In many ways, the creative approach to digital-marketing strategies during the 2016 electoral cycle was more important than data, analytics or targeting.
In the primaries, we saw the most positive reactions to ads that appealed to emotion.
Among the most memorable was Bernie Sanders’ “America” ad that took inspirational clips from common Americans and set it to the tune of Simon and Garfunkel's “America.” Skirting the traditional ad that highlights policy or the candidate’s track record, “America” appealed to more visceral and deep-rooted feelings in the American electorate.
Some Republican candidates also tried to touch on the same approaches. The difficulty for the Republicans was that Trump’s Twitter presence superseded all that.
He spoke directly to the voter, he wasn’t trying to bridge the gap through a TV or digital advertisement. Trump had no filter and spoke conversationally and bluntly — as if he were having a face-to-face conversation.
As Trump moved into the general election, he began to run TV ads which resembled traditional political ads. Online, however, particularly on Facebook, his ads were simple, even at times noticeably lower-budget than anything expected from a general-election ad.
“Ads that are less sophisticated, less produced and more personable are what works online,” Andy Amsler, director of advertising and advocacy at Mothership Strategies, told Red, White & Blog. “Voters are able to ‘smell’ an overly done political ad when they see one. The key to online political advertising in 2016 was authenticity and building creative that speaks to the voter.”
Trump’s ability to do this successfully may have been both a function of his character and a planned strategy. A strategy that Hillary Clinton was hard-pressed to use effectively.
“Lots of people on the progressive side have spent lots of money on highly produced advertising,” continued Amsler. “That may have worked to an extent on TV, but that approach does not work online.”
The Clinton campaign did due diligence on data targeting and analytics; the creative part of their ad strategy may have been lackluster. By attacking Trump in many of the digital and TV ads, Clinton was able to solidify her support. But the ads did little to attract Republicans or keep working-class Obama-coalition voters.
In the end, the authenticity and bluntness of Trump’s digital ads produced an unexpected political insurgency rare in American politics. One that relied less on issues than personality.