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.

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Media Companies Are Betting on Hyperlocal, But Will Brands Follow?

Google, Nike Making Plays But Most Marketers Will Need Better Payout to Shift National Dollars to Regional

By:  Published in AdAge: August 14, 2012

It’s rare these days to hear a positive story about the newspaper industry, but I recently learned of the Pembroke and Pembroke Docks Observer, a newspaper in South Wales that decided to bet its future on a hyperlocal strategy. It focused almost entirely on covering local news, local people and local events while soliciting community-generated content — a package not provided by the larger county or national titles. It was rewarded with a doubling of its circulation.

Its owners say their success comes down to remaining local, personal and relevant to their community. That idea has a lot of merit for national brands in the U.S.

We are programmed to play nationally. The national 30-second spot in an “American Idol” or an NFL game is king. While there is clearly an efficiency and value in maintaining a national presence, however, it’s become even more important to engage consumers in order to truly grow brands — or disrupt your competitors. It’s also becoming harder to do. Being relevant locally, as the Pembroke and Pembroke Docks Observer discovered, can be a powerful recipe for growing market share.

“There’s no such thing as a national customer,” a client once said to me. “Just lots of local ones.” And it takes insight into local tastes, local demographics, local issues and local competitors to be relevant and win the consumer. Organize national, act local is starting to get some traction. But the media are leading the way.

Media properties’ local targeting is increasingly offering more precision. Hyperlocal websites are providing local content and localized national advertising platforms by individual towns.

Google recently announced last month the ability to buy search by ZIP code, and again bet on local yesterday when it said it had agreed to buy Frommer’s, including 350 travel guides and a website covering more than 3,500 locations.

Addressable TV is beginning to scale. By end of year, we will be able to target by individual household in 22 million homes. And the large national radio groups have become highly effective on-the-ground local marketing partners on-air, off-air and online.

The question is whether major national and international marketers will invest the time and money to take advantage.

Some sophisticated marketers are moving in that direction. Walmart has introduced a Facebook app customizing marketing for each of its nearly 3,600 U.S. locations, including a dynamic social billboard that serves as an electronic circular with details of sales, special product deals and recipe suggestions. This is a smart local program to move the huge national chain closer to its community.

Nike has been creating city-specific epicenters to spark buzz and credibility for its brand. Its global online reality web competition series “The Chosen” was fueled by local grassroots skating and surfing events. In the U.K., Nike held a 15-day challenge for runners across 48 different post codes in London, using some nifty technology to measure and rank their performance.

The increasing ubiquity, not to mention portability, of mobile media will almost guarantee that all marketers will need a mobile media strategy. And central to that strategy is the ability to embrace location-based messaging and promotion.

National brands are experimenting there. L’Oreal promoted its Vichy line using timeRAZOR, a mobile app to promote and schedule one-on-one beauty consultations at Duane Reade locations in New York, an effort that led to a 150% increase in sales for that promotion.

Search is clearly another major opportunity, with the BIA/Kelsey Group that local searches on mobile phones will exceed local searches on desktop computers by 2015. Perhaps the iPhone’s Siri, which uses Yelp’s reviews, will start to offer brand recommendations in the not-too-distant future.

But ultimately most marketers will need a better payout to shift national dollars to local, posing a riddle for the media companies betting so much of their own money on a local strategy. Data will have to be the compass for media sellers and buyers alike. Mobile ad network xAd recently published data showing that locally-targeted mobile display ads deliver 5% to 8% click-through rates, compared to 0.6% for typical mobile display ads.

There’s no doubt that local will be an increasing play for national marketers. It’s what brands need to do to engage consumers and grow. However, it is going to be more challenging for marketers to execute and more costly and complex to orchestrate. But the possibilities are exciting.