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.


6 Reasons Why Media Should Come Before Creative …

Appeared in Ad Age April 3, 2012

Not that long ago media used to be the last ten minutes of the meeting.  The big TV idea, the provocative headline or the right choice of talent was the key to unlocking brand fame in a world where advertising was first and foremost about interrupting an audience.  But for many marketers that playbook is being tossed aside.  The conventional order of: planning-creative-production-distribution is being flipped.  Answering where and how we should communicate is preceding what we should say.  Here’s why:

1.       We’ve Moved From a World of Mad Men to Math Men (and Women) 

Advertising has become a numbers game.  The more pressing questions from the C-Suite today are: How much should we ideally spend?  Which brands should be supported?  What is the return on investment?  And which channels will best pay out?   Before developing the right messaging, the right business case for advertising needs to be established first.  One of the biggest factors for marketing failure is not matching the right budget to the goals or getting the right plan.  Our business planning team helped one of our clients sell the case for a three-fold increase in ad budget to their Board.  Their business is thriving as a result of having the right level of investment.

2.       The Big Television Idea in Advertising Has Lost Ground to Small, Smartly Placed, Relevant Ideas

In the agency world, we live to sell clients the big idea.  A Nike Just Do It or a Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.  David Ogilvy wrote back in 1983 “I doubt if more than one campaign in a hundred contains a big idea,” something I think is still very much the case today.  Larry Light introduced Brand Journalism, a breakthrough strategy for McDonald’s that debunked the idea of a universal message in place of using many stories to speak to different audiences. The Big Idea just isn’t a scalable proposition in advertising.   To me, relevance is one of the most important currencies in communications.  Smart tactical use of different media at relevant times, locations and environments with custom messages is what creates engagement.

Axe has done this brilliantly over the years using an array of channels to talk to young men.  This includes branded television series of men trying to win over women, mating game tool kits, spritzes from attractive female models wandering the aisles of retail stores and sponsoring nightclubs.

3.       Right Media, Right Message

While working on a new business pitch, I worked with Rob Feakins the Chief Creative Officer at Publicis New York.  He charged several teams in his creative department to come up with pitch ideas. Before the teams presented their ideas to him, he called me and asked if I could talk him through the media plan. I was intrigued; rarely have I found a creative to express much interest in media.  He said the relative importance of different media would help him judge the potential campaign concepts better. Knowing whether out-of-home or print or television advertising was going to be the principal channel would help him decide which idea to back.

4.       Content is Still Very Much King, But Which Kind of Content?

In a broadcast world the 30 second ad ruled.  But in a multi-platform digital landscape that content can and needs to take many forms.  A media plan is as likely to consist of long form video series, custom sponsored programing, short form video pre-rolls, interactive creative, mobile apps and curated branded content, alongside the more traditional ad units.  Each media forms bring a different mix of engagement, shareability and branding.  Defaulting to a creative brief that starts with the more predictable advertising units at the outset will likely stymie innovation.  This is an issue when research suggests that more and more brand decisions are being influenced by sources beyond advertising.

My advice: develop the media plan first, then determine what mix of creative assets that need to be developed.

5.       Adaptive Marketing

I wrote about this idea a couple months back.  Adaptive Marketing is the ability to adapt and personalize campaigns real time, by responding to data collected on the audience via their web behavior or social graph.

A favorite example of this is Intel’s Museum of Me that takes content collected from you Facebook Timeline to create a personalized animated film.

6.       Media is more than a venue for your ads

The Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, The Grammys, television premieres, a Final of American Idol have become media events.  Social media and tablets have turned them into live interactive marketing bonanzas.  Customizing ads and marketing programs to leverage these events is becoming a powerful strategy.  Poise used the Academy Awards to promote its pads through a Whoopi Goldberg spot and online program.  It created a viral storm and sales hit record levels.

Media companies are leading the way when it comes to navigating the paid, owned and earned world.  Media ‘brands’ such as ESPN, AOL, MTV, The X-Factor, YouTube, Jimmy Kimmel, Project Runway plus the established Broadcast Networks and print/web titles are able to deliver consistently large scale advertising audiences, give brands access to content and drive the conversation in social media.  To leverage these opportunities fully, media partners need to be a brought in much earlier in the marketing planning process.

