Why TV Ads May Not Win Elections, After All

If you’re able to stomach the hype, dueling punditry and horserace journalism of this year’s bitter presidential campaign, you probably know by now that the Romney campaign has raised millions more than Obama’s, largely through secret private donations to Super PACs. Both campaigns are flooding TV markets in battleground states with commercials; by Election Day on November 6, the contenders will have spent an estimated $1.1 billion on TV ads.

That in itself is a sobering thought (how much of the national debt could have been retired with that money?). But according to James Suroweicki’s financial column in this week’s New Yorker magazine, all that money for all those ads may be an even bigger waste of resources when you consider how campaigns are actually won.

Step One: Target Your Message to Voters You’re Most Likely to Win Over
Citing Sasha Issenberg’s new book, The Victory Lab, Suroweicki explains how sophisticated political campaigns have adopted corporate marketing strategies of micro-targeting their messages to each segment of voters. Focusing on voters who are still undecided or who favor their candidate but need that extra push, campaigns tailor messaging according to detailed demographics, including shopping tastes, voting history and media preferences.

If that approach sounds familiar, it should. Political campaigns are only following best practices for strategic messaging—know your ideal client, understand her issues and explain how you can help solve her problems or help meet her challenges.

Of course, delivering the right message to the right audience segment isn’t enough. You have to follow through on your promises, which, in politics, is not always a guarantee.

Step Two: Persuade Your Won-over Voters in Person to Get Out and Vote
But of greatest importance during the run-up to the election is this: Even if you persuade the right market segment of voters with your expensive, targeted TV commercials and direct mail to vote for your candidate, it doesn’t mean squat unless the people you convince actually get out and vote.

And here, Suroweicki points out, political science researchers have demonstrated that good old fashioned human contact works best. Forget those robo-phone calls with recorded political VIPs urging you to go to the polls (not to mention the pure annoyance factor). Personal calls by real campaign workers and door-to-door stumping, when strategically targeted, are the most effective ways to get your won-over voters to vote.

Which brings us to a common-sense conclusion—market research is essential, targeted messaging is good strategy, but nothing beats the personal touch of one person speaking honestly to another about why your candidate or product or service is worth her time, effort and resources.

And above all, of course, your marketing efforts should promote something or someone of true substance that lives up to your message. Imagine if that were always the case in politics.

Marketing consultant Evelyn Herwitz loves to help you tell a great story about your great work. She specializes in search-optimized web content that positions you as an approachable expert in your field and helps you grow your business. Contact Evelyn for a free half-hour consult for new clients.

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