If prostitution is the World’s Oldest Profession, lobbying must be a close second. Over the years, companies have perfected ways to use money to peddle influence among federal, state and local politics.
However, the truth is, lobbying is dying a slow, painful death.
The capricious political environment we’ve witnessed over the past decade has ushered in new generations of political leaders — and lobbyists have not developed long-term relationships with them.
Federal reforms, evaporating earmarks and junkets that run afoul of the law are also helping this form of persuasion wither away.
In our complex political environment, companies can’t rely on their government relations team to protect their interests; they need to activate their consumer audience.
Consumers are constituents who don’t need political contribution requirements or a meeting with their representatives in Washington to air their feelings on an issue. They can take to their mobile phones, Facebook feed or email to unleash their grievances or rally others to a cause.
The way people interact with media and politics has forced massive change upon the legislative and regulatory process. According to a Pew Research study, Facebook is the second-biggest political news source for Americans with Internet access. (It trails only local TV.)
Today’s digital democracy is turning consumers into activists. Companies like Uber, Airbnb, United Healthcare and People Magazine have shown that if customers are loyal to a brand or product, they also tend to be loyal to their politics.
For example, Uber leveraged its consumer base through emails calling upon riders to contact legislators in New York. Uber also deployed a call-to-action within its app targeting New York’s mayor. In November, Airbnb won a public advocacy campaign against the city of San Francisco.
Many businesses are slower to adopt this strategy because their agencies are using old-school tactics to fight new-school battles. Agencies that adopt the concept of digital democracy will lead in the years to come.
According to Roll Call, the rise in use of social networks, improved digital advertising and better use of audience data, “have created a potent force for gaining the attention of policymakers.” They communicate to them directly, raise noise and attention by crowdsourcing grassroots energy, and influence both media coverage and public opinion.
Armed with this advocate army, brands and agencies can target ads to Capitol Hill, state capitals, governors’ mansions and local municipal offices within a one-mile radius. They can leverage contextual, behavioral and geo-targeted data for video pre-roll, social, search, mobile and display ads.
They can also direct consumer audiences to advocacy advertising landing pages where they can learn more about issues and take action against elected officials.
Agencies can utilize email, mobile apps and other platforms to enlist action. A recent campaign to protect Washington, D.C.’s food trucks used the tactics above to advocate for the rights of food trucks to sell to customers.
Some might argue that engaging in this new advocacy “doesn’t sell soap”; however, if done correctly, encouraging digital democracy does improve brand recognition.
It creates more opportunities for meaningful content distribution, brings greater exposure to social or consumer issues and increases user engagement, builds more loyal customers and stakeholders – which in turn, sells soap.