The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 should serve as a wake-up call regarding the state of the U.S. democracy. Yet it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering that 70% of Republicans don’t think the presidential elections were free or fair.
First, we must complete the election process and inaugurate Joseph R. Biden as America’s 46th president.
And then we must enable America to begin the healing process
by communicating the fairness of the recent elections and highlighting the peaceful processes in place for bringing about change in our democracy.
Now is the time for Madison Avenue to heed the call and communicate the fairness of the presidential election and to empower citizens to make America’s democracy more participative.
This is a marketing challenge that can’t be accomplished by buying a 90-second Super Bowl spot. The advertising community will need a sophisticated and honest campaign in many of the corners of the Internet where those supporting President Trump congregate, including Grab, Parler, and 4Chan, managed by people with right-wing and conservative credibility.
Search should play a critical role in such a campaign both as a marketing vehicle and as a research tool. By utilizing Google Trends to analyze the queries people are searching for around the election results, campaigns and keywords/messaging should be targeted so they address the very terms being queried.
The campaign must provide proof that the election was fair, and include support from some of the very people who voiced an objection. I’m confident that several of the Senators who planned to vote against the Electoral College results -- particularly those who ended up not objecting -- would be happy to clear their names and participate in such an initiative.
For all of his faults, President Trump deserves credit from the marketing community for understanding and addressing the pains of many Americans. In 2016, he defeated a field of 17 Republicans and won a national election after the release of the Access Hollywood tape. In 2020, he won the second-most votes cast in any presidential election despite a long list of scandals and more than 200,000 dead from COVID-19 on Election Day after admitting he underplayed the virus.
By truly understanding his target audience and reiterating his main messages with a reach and frequency that would make any media planner envious, the six times-bankrupt real estate developer and reality TV show host has shown Madison Avenue how to run a successful marketing campaign.
Perhaps it will even be necessary to debunk the aura of President Trump by highlighting the true value of his accomplishments to his base or even sending some of his most ardent supporters to check in to a Trump hotel and document their experience. Reality is rarely as good as the fantasy.
But this will not be enough. It’s also important to communicate how all Americans can bring about real change in their government lawfully. One way is through a participatory democracy possible in America through town hall meetings, initiatives, and referendums.
Town hall meetings enable citizens to voice their opinions, initiatives provide citizens with an opportunity to bypass state legislatures and place proposed laws on the ballot (only possible in 24 states), and referendums allow citizens to approve or repeal an act of the state legislature.
The California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) began as an initiative sponsored by real estate developer Alistair Mactaggart. By communicating the possibilities of participatory democracy currently available in the US, the advertising community can empower disgruntled citizens to change government lawfully.
Such a campaign won’t make some of the more extreme supporters of President Trump become card-carrying Democrats. And some were clearly motivated by the possibility of a global social-media moment. But with such a high percentage of Americans questioning the election results, something needs to be done.
This isn’t a Republican problem or a Democratic problem, but a national problem.
Republicans risk losing independent and moderate voters in 2022 -- an election which, if history is any indication, should enable the party to increase its representation in Congress. And for Democrats, despite victories in Georgia providing control of Congress, now is not the time to be complacent.
America’s longest-serving president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said the following about advertising:
“If I were starting life over again, I am inclined to think that I would go into the advertising business in preference to almost any other.... The general raising of the standards of modern civilization among all groups of people during the past half-century would have been impossible without the spreading of the knowledge of higher standards by means of advertising.”
Those words were relevant in the 1940s.
Now the advertising community must come together to effectively communicate the spreading of the knowledge of higher standards by means of a true and honest democracy.