What Marketers Can Learn From the 2012 Presidential Campaigns

Target, Adapt and Respond — and Don’t Forget Your Ground Game

Mr. Obama’s skillful deployment of social media in 2008 caused marketers to sit up and take notice. So what can brands learn from this year’s massive, sophisticated presidential campaigns?
Barack Obama after his acceptance speech in Chicago
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News


Focus on your swing voters
Both the Romney and Obama campaigns spent the bulk of their media dollars in the battleground states including Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada (sometimes to the despair of the states’ overwhelmed residents). And they trained much of their fire on the undecideds. That applied even to the individual TV shows they bought. Both campaigns largely avoided placements during cable news shows, for example, whose audiences were more likely to have already decided who they were voting for. Local news broadcasts, on the other hand, indexed highest for independents who were more likely to turn out on Election Day, according to Scarborough.Who are your swing voters? The real value of mass media, and where the economics really make sense, is in drawing new consumers into your brand.

Remember your ground game
The Obama campaign said it made 125 million voter contacts, more than twice the total reported by Republicans, with more field offices in key areas than the Romney campaign and more personal outreach. Marketers would do well to remember that activation, promotion and personal touches go a long way in locking in the benefits of media spending.

Video still works
While 2008 was considered by many “the Facebook Election,” TV — or, more precisely, video — reasserted its strategic importance in 2012. Mr. Obama had a challenging platform to sell given the performance of the economy, but he did in most cases outspend Romney in TV, in many cases 2 to 1. We also saw a heavy shift of dollars into online video. Hulu revealed that election spending on the online video site was up 700% from the last election.

Hyper-local is the new black
Part of the appeal of online video is the ability to hyper-target, that is, the ability to pinpoint media and commercial messaging within a narrow catchment area. In Blacksburg, Va., for example, there are 30,000 students residing at Virginia Tech. The Obama campaign’s Hulu buys targeted the schools’ zip code with “Gotta Vote” spots to encourage students to register and turn out.

Broadcast advertising, too, was tailored to local issues. In Ohio, Mr. Obama’s campaign targeted blue-collar women by promoting its track record on jobs, whereas in Florida, the Romney campaign sought Cuban-American voters with hard-hitting TV commercials claiming Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez supported Mr. Obama’s policies. We saw local radio play a role, too, in this localization.

Are we as marketers really taking opportunity of localizing our media and messaging? Despite a lot of talk about targeting, many marketers still emphasize efficiency in spending over relevance to different customer segments and markets.

Adaptive marketing is rising
I’ve written previously about adaptive marketing, but both candidates just demonstrated its value again as they reacted to voter polls and feedback in nearly real time. And although all marketers listen to consumer responses, it was the speed and consistency with which both the Romney and Obama campaigns were able to respond that impressed me.

On multiple occasions we saw Mr. Romney test a message or storyline in a campaign rally speech. If it got a reaction from the audience, video spots would quickly follow online. If there was strong response online or pickup by cable news networks, the ads would appear on broadcast TV … all within a matter of days, often adjusting further as the campaign progressed.

Adaptive marketing doesn’t always require massive spending and machinery, either. Both candidates also expertly tapped into their advocates to push out tweets during the debates to reinforce key punctuation points to the base or counter comments by their opponent.

Long-form content can persuade 
A good showing in the first debate jolted Mr. Romney out of the doldrums and into contention. While he didn’t win in the end, he closed the gap sharply. Brands, for their part, don’t have to win an election; all they need to do is improve market share. What can be learnt from this? First, all brands have the opportunity to re-invent — or at least drive re-consideration — and it can happen quickly if done well. Second, long-form branded video content is a medium that is underused. Sure, the mass reach of a presidential debate and the subsequent news coverage isn’t available to brands. But deeper content outside of ad units can change opinions.

Negative ads are a negative
Negative advertising was a feature of both candidates’ campaigns, subjecting each candidate’s brand to a beating. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, negative ads between June and October accounted for 62.9% of spots, compared to 39.7% in 2008. I suspect that turned off voters and contributed to the apparent decline in voter turnout from 2008. I hope we don’t see this as a trend for brands in 2013.

Presidential elections are not just a boost to the coffers of the media companies, but serve as a benchmark for brands. For me, the next election can’t come soon enough.


How to Package Traditional Media to New-Age Marketers

Maybe They Could Borrow Some Sizzle from Silicon Valley

By:  Published in Ad Age on January 10, 2012

In my last article for Ad Age, I wrote about how new-media companies weresuccessfully employing very traditional media tactics to gain a larger share of ad spending.

I thought I’d flip that on its head this week, as the tech, media and marketing worlds converge at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

One could argue traditional media too have been too “traditional” in how they pitch themselves, making it too easy for advertisers and others to peg them to the past. Perhaps they’ve been doing themselves a disservice. What if we relooked at a medium such as radio, using the sizzle employed by the very best of Silicon Valley to promote this 90-year-old advertising medium?

Here’s what a sales pitch for radio could look like.

Let me introduce you to a groundbreaking media channel, a medium with the potential to rival Facebook as a new-media darling …

A powerful mobile medium
This medium is available on just about every mobile device, including those running Android and iPhone operating systems. It is accessible in 100% of today’s cars. This medium is a powerful channel to engage very desirable, hard-to-reach and mobile millennials. Its distribution also extends to out-of-home venues including retail outlets, fast-food restaurants, car dealerships and sports venues, making it a powerful medium at point of purchase.

Drives word of mouth
We can incorporate personalized brand messages to our audience to create buzz and word of mouth. We use the credibility of our celebrity announcers to drive the conversation around your brand, retail events and promotional offers. We also will generate consumer participation and engagement via brand-based competitions.

Hyper-local targeting
No need for wasteful national campaigns that can’t be customized based on your local retail-store distribution. Our medium gives you the flexibility to target at a hyper-local level. We can also deliver specific localized messaging.

Delivers across multiple platforms
We distribute across broadcast, online and mobile devices. Our medium is always on.

Provides scalable campaigns
Our advertiser promotions can deliver programs across literally millions of consumers in a short period of time. Our medium has a reach of nearly 300 million uniques in the U.S. across a month. That makes this medium bigger than Facebook.

A viable revenue model
We operate a free-content, ad-supported model that ensures high uptake and that our research confirms consumers prefer over a paid-subscription model. Advertiser units provide marketers with 100% control of the message. We also offer advertisers a branded content model. We will work with advertisers to deliver customized content that brands can be integrated with or associate with.

Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about radio … a unique mobile, hyper-local, multi-platform channel that delivers scalable brand marketing campaigns for advertisers.

Now doesn’t that make radio seem just a little more interesting!