It’s a bit less than a week before Election Day and I, for one, can’t wait for the elections to be over. That will mean that the political ads will end too, and that can’t happen soon enough.
Putting aside politics, the vast bulk of these ads are horrible marketing. One thing that marketers learned long ago doesn’t work is badmouthing your competition; yet damn near every ad I see across the multitude of channels I watch and stream is 30 seconds of negativity. These folks spend their allotted time distorting positions, taking things out of context, and flat-out lying in many cases. The candidate-produced ads are bad and the PAC-produced ads are even worse. You’d think they’d stop. In 2007, the Journal Of Politics did a study of negative ads. They found:
…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.
While campaign consultants seem to think that these ads work, science proves otherwise. Of course, there are many folks out there who don’t believe in science but that’s another screed…
It’s bad marketing. Going negative makes you look petty and unprofessional. Playing up your strengths always works better than bashing a competitor’s weaknesses. Good marketers explain how they are going to solve your problems. I think good politicians should do that too. I don’t want “small” people representing me. If you can’t run on your positions and your solutions, then how am I to trust that you can outperform the one running against you?
This applies to your business as well, obviously. Do you see a lot of non-political negative ads? No, you don’t. There are many good reasons for that. Do you see a lot of false claims in non-political ads? You sure don’t – there are laws against it. The FTC Act prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising in any medium. That is, advertising must tell the truth and not mislead consumers. A claim can be misleading if relevant information is left out or if the claim implies something that’s not true. It seems to me that many political ads do just that, unfortunately.
Politicians may be brands, but they sure don’t advertise as if they were. Going negative isn’t particularly helpful in non-political marketing and it’s just as bad in politics. That’s one man’s opinion. What’s yours?
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?
Labor Day once marked the beginning of the Presidential race here in the US. That’s not true any longer as it seems we’re in a state of permanent campaigning. It does, however, mark the start of the final push for the candidates as much of the electorate is really just beginning to focus on the issues that will help them decide the results of this job interview process. Early voting begins in many states quite soon and the airwaves are filled with ads and with pundits trying to sway voters.
As you know, we don’t do politics here on the screed but we sometimes will point out a business lesson we can learn from that world. As I was watching a few of the news channels over the last few days, one issue came up over and over again with respect to the two candidates: transparency. Mr. Trump accuses Secretary Clinton of hiding information about her health, her emails, her foundation, and other things. Secretary Clinton accuses Mr. Trump about hiding his taxes, his business deals, his health, and other things as well. As an aside, I’m not quite sure how any of those issues, help do the most good for the most people, but let’s not digress. The campaign is starting to sound like the old game show: Who Do You Trust?
Both candidates haven’t been transparent and I think that’s led to a “hold your nose and vote” mentality on both sides, at least from what I can tell in speaking to my friends of all political beliefs. Neither side seems particularly enthusiastic about their candidate even if they’re supportive, and even among the ones who are excited there seems to be a recognition that their candidate has some trust issues. I think any observer would say that a lack of transparency is one of them on either side.
There is an expectation that brands – and candidates are brands – will be transparent. This is borne out by research, the latest of which was specific to the food world but I think carries over into any category. Coming from the Label Insight folks it found that:
- Nearly all consumers (94%) are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency.
- Almost three in four consumers (73%) say they would be willing to pay more for a product that offers complete transparency in all attributes.
- 81% of consumers say they would consider a brand’s entire portfolio of products if they switched to that brand as a result of increased transparency
- 56% report that additional product information about how food is produced, handled or sourced would make them trust that brand more
Maybe in the candidates’ minds there is a thought that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission but I don’t think that brands have that luxury. When we know that we’re far better served by transparency than by hiding information that’s critical to consumer decision making, why wouldn’t we choose to open up?
It’s an Election Day edition of our TunesDay screed. You might think this is the one day of the year when things get political in this space and you’d be wrong. However, one thing that culminates on this day is campaigning. No matter which party you support or on which ticket you’re running, the last few weeks have been about communicating and that’s what led me to this week’s tune.
Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood was written in for Nina Simone and came out in 1964. A year later, the song was released by a British band that sped up the tempo and added a signature riff throughout. This was the result:
I’ve loved this song since then and it’s been reinterpreted by dozens of artists since its release by The Animals. To me, it makes a great point both for Election Day as well as for business.
Baby, do you understand me now?
Sometimes I feel a little mad
But don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel
When things go wrong I feel real bad.
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
We live in a time when communication has never been easier. Explaining how one feels or where one stands on an issue should be simple – much more so than 30 years ago when there were no digital communications. Ironically, both for politicians and for businesses, it’s exactly the opposite. The tools have made communication so simple that the noise level is almost impenetrable. There are thousands of voices competing for attention where dozens competed not long ago.
The result is that customers – and the electorate is a customer base – tend to listen to a very limited set of information. They tend to hear what they want to hear from sources that they’ve chosen out of the morass. Businesses – and political messages – get misunderstood because their messages are either unheard or undermined by competing signals (and that seems to be where our political system is these days – “gotcha” over substance).
As businesspeople we ought to be focused on not being misunderstood as much as we are on the getting a message out at all. After all, one misinformed customer can spark a firestorm of social media backlash. Election results are when we see how well understood candidates are. Every day is when you find that out about your business.
Did you vote yet?
One of the things that our highly segmented media world has done is to provide a lot of information on things that are, in the scheme of things, pretty meaningless. That thought occurred to me as I was watching the election results the other night and there’s a useful business point that it raises. We’re all aware of the various “tilts” the news networks have. They tend to focus on every little fact that advances their point of view and that denigrates a political figure with whom they don’t agree. I’ve written before about the echo chamber and what it can do to your perspective. This is an extension of that phenomenon. What’s the business point?
Partisans are focused on every detail. Most people aren’t. They build a narrative that’s as simple as possible and once that’s in place it’s very hard to change it. As an example, I saw a Latino interviewed who said Romney lost his community with the “self-deportation” remark he made many months ago in a primary debate. Game over. The various commentators seemed surprised by the fact that certain arguments and billions of dollars in political ads didn’t seem to make a difference in the outcomes of many races. It works that way for your business as well.
We’re partisans for our brands. Hopefully we know our brands and our businesses inside and out and we’re fixated on every little detail. We can talk for hours about why the store is set up the way it is or the amount of work that went into a piece of content. That’s myopic. Most of our customers don’t care. Like the hard-core viewers of cable news, there are some who pay attention to the details but the bulk of folks don’t. To a certain extent these media outlets are seeing the trees of today’s news cycle and missing the forest of the public. We might lag behind our customers in the same way.
No amount of marketing will fix a bad initial experience. Opinions are very hard to change once they’re formed. What’s your opinion?