Political marketing: citizen brand
published on 04.11.20
Every political campaign requires a brand that communicates with the voters. In fact, if we think in terms of marketing and communication, Merkel, Macron, Trump and Putin are all well-defined brands. Therefore, we can speak of political or election marketing as the process through which political candidates and ideas are targeted at voters in order to meet their political needs and thereby gain their support. Of course, each candidate must have a good marketing plan and a strategy to help them tackle any threats or opportunities that emerge. Nowadays, you need more than just a logo and a slogan. A candidate’s brand is also defined by how they act or behave, both in front of an audience and online.
Although marketers can deal with a product or service in different ways, there are certain similarities and typical common elements of marketing that can easily be transferred to the political sector, such as consumer behaviour, market segmentation, brand image and product positioning. Furthermore, there are numerous very familiar marketing tools that can be of assistance, such as market research, advertising, measurement and analysis of results, etc. So, if we swap the word “company” for “politician”, “product/service” for “idea”, and “consumer” for “voter”, we uncover four interesting keys to so-called political marketing.
Candidate’s brand is defined by how they act or behave, both in front of an audience and online.
Politicians must know their communities; their society. Which makes market segmentation the best tool for analysing the different targets and increasing votes. In fact, the variables used for segmentation purposes are almost identical: age, sex, income, occupation, family size, race, lifestyle, hobbies, etc. Moreover, questions about brand/political loyalty are used in a very similar manner: “How many times have you voted for candidate X?”, “What do you like about their electoral programme?”, etc.
Once the population has been segmented, using the trusted “4 Ps” of the marketing mix is recommended. That is to say, a combination of the product, promotion, price and place variables provided by voter segmentation. For instance, the product would be the central themes that the candidate can represent: “total employment”, “a healthy economy”, “safe streets” or “active foreign policy”. Promotion would be the specific combination of media advertising to reach the target audience: voters. Price would be the vote given to the candidate, who must work carefully to ensure that the undecided do not change their minds. Place (Point of Sale) is the election day, where and when the candidate’s ideas are valid for the voter. Therefore, it must be taken into account, aside from postal voting, that the ballot boxes are open at specific places and times and that the voter can make only one purchase (one vote).
Communication: sticking to one voice and being memorable
Have you ever wondered why politicians endlessly repeat the same phrase in their speeches and interviews? A political agenda is not necessarily aimed at splitting public opinion, it is about communicating with an audience. It is all part of developing the brand with a consistent and unique message. This is why political discourse tends to be simple with easily repeatable slogans rather than a nuanced and detailed approach.
Political discourse tends to be simple with easily repeatable slogans rather than a nuanced and detailed approach.
Content and tone must also be part of the candidate’s brand. In fact, all communication material must be aligned and match with previously established policies and positions. Even if politicians have different specialists for their campaign, the “voice” must remain the same with three maxims: be clear, consistent and positive.
It is evident that having a well-defined brand (that people like) helps the message of the candidate to break through the static and reach the voters. This ability to attract attention will be fundamental when the time comes to win the election. This is where the concept of brand loyalty comes into play. The first step in a communication strategy should be to find two types of voters: those who are loyal and those who are undecided. It is therefore important to design an appropriate communication plan for these two main groups.
Ultimately, voters not only cast a vote for policies, but make a statement for or against a particular brand.
The political slogan summarises the campaign
We need to be mindful that a good slogan is a tool with great potential which can change the way we vote. An effective slogan sums up a campaign in a short, memorable sentence. That is why candidates often stick to a slogan that becomes the core of their campaign. Sometimes it is so important that it is part of the logo. Let’s look at five well-known political slogans that have shaped our history:
- I like Ike (1952)
There was a time when political slogans were funny word games that would make today’s publicists laugh (or feel embarrassed). Examples include the funny “Keep cool with Coolidge” used by Calvin Coolidge in 1924, or the pitiful “Who but Hoover” employed by Herbert Hoover in 1928; although perhaps the most famous example is “I like Ike” from Dwight D. Ike Eisenhower’s campaign, which secured his place as the 34th President of the United States.
- Labour isn’t working(1978)
This is the slogan that helped Margaret Thatcher win the general election and thus become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In 1978, the Labour Party was governing a country with high rates of unemployment. Before the elections were called, the Conservative Party decided to commission the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi for the campaign, they designed one of history’s best political posters which speaks for itself.
- Yes, we can (2008)
Most people have forgotten, but “Change we can believe in” was the actual slogan of Obama’s 2008 campaign. So where did “Yes, we can” come from? It was a song recorded in support of the democrat by rapper will.i.am, a member of the group Black Eyed Peas, which had a tremendous political impact.
- Let’s take back control (2016)
This is the slogan with which Brexit supporters won a referendum that many thought they would lose. The brilliance lies in the understanding that the European Union has taken something that belongs to the United Kingdom. It was very effective in stirring up the emotions of British nationalists who voted en masse.
- Make America great again! (2016)
We instantly associate this with Donald Trump, sporting his red hat and touring the various cities of the United States. However, this political slogan is not his or even anything new. It was first introduced by Ronald Reagan in 1980 in a slightly different form (“Let’s make America great again”) and was later used by Bill Clinton in his presidential speech when he was inaugurated in 1991.
Controlling social media
We know that elections are big business in themselves, and that each party is racing to spend more than the other on advertising across the various media channels. It is certainly true that social media can help election campaigns to go viral, but it also leaves politicians/brands more exposed and vulnerable to attack or ridicule.
Brands are as aware of the benefits of social media as they are of the dangers. We are referring, of course, to “fake news”, which has become one of the biggest challenges for contemporary political marketing and for many parties. However, despite all the pressures, there are many politicians who have dared to test out new communication channels. One example is the hope-filled campaign of Barack Obama, which was mobilised so extensively through social media that Wired magazine called it the best election campaign in history. In August 2008, before being elected, the democrat hosted an “ask me anything” session on Reddit which attracted a record number of visits to the portal, allowing the then future President to interact with the voters and achieve a previously unseen level of closeness.
This could potentially be a way for politicians to get closer to the public, although it is up to marketing specialists to help them appear more savvy and informed when they expose themselves in this way. Several elements define current political marketing, such as social media, the politician’s brand image, storytelling and good segmentation, but the voice and power of the consumer/voter is becoming increasingly important. This is one of the foundations of modern marketing and also of politics.
Author: Joan Margarit, Marketing and Communication Analyst.
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