While it’s hard to write about this political season without venturing down the rabbit hole of who’s right and who’s wrong, I’m not going to. I’m just not. There’s nothing to be gained from it other than stirring an already hot cauldron of emotions on both sides.
But I do think there are two key lessons marketers can learn from political advertising:
1. Video advertising (TV or digital video) does the best job of building brands
Candidates are brands, just like the next consumer packaged good. And, when they develop their media strategy, they tend to rely heavily on video advertising.
Why? Because nothing helps convey emotion and tell stories quite like video. Since humans gravitate towards stories, engagement tends to be higher with video advertising than it is with other more passive mediums, like print or outdoor.
Storytelling is the single most important medium in the political advertising arena because it helps voters learn who we’re most ideologically aligned with. If you’re trying to tell the story of what your candidate (or product) stands for, then video is the way to go. That’s why candidates tend to invest so heavily in it.
We should remember that consumers tend to make purchasing decisions in largely the same manner: by aligning themselves with companies and products that elicit an emotional connection and reinforce how they view themselves. This isn’t to say that all other media forms aren’t worth the investment. They can be a great complement to a video schedule.
2. Tension leads to emotional connections
People often gripe about the negativity in political advertising. I’d like to believe the candidates don’t want to play nasty, but they do it anyway. Why? Because it works!
As emotional beings, we’re drawn to tension and conflict. It’s what pulls us into the story and why the best books and movies have some sort of conflict. Even Disney movies have it; tension makes it easy for us to decide whose side we’re on. Are we with Peter Pan or Captain Hook?
In creative presentations, I’ve been on the receiving end of feedback about a concept the client is uncomfortable with because it might ruffle some feathers. But I argue if you’re not brave enough to draw a line in the sand and declare what you stand for, then your brand will not only come across as uninteresting – it may also appear that it doesn’t have anything of value to offer.
Companies would be well served to identify the tension in their product or category. It will reveal leverageable positioning to engage with the target audience. And tension doesn’t have to be nasty the way some political advertising is.
I once worked with a client in the lawn service category. We identified that the “tension” for consumers in this category was with their neighbors. Most people were concerned with maintaining the neighborhood standards for lawn care – they just wanted their yards to blend in with everyone else’s. We developed a campaign that showed we understood their emotions and would help them avoid scrutiny of their neighbors.
So, while we may all be growing very tired of political advertising, I think those are two key lessons marketers can learn from political advertising. If you look at it holistically, you’ll see it’s effective because candidates are willing to stand up for something they believe in and to invest in the mediums that help them best appeal to people’s emotions. After all, that’s how we make decisions.
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