my turn


It's Political Season - Where's The Remote?

This year, candidates, PAC groups and “issue” advertising are expected to account for $3 billion. Yes, that’s billion. With a “B.” And, several sources say Americans will be bombarded with up to 4,500 messages each DAY in the last 30 days of the election cycle. Just the other night, every single commercial break in prime time was filled with competitive election ads. Many for candidates I’ve never heard of.

So is it worth it? 

How can an average person make sense of so many messages simultaneously?  The human brain can only process a limited number of messages; and the more commitment required by consumers, the more targeted advertising needs to be.

Most mass marketing of political candidates appears to stem from a “spray and pray” mentality. If I shout louder than my competitor, I'll win. That argument used to hold water. But today, people are multitasking more during viewing and thus have more ways than ever before to tune out. 



Hyper-targeting can go a long way

There's no traditional advertiser out there who would tell you that just screaming louder than their competitor or putting their competition down is the right answer. 

So, what if candidates focused on the undecided voter? Swing voters are rare…only 6% of Americans, according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News Poll.  Eliminate those who live in non-swing states and now you're talking about 4% of voters who reside in six states -- less than one million people. 

Many politicians will tell you they are just focusing on the undecided voter. However, the sheer nature of television is mass. 

What if Candidate A really built a communication plan around delivering messages ONLY to the folks in his/her district who were “swing” voters? It might be a small number of people, but they are also likely the ones who are most likely to be influenced by the message. This type of plan would look vastly different from the television bombardment of today.  It would cost less and provide the opportunity for a more 1:1 dialogue with voters. 

Appealing vs. attacking could set candidates apart

Once people have made a commitment to a brand (in this case, a candidate), attempts to win them away can only backfire. 

Yet, negative campaigning has made this election particularly bothersome.  Seventy percent of the presidential campaign ads this year have been negative -- one side attacking the other.  Studies show that negative ads don’t affect voter turnout and won't change the decided person's mind.  So what's the point? 

Well, as humans, we’re wired to react to harmful terminology.  In a close election, candidates hope that the American people will react to the negativity in an effort to research more information. 

But, when there’s limited (or no) fact-checking happening from debates and advertising, how do consumers decipher the truth from fiction?

The old rule of thumb is that if you’re #1, you never mention your competitor. There’s an air of confidence in speaking about what you believe versus attacking what your competition doesn't. 

Could confidence actually set a candidate apart and help them win? I'd love to see.

Limits may fuel listening

Broadcasters in Canada have a maximum of 390 minutes of airtime available for purchase by politicians. And Canada requires that no more than $150,000 be spent on “third party”/issue advertising in a national campaign. 

Think what this would do to how Americans are consuming political messages today. That’s only 6.5 hours of ads throughout the whole campaign. What?! Americans would still get the messages they need to help make an educated decision, but they also may not be as likely to change the channel at every commercial break. Yes, you might argue, the media industry is different in Canada -- that's true -- but we could quadruple that amount and still not come close to $3 billion.

Candidates should embrace the new rules of marketing that brands are championing today. The communications landscape has evolved. And if politicians embraced effectiveness over tonnage, I'd argue they could be more efficient, spend less money and annoy fewer people. 

In fact, they might just begin to develop some real relevant connections. And we all wouldn’t be jumping for the remote during every commercial break.


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