Negative Campaigning

It’s that time of the year when it seems that the vast majority of the ads we see are for some politician. I don’t know anyone who isn’t quite tired of all of the political noise by election day and I suspect that has a lot to do with the content of the ads themselves as much as it has to do with the length of the campaign. There is a lesson for all of us who do marketing contained in our politics (OK, given the number of posts in which I draw learnings from politics, maybe more than “a” lesson). To understand it, let’s pretend we’re a candidate.

You have one opportunity every 2-4 years to sell your product. If you don’t close the sale by a date certain, your window to make the sale disappears for years. No pressure, right? Given that, would you spend the time badmouthing your competitors? I sure wouldn’t. I’d focus like a laser beam on my customers’ needs and how I was going to meet them. I’d be as specific as possible and explain all the facts I could compile about the customer’s situation and deliver a well-reasoned solution that solves their problem(s).

Compare that with what we’ll see in watching any evening’s worth of political ads. The consumer – the electorate – is hardly found in any of them. Instead, we hear about criminals, liars, or worse. The tone is generally negative but often veers into the threatening. “Facts” are things seemingly found on the internet (where we know everything is true). Have studies shown that we treat our politics differently from our products as we make purchase decisions? This is from Scientific American:

A comprehensive literature analysis published in 2007 in the Journal of Politics examined the effects of political ads. The authors reported that negative ads tended to be more memorable than positive ones but that they did not affect voter choice. People were no less likely to turn out to the polls or to decide against voting for a candidate who was attacked in an ad.

The lesson is pretty obvious in my mind. Saying negative things about a competitor doesn’t work to influence a sale although it does stick in the consumer’s mind. It’s funny how we prohibit the kind of unsubstantiated mudslinging we routinely see from campaigns in every form of comparative product advertising but politics. I think that if we are to be the world’s model for democracy we should do at least as good a job in marketing our leaders to “buyers” as we do in selling soap and cars, don’t you?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

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