate whose values most closely match your own, or which laundry additive will make your dingiest clothes look sparkling new again—both the political and sales variety—aim to help you solve it.

Blogging Out Loud interviewed Phil Saifer, President of integrated marketing agency Vertical Marketing Network, about the parallels between marketing a brand and marketing a political campaign in 2014. Phil is a marketing professional with more than 30 years of experience building results-oriented marketing campaigns for his clients.

Brand building

Phil Saifer: On Election Day, political campaigns pay close attention to who is voting and why they are voting that way. This is something that classically trained brand marketers have been doing for 90 years. Crafting the skills of “engineering the buy” is not a new term. It was part of my training over 30 years ago as a young marketing rookie promoting Clorox Bleach, Kingsford Charcoal, and Hidden Valley Salad dressing.

Blogging Out Loud: But what does marketing bleach have to do with an election process?

Products offer solutions that solve the immediate needs of consumers. Politicians try to brand themselves as "problem-solvers" as well

Products offer solutions that solve the immediate needs of consumers. Politicians try to brand themselves as “problem-solvers” as well

PS: Plenty. With bleach you are presenting the features and benefits of the brand. With a candidate running for office it’s the same. With bleach, you craft a reason to believe in your brand and build that brand as your problem-solver. The same holds true for a political run. And furthermore, for bleach you are communicating an urgency, a call-to-action to get off the sofa and go out and select your brand. This is exactly the same end goal within the political arena.

BOL: So with extensive experience in brand marketing, what can that discipline bring to political marketing?

PS: As a breed, classically trained brand marketers are ingrained with lots of inquisitiveness. Always looking at the next level to influence groups and individuals. That’s really where marketing brands and marketing for elections have separated over the years. In the political arena, especially at the local and statewide level where it just has not taken place, we have the opportunity to utilize sophisticated hyper-targeted techniques to identify, track and communicate with intended audiences. “Politics as usual,” where marketing is stuck in the 1980s, can really get a big turbocharge by what we are doing in the non-political arena.

BOL: So how do you anticipate this transition will take place?

PS: For today’s discussion, let’s just look at social media marketing. First off is the understanding that political communications is not an election cycle thing that runs from September until Election Day. This is a small leap that needs to occur in the political arena. For example, building social engagements throughout an elected official’s term needs to be acknowledged as an important process. And in terms of the transition for elected officials, savvy future candidates, and consultants, the recognition that the tipping point may already be upon them given our ability to influence elections through the power of technology and classic branding thinking. Take for instance, yesterday’s results in a local political race.

Newly elected Orange City Council member Kim Nichols appeals to both Democrats and Republicans with record of public service as a school board member

Newly elected Orange City Council member Kim Nichols appeals to both Democrats and Republicans with record of public service as a school board member

Running against well-known opponents for two open Orange City Council seats, Kim Nichols was able to win election by building awareness and a brand forged on trust and past leadership even though she had never held citywide office. This was accomplished by a dedicated team of volunteers and professionals who all understood what we were striving for and took it upon ourselves to deliver the votes. This included data mining and social media marketing testing, something that just was not being done at this level of local elections. This is the new frontier—but it’s not a decade away, it is here now.

Engagement through digital

While TV ads still “rule the roost” as far as most popular “push” advertising medium for companies and pols alike, social media and web advertising are engagement “pull” mediums, which through the explosion of digital devices such as mobile phones, iPads and similar items, is a tremendous asset for today’s and tomorrow’s communications.  The breakdown of who these owners are does skew younger, granted, but even so, 63% of Americans over age 65 have some sort of mobile device.

President Obama is recognized on both sides of the aisle as the first candidate to fully embrace and leverage “new media”

President Obama is recognized on both sides of the aisle as the first candidate to fully embrace and leverage “new media”

The first candidate to fully embrace the importance of “new media” was then-candidate Barack Obama in 2008, and there is little argument that his campaign changed the game. Young people embraced his message of “Hope and Change” and, thanks to them, it raced through the Internet like a fire. Ever since, politicians running for national office have been attempting to capture this “lightning in a bottle.”

One thing is certain: the most important advantage new media has over traditional outlets is that data—who is seeing the ad, where they are, how often they comment, share or like—is gathered immediately. Within hours, reports are generated that tell marketers what approach is truly reaching the intended audience—and if it isn’t, the message can be tweaked virtually instantly. With TV advertising, such data is not part of the instant equation.

Leveraging data

Nichols also worked with Vertical Marketing Network to leverage the data they culled from her online campaign to determine which image and copy worked best for particular hyper-targeted audiences. For example, would Republican men be more likely to click on her Facebook ad if it featured an image President Reagan? Would female Democrats be more likely to respond to a message that touted family values versus relieving tax burdens? In total, nearly 75 ad sets were created, tested, optimized, refined and re-optimized during the campaign leading up Election Day with great learning and great communications effectiveness.

The information was invaluable to helping her highlight her views and experience in a way that would most appeal to her intended audience. Companies do this all the time—that’s why 58% of companies use information gleaned from social media to streamline their marketing efforts.

Marketing the message

While as voters, we are done with election season ads for now, the politicians and their marketing teams are busily evaluating what worked—and what didn’t. One thing is certain: the tried-and-true marketing tactics of branding, identifying the audience, and using data to shape the message are important components of any campaign—whether it’s for a politician or a brand of bleach.

Politicians in America have learned valuable lessons in branding from classic marketing campaigns

Politicians in America have learned valuable lessons in branding from classic marketing campaigns

What do you think? Feel free to share in the comments section below.


Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency. Screen captures intended as illustrative examples only. Registered trademarks and logos are the property of their respective owners.

 

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16 comments on “Here’s What Politicians and Selling Bleach Have in Common

  1. dgulkina
    May 5, 2015

    khl;hj

    Like

  2. nofrey
    November 14, 2014

    One of the reasons I vote by mail (aside from being able to do it on my couch while watching Game of Thrones) is that I can research the candidates and propositions online while completing the ballot. I don’t pay attention to the ads since they don’t provide an accurate assessment of the candidates’ policies and plans of action.

    Like

  3. Janet_D
    November 13, 2014

    The importance of marketing in shaping the political process was especially obvious this recent voting period, due not just to the non-stop flow of television ads clearly geared at garnering a segment of the audience—an ad intended to garner the female vote here, another to prey upon unemployment fears by focusing on “illegal immigration”—but by a continuing trend to gain a political end by careful, sometimes slippery, use of language. More than ever before, ads that urged voting yay or nay on particular political propositions were sponsored by mysterious benefactors. Often it appeared that groups with names such as Californians Against Higher Medical Bills were running ads in favor of propositions that actually, and very blatantly, raised most Californians’ medical bills; likewise, difficult-to-argue-with organizations with titles such as Let’s Keep California’s Jobs might likely sponsor propositions to keep the state’s minimum wage at a record minimum. And in this case, marketing’s importance often came by one’s ability to craftily convince innocent, unsuspecting voters to vote against their own self-interest.

    Social media only helps them do a better job—more quickly, and more efficiently.

    The times are indeed a-changin’.

    Like

  4. karenelinder
    November 12, 2014

    I have never trusted and never will trust any political advertising or promotion. Now that corporations and the 1% can buy any politician it is even more corrupt and untrustworthy–and adding sponsored or bought social media to that really pulls the rug out from under it. I trust my own research on political candidates and propositions. It is a lot more work, but worth it in the long run.

    Like

    • Kim Haman
      November 13, 2014

      I commend you for doing your own research. Not enough people do–I’ve always followed politicos closely, but sometimes an issue comes up that I simply don’t have time to thoroughly research. Typically, if I don’t understand it, or don’t feel i’ve given it enough consideration, I won’t vote on it, just leave it plank on the ballot. I hate doing that, but I can’t justify voting one way or the other on something unless I really understand it.

      Like

  5. Barbara Heidelberger
    November 12, 2014

    Some people look at Politics as not affecting their everyday lives but how wrong they are. Time and monies are spent to inform on the issues but we lose voters because they don’t want to take the time to stop everything and vote. It is time to make voting more convenient; this sending your paper ballet via snail mail or going into a polling location is so yesterday. Homeless people have phones now; they have to allow the masses to vote via the internet. We are all very busy and like it or not we live via our phones and tablets.

    Like

    • Kim Haman
      November 13, 2014

      I agree! Voting should be made easier! As it stands, it’s a very small percentage of the populace that decides the direction of the entire country. Pundits are calling the recent sweep of the House and Senate by Republicans a “referendum” on President Obama’s policies, but the truth is, those politicians were put into office by less than 10% of eligible US voters. When you don’t vote, you doom yourself to a life decided by other people.

      Like

  6. Tommy Humphreys
    November 12, 2014

    The thing that fascinates me about political messaging is how divorced it has become from actual policy communication. While most marketing is held to a minimum standard e.g. don’t misrepresent, don’t use unrealistic or inflated claims, it seems to me that as a matter of business ethics there should be a higher standard for political advertising. The piece I find dreadfully lacking in our political landscape is the communication of actual policy. Oddly enough, most of the time political ads spend talking about policy actually are designed to obscure, not illuminate, a candidate’s actual position – for example, Mich McConnell touting his authorship of the Violence Against Women Act when he actually led the charge to fillibuster his own act so it would never get to a vote. I guess what I am asking is when does an agency act against it’s own interests for the greater good? is there moral hazard involved in “winning at any cost”? Where are those lines drawn, and how often are they drawn at all?

    Like

    • Kim Haman
      November 13, 2014

      Agreed…but then, there is so much double-talk in the political world that when a politician is honest (which does happen from time to time, believe it or not) his or her words are taken out of context and twisted by the opposing party anyway. it seems that US pols are so consumed by winning that they have lost sight of the fact that they are supposed to be public servants…NOT the servants of the people who underwrote their campaign!

      Like

  7. joannemhilton
    November 12, 2014

    Social Media is such a part of our daily lives, that sometimes I forget that I’m continually involved and participating. Social media has really set a precedence for the exposure of political advertising … if the use of the word “advertising” is accurate. As I think social media takes it many steps further to an “educating” level. We get to “share” our opinions with our family and friends, as well as other social network connections. Whether a product or an endorsement – it is, as you mention, all about branding, identifying the audience, and using date to shape the message.

    Like

    • Kim Haman
      November 13, 2014

      It will be interesting to see how social media ultimately shapes the way political campaigns are run. In 10 years–or less–I suspect things will be done completely differently than they are now, due to the incredible influence of social media.

      Like

  8. Nicco
    November 7, 2014

    I’m surprised that many local politicians still rely so heavily on those signs on the streets versus targeted activities similar to the Nichols campaign example in the blog. As a regular participant in elections, I’m looking for quality information on the candidates and measures so I can make an educated decision.

    Like

    • Kim Haman
      November 10, 2014

      Hi Nicco,

      I think that a lot of politicians are still stuck in the “old” ways of doing things. Kim Nichols is a forward-thinker in many ways. That’s one of the things that helped her appeal to a diverse population in the Orange council race.

      I believe that people running for office in the future will look at what successful candidates before them did, and over time, will emulate the same tactics. Also, when Gen Yers start to run for office, we will see more “new media” campaign techniques–in fact, it’s already happening.

      Like

  9. Kim Haman
    November 7, 2014

    Hi Jeff,

    My dad used to say the same thing about talking politics to me, too! 🙂 I can add that everyone can agree that the Citizens United ruling has changed the face of politics by declaring corporations “people.”

    And Mitch McConnell has already publicly declared that the Keystone Pipeline ail be approved now.

    Here’s to the old blessing, “May you live in interesting times!”

    Like

    • jeffs zen garden
      November 7, 2014

      Yes and to be honest, politics and religion were my father’s two favorite subjects!

      Like

  10. jeffs zen garden
    November 7, 2014

    My daddy always told me never to discuss politics or religion, but here goes…

    Just so we are all perfectly aware of where we are- nearly $4 billion was spent in this election, making it the most expensive mid-term election in history. A good chunk of that was dark money—with the identity of its contributors not known to voters. Now that these shadow sponsors have been emboldened by this victory, just wait until the next Presidential election cycle. You ain’t seen nothin yet!

    I’m in no way suggesting that people should not get involved and contribute time or money to the candidate that they support and who represents their values and their views. This is the nature of the American electoral process. But by allowing a handful of anonymous billionaires to funnel $100s of millions of dollars into state and local campaigns in order to buy elected officials is in my humble opinion “skewing” the democratic process to say the least.

    Anyone who thinks these cats are not expecting and receiving a “quid pro quo” for their generous donations is kidding themselves. These are hard core businessmen who are anticipating and expecting a good return on their investment.

    Expect the hard push on the Keystone Pipeline any day now!

    Like

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