To be clear, this is not a media versus creative discussion.  All stakeholders need to be part of a media discussion … the brand, account management, account planning, creative, digital and the media teams.  Maybe it is now time for the Creative to be the last 10 minutes in the meeting!

Adaptive Marketing … How Brands Can Use Data to Personalize and Market Themselves

Google took a lot of heat last month when it announced its decision to incorporate personal data into its search results. The “Don’t Be Evil” people were vilified by commentators and competitors. But its move was just another step in a shift by many marketers toward more actively tracking and responding to consumers.

Amazon gives shoppers personalized recommendations. Nike lets runners customize their trainers via Nike ID. Coca-Cola has introduced Freestyle vending machines, which enable patrons to create their own beverage by mixing together existing Coke products and then sharing their favorite creations with their friends via Facebook.

Consumers are increasingly comfortable providing their information with companies they know will use it to help personalize their products and communications, or companies providing essential services such as insurance. According to a recent study in the U.K., 75% of consumers that have an existing relationship with a company are happy to share their information with it, while 62% would share their information with a company selling products or services they need.

At Mindshare we have a name for this accelerated data-driven and consumer-focused mentality:adaptive marketing. It’s an approach that enables marketers to truly tailor their activities in rapid and unparalleled ways to meet their customers’ interests and needs based on data. It’s not just about advertising, but adapting every part of the marketing mix as well as the product itself to connect more consumers with the brand, make it more relevant to everyone and deliver more benefits.

Why is this the most exciting development in marketing in decades?

Adaptive marketing allows you to create more personalized brands, thereby eliminating commoditization. Adaptive marketing rips apart the concept of “the consumer,” a label that marketers have used to conveniently aggregate a picture of who they are trying to sell to. It assumes a classic model of mass-production, mass-appeal products promoted in mass media. The problem with this model is that it speaks to the most basic of needs, resulting in lowest common denominator marketing. This drives brands towards commodification, resulting in downward pressure on pricing… every marketer’s doomsday scenario.

You can personalize your Kleenex box.

You can personalize your Kleenex box.

KLM lets you link your network with your seat.

KLM lets you link your network with your seat.

Adaptive marketing looks to debunk that model. Personalizing a product to a customer increases its relevance and customer satisfaction, making it less likely they will want to switch brands.

Kleenex has introduced personalized packaging to great effect. M&M’s allow you to order customized candies. Dutch airline KLM has just introduced a service called “Meet & Seat” to help travelers decide who they might want to sit next to by linking your Facebook or LinkedIn profile to your flight. (Presumably, you could also use the service to decide who not to sit next to.)

Behavioral pricing is an interesting idea that’s being discussed where brands could differentiate pricing based on data collected. For example, consumers that “like” a brand could in theory conceivably be prepared to pay more. For prospects which have searched or visited a brand online, a marketer might be more willing to provide a bigger incentive to purchase.

Adaptive Marketing is about being more responsive to customers more quickly Communication is an essential part of the approach. Whirlpool responds individually to people complaints raised online about their appliances. Companies such as Starbucks and Apple for years have been crowdsourcing for new product and service ideas within communities on Twitter and Facebook.

Today’s media, technology and data provide the channels to facilitate adaptive marketing. In a way media has always been integral in steering marketing strategy. National broadcast TV helped broad branding and awareness drive advertising. Magazines create opportunities to segment the market and promote products to niche targets. The early days of the internet ushered in e-commerce marketing.

Of course direct-response agencies have preached some element of response-based marketing for years. But the coming availability of addressable TV, location-based and hyper-local media platforms, digital out-of-home and the multitude of tablet and mobile media devices is making adaptive marketing a universal brand marketing opportunity.

Becoming an adaptive marketer can require serious structural changes. The entire media process — budgeting, planning, buying, and optimizing — needs to become more fluid and “always-on” rather than static and sporadic. Brands need to develop a library of creative assets — images, calls-to-action, applications — that can instantly be deployed into advertising units when required.

Aggregating, then mining, buyer and audience data to allow personalized product development, marketing and messaging is the key to unlocking adaptive marketing gold. That’s going to be the next space race for marketers and their agencies. We hope you’re ready.

Antony Young is CEO of Mindshare North America, a WPP media strategy and investment agency. Norm Johnstonis co-global digital lead of Mindshare Worldwide.