However, as we head toward the 2020 election with the most divided electorate in recent history, a return to broader targeting with inclusive messaging could prove a more effective way for candidates to drive enthusiastic support, gain credibility and unite voters to secure victory in November.
Unifying ideas are more impactful than a fractured approach
The ability to microtarget has led candidates to tailor communication to specific factions of their base, fracturing their campaign messaging in an attempt to tell each subset of voters what they want to hear. Candidates have focused on the individual issues valued by each group rather than on finding a shared, ideas-based message to unify them. This has resulted in a noticeable absence of the type of bold, underlying campaign ideology that generates excitement and enthusiasm.
For the coming election, candidates should embrace a broad targeting strategy that forces them to distill their campaign’s messaging into a core idea or value that resonates with multiple factions of their party, building a coalition and driving strong turnout.
Broad targeting builds national awareness
Most Democratic candidates have been leveraging microtargeting to home in on demographic groups that reflect their existing base. Biden’s spend on Facebook, for instance, has skewed heavily toward an older audience, while Sanders has targeted a much younger age bracket — both aligning with their supporters, according to The New York Times. While this is an efficient way for candidates to acquire donors, it keeps their messaging siloed and does nothing to broaden their base.
Many candidates also become overly fixated on winning over specific segments of the electorate perceived as strategically valuable. This approach can lead to candidates alienating their broader constituency and neglecting potentially crucial groups of voters overlooked by the political establishment.
A broader targeting strategy could help campaigns avoid these pitfalls, and instead prioritize widespread messaging of unifying beliefs and values. This large-scale outreach gives candidates a better chance of being at the center of the national conversation, driving earned media and building momentum.
Campaigns shouldn’t discount traditional channels
Microtargeting has led to a heavy reliance on digital platforms like Facebook and Google, but campaigns will need to leverage a more balanced media mix to secure victory.
Candidates would be well served by placing more emphasis on channels like TV and print, which many see as being more credible, according to The Wall Street Journal. This approach would also demonstrate a desire to reach an audience outside of the echo chambers of social media. Unlike targeted digital buys, traditional channels reflect a willingness to put content in the public eye, representing a return to a more unified public consciousness and the inherent accountability it demands.
A departure from the popular microtargeting approach to political advertising could be the key to success in this year’s presidential election. In today’s political climate, a strategy that seeks to unite the electorate has a far greater chance of success than one that further divides it.