Historically, innovation was never the strong suit of political marketing, and here’s the proof. It appears today’s nominees are taking notes from the 1988 presidential campaign.
Until recently, the scripts would be written, the footage shot and the media buys made on historic data. And that was it. The same TV and radio spots would just play until Election Day, with little variation to reflect the ever-changing narrative on the campaign trail.
Today’s battle between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump reminds me of the all-out attacks in the 1988 race between George Bush and Michael Dukakis.
Bush used footage of Michael Dukakis rolling around in a tank with an oversized helmet to create a searing campaign ad that positioned Dukakis as “weak on the military,” compared to Bush’s history as a decorated Naval pilot and former head of the CIA.
The Bush team also did some effective fear mongering with the Willie Horton ad painting Dukakis as “soft on crime.”
Those two moments are the defining moments where the Dukakis campaign was knocked down — and from which it never recovered. Sound familiar?
The main difference between then and now is the speed at which these campaigns are unleashed.
The rise of social media, starting with President Obama's run in 2008, is seen as the line between the old and new methods of using near real-time data and technology to influence opinion during an election cycle.
In 2012, the rise of mobile and digital ad platforms enabled political forces to define an audience using more refined abilities for localization, personalization, and targeting across devices and mediums.
Digital Advertising as Rapid Response Technique
The morning after the first presidential debate of 2016, when Hillary Clinton briefly suggested that Donald Trump insulted a former Miss America winner for gaining weight, her campaign had a two-plus minute video featuring an interview with the former Miss Venezuela ready to deploy.
The video has since been viewed more than 19 million times, and shared on Facebook more than 250,000 times.
Similar videos have unpacked the "facts" that arise during debate exchanges. No surprise, each side disagrees even on what’s factual. And then there is the TV ad Trump launched the day of the third debate, featuring the mother of a son who was murdered by an illegal alien.
In 2012, both the Obama and Romney camps were adept at using social media like Facebook and Twitter to promote their presidential agendas. But today, with Trump’s late-night rants on Twitter, we’ve seen, for the first time, how a candidate’s irresponsible use of social media can be key in damaging their “presidential” image.
Clearly, digital and social advertising is an extremely fast, affordable, scalable way to make a big impact and reach huge numbers of people.
With Speed Comes Responsibility
We’ve entered a new era, where data, fact checking, buzz and insults smash up against actual qualifications, proven experience and a measured discussion of the issues facing the nation.
While our programmatic expertise and social platforms allow us to reach people on any device with rich video formats, we also run the risk of over-saturating the American voters with below-the-belt attacks.
If 1988 was more “civilized,” with the Bush and Dukakis campaign taking turns to respond through ads, the 2016 election is “guerrilla warfare.” The battles are fought in large and small skirmishes, with heavy propaganda and an always-on campaign.
There is no more efficient and effective media format than digital and social to fight this kind of battle. Given that the first presidential debate between Clinton and Trump drew as many American viewers as the Super Bowl, it’s likely here to stay.Whoever wins, a record number of voters are expected at the polls — perhaps more than in any other election in U.S. history. I expect the future of political advertising will be a mash-up of proven tactics and new technology, making for an entirely new era in American campaigns.