Political marketing that sells and sizzles

MARKETING POLITICOS or political parties are not much different from creating a demand for products or services. This time, though, the challenge is to create a preference for a politico rather than a consumer good and stimulate voting intent rather than purchasing intent among a targeted electorate.

Unfortunately, much of political marketing in the country relies on political folk wisdom, orchestrated by those who claim to have substantive knowledge of local politics and the Filipino electorate while sorely lacking marketing expertise. Often this is left to the advertising agencies whose template stops short at developing memorable ads, some bordering on creative absurdity, and where the only advertising intent is name recall and nothing else. Thus, with less than substantive campaign materials, politicos pour heavy investments in media placements hoping to drum in their name in the voter’s mind.

But the landscape in political marketing is changing. With media inflation and political funding restricted, political campaigns have to be more hard-working and efficient these days. The same scenario is true for countries with a more mature political environment.

Following are some insights that drive political marketing campaigns that sell:

Electorate market research is vital. Research is important in planning the political candidate’s campaign. With various methodologies available like abridged attitude and image surveys, advertising pre-tests and tracking studies; candidates are able to identify their strengths and opportunity areas, including their ranking against other players and the degree of voting intent of their targeted electorate. Information like these are significant in enhancing, changing or modifying one’s political marketing campaign and strategies at best before mounting the campaign or at worse midway into the effort to achieve a sure-win.

The challenge though is how to use the data appropriately and relevantly to serve the candidate’s goal. At the end of the day, accountability for proper use of the data is in the hands of the political marketer strategist and not the research or advertising agency.

The product delivers. The product in this case is the candidate. No amount of great advertising can make up for a bad product as marketing and advertising gurus repeatedly reiterate. The electorate must have evidence that the candidate can truly deliver.

Find a single-minded, credible value proposition that becomes the campaign’s platform or battlecry. Here rests the candidate’s benefit statement, otherwise known in marketing parlance as the value proposition. Because trust is an important driver in the candidate and electorate relationship, a candidate’s value proposition must somehow fit into the electorate’s prior or stock knowledge of what the candidate has done in the past. The value proposition does not have to be unique in this case, but the electorate knows that the candidate is able to deliver better results.

In a journal article by Thorson et. al. titled “Effects of Issue-Image Strategies In Political Commercials” it was stressed that there is greater voting intent and a lot more positive attitude towards candidates who single-mindedly address an issue or topic of electorate concern.

Most local political advertising though, rely on generic messages and motherhood statements while attempting to address a host of issues that leave the electorate wondering what the candidate really wants to say.

Enhance the packaging. Just like products or services, political candidates must be made-over to become more appealing and likeable by the prospective electorate. Nonetheless, packaging can only enhance the product and not change the product altogether. Assuming that the product is truly good, the finer details that will make the product more personable, physically appealing and engaging must be addressed e.g. warm, spirited attitude and behavior; speech; clothing; hairstyle, etc.

Create memorable ads that sell the candidate. Intrusiveness or the advertising’s ability to catch the viewer’s attention and memorability are just two of the key elements of successful ads. What is more important is the advertising material’s indicative ability to turn in voting intent. Measured through research, this tells the political marketer whether the advertising campaign is able to convince the electorate to take a step to exert his voting right and cast the vote in favor of the candidate.

Mount ads that have conversation value. This marketing strategy helps stretch media monies and strengthens recall of the candidate and his platform for a long period of time. Young & Rubicam president and chief creative officer Jim Ferguson, who did the ads for President-elect George W. Bush when he ran against Vice-President Al Gore, summed up the importance of conversation value in political ads when he said, “You always wish you had that one great spot people will talk about for years and years”.

Conversation value need not come from mud-slinging ads. Many political studies indicate that negative campaigns and personality attacks can be counter-productive because they ironically encourage sympathy for the target of the attack.

Focus media monies on voting areas likely to turn in the swing votes. Data from research provides an indication of the voting areas most likely to turn in the vote. Likewise, not all government seats require national media exposures. Local seats work better with targeted geographic spending.

From air to ground battle. Bring the battle from the air to the ground during the final stages of the campaign period. House-to-house drives, baranggay marathons, plaza entertainment and debates; leafleting, street signs and geographically located billboards; interactive websites; e-mail, SMS and MMS from advocates add to the candidate’s visibility and helps establish a more personal link with the prospective electorate. Al Gore’s campaign managers revealed that their “ground strategy kept Gore in the race”.

In the end, nothing makes up for a bad product and an ill-thought political marketing campaign. A political candidate’s fate lies in the hands of the electorate. While vote buying, quid pro quo relationships, etc. may exist nevertheless at the end of the day, only the voter knows what he finally wrote on the ballot. Thus, it is always best to cover all bases and provide the targeted electorate a compelling reason to vote in the candidate’s favor